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James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital - Tampa, Florida

 

A story of seven brothers and their service

Clockwise from top left - Joe, Willie, Wilfredo, Hector, Tony, Denio and Robert Vila.

Clockwise from top left - Joe, Willie, Wilfredo, Hector, Tony, Denio and Robert Vila.

By Ed Drohan
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
Note: For Veterans Day, we honor a group of Tampa brothers whose service to our country spans more than 60 years and four wars.

Sitting at 700 North Armenia Ave. in south Tampa is a small park named for an extraordinary group of men from a single family.

Vila Brothers Park was named in 2005 for the seven Vila brothers, Tampa natives who grew up in the area around the park and whose history of service in the military runs from World War II to Desert Storm.  Three of the brothers are still alive, including Hector, a Marine Corp Korean War Veteran who is now a patient at the James A. Haley Veterans’ Hospital hospice unit.

The Vila family and the Armory Gardens Civic Association are now working to improve the park to include adding restrooms and – hopefully – patriotic themed playground equipment for local children.  While the city has allocated the money for the restroom construction, money for some of the other planned improvements will need to be raised through contributions from the community.

The Vila brothers were part of a large Tampa family that also included seven sisters, their mother and father. 

The Vila brothers’ legacy began just after Pearl Harbor was bombed, propelling the United States into World War II.  Hector’s older brothers, Joe and Willie enlisted in the Marine Corps three weeks after the attack.  Both were involved in the invasion of Guadalcanal, an intense battle where Joe was seriously wounded, forcing him to spend a year in the hospital.

Willie continued in the Marines, and after Guadalcanal was involved in battles in New Guinea, Palau and Okinawa.  He received three purple hearts and the Navy Cross before being discharged in 1946.  Willie passed away in January 2008, while Joe passed in March 2012.

A third brother, Wilfredo, entered the Army in 1944 and helped rescue Allied prisoners of war from German camps.  Wilfredo passed away in July 2012.

Hector joined the Marine Corp and in 1951 found himself in fighting in Korea as an assistant machine gunner.  He remained in the Marines until 1958 when he, like the rest of his brothers, returned to live and work in Tampa.

While Hector was fighting on the ground in Korea, his brother was in the Navy off the Korean coast on the battleship USS Iowa, which was using its 16-inch guns to shell harbors, railroads and enemy positions.  Hector said in his biography that he always wondered about the shells that were exploding nearby.

The Vila brothers gathered before throwing out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays game in 2005.

The Vila brothers gathered before throwing out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay Rays game in 2005. From left are Willie, Wilfredo, Tony, Joe, Hector, Denio and Robert. With them is Jovanna Vila, Denio's granddaughter.

“My brother Robert was nearby on the battleship Iowa that was assigned to help us clear the enemy lines, and I often wondered if his ship was throwing those bombs that were right over our heads falling so very close to us,” Hector said. “I’ve always thanked the Navy for that.”

Robert passed away in February 2016.

Another brother, Denio, was drafted into the Army in 1960 and worked as a medical specialist at Fort Hood, Texas until being discharged in 1962. The youngest brother, Tony, had the longest military career of them all.

Tony enlisted in the Navy in 1962 and was involved in the blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis before becoming a hospital corpsman and Spanish translator, where he saw duty in Panama, Colombia, Venezuela and Aruba. He went to Vietnam as a medic assigned to a Marine Corps unit before becoming a member of the Naval Reserve where he served in Desert Shield and Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iraq before retiring in 2003.

Hector’s wife said both Denio and Tony regularly visit Hector at the hospice unit. She also shared an interesting story about the family’s mother Carmen Garcia Vila.

When Joe and Willie were getting ready to ship out to the Marines, Carmen vowed to not eat bread if God would bring her sons home to her. Since all of her sons served in the military over the course of her lifetime, it turns out she never again ate a piece of bread.

The family will hold a ceremony honoring the brothers and other Veterans at the Vila Brothers Park on Veterans Day, Nov. 11 at 2 p.m.

For more information on Vila Brothers Park fundraising efforts, please go to https://rally.org/f/dZYpIVx17Ro?fbclid=IwAR3rDDn_ftkUtlXdIcjqLq3qHqLqcWh8n6nYc4CZQnZgK9_0JxsSgiKzUnA.

For more stories and the most up-to-date news and information about James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital, follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/VATampa, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TampaVA, and on Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/jahvh/sets.

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