He was a POW for 7 years; now Duluth is paying tribute to this Vietnam vet

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Navy Commander David Wheat spent more than seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Beginning Friday, the Duluth native's captivity will be memorialized in his hometown.

The News Tribune reports a ceremony Friday will dedicate a statue that depicts Wheat but honors 63 service members from the Northland who were prisoners of war or missing in action in Vietnam.

The city had planned to place the statue at the entrance to Duluth International Airport. But Northland's NewsCenter reports plans were changed within the past week.

The memorial will now sit at Duluth's Commemorative Air Force Museum after Wheat's family expressed a preference for the statue being indoors, the station says.

The statue

The $60,000 cost of the statue was raised by the Northland Veterans Service Committee through private donations, the News Tribune says.

It was carved by Tim Cleary, an artist on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin Superior.

John Marshall, who chaired the project for the veterans group, described the statue this way to Northland's NewsCenter:

"Just imagine an 11 foot granite wall, with a window, with prison bars, imagine commander Wheat, in Vietnamese prison garb, in his sandals, kneeling up, looking at this window. It is so moving. I got no words to describe it," Marshall said.

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Commander David Wheat

Wheat is a graduate of Duluth Central High School and earned a degree from UMD in 1963, according to the University's alumni association.

His biography at the website Veteran Tributes says he was flying his 80th combat mission on Oct. 17, 1965. He was serving as the radar intercept officer when he and the pilot were forced to eject over North Vietnam.

The pilot was injured in the fall to earth and died a couple of days later, Wheat told the alumni magazine. Wheat remained a captive of the North Vietnamese for 2,675 days, finally regaining freedom on Feb. 12, 1973, Veteran Tributes says.

That allowed for a joyous return to Duluth, which was chronicled by WDIO:

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According to Veteran Tributes, Wheat's Silver Star citation refers to his refusal to divulge military secrets even while enduring tortuous treatment from his captors, citing that as a contributing factor in the decision by the North Vietnamese to give up harsh treatment of prisoners later in the war.

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