TAMPA — Hector Vila was proud of his nation and family: seven brothers, including him, had served in the U.S. military.
In 2005, he successfully lobbied the city of Tampa to change the name of West Pines Park to Vila Brothers Park.
“He had a vision for how it should look,” his wife, Martha Vila, said.
Hector Vila wanted the 4 acres at 700 N Armenia Ave. to be a patriotic corner of West Tampa. In 2007, the city installed a granite marker citing the brothers’ service time, spanning World War II through Operation Desert Storm. Each returned home.
Nothing new was added to the land before Hector Vila died in 2018.
“I promised him that I would get the park done,” Martha Vila, 89, said. She has been true to her word.
At 10 a.m. Monday, Memorial Day, Vila Brothers Park will be rededicated with new landscaping, a new entrance and a red, white and blue playground.
“He would be so proud,” Martha Vila said. “He thought there was not enough red, white and blue in the country. He didn’t think we had enough patriotism.”
The additions are due to $1.7 million in city funds.
“The city has given so much, and I am thankful,” Martha Vila said. “I can’t ask for anything more from them.”
But her husband wanted more. She hopes others step up to complete his vision, which included speakers piping in patriotic songs and educational monuments.
“He wanted this to be a teaching park,” Martha Vila said. “But no war. He didn’t want anything about war. He didn’t want guns or knives. He wanted it to be about peacetime America, the beauty of peacetime.”
She said the Vila brothers all fought for peace. “Seven brothers. This is an unbelievable story.”
After the oldest three brothers left home to fight the Nazis, their mother prayed and made a deal that she would never eat Cuban bread again if they returned. They came home and she honored her promise, Martha Vila said.
According to Tampa Bay Times archives:
- Joe Vila served with the Marine Corps during World War II. He was involved in battles in Guadalcanal and received a Purple Heart due to back, leg and shoulder injuries due to a bomb exploding next to him.
- Willie Vila served with the Marines during World War II and was deployed to Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Peleliu Island, New Caledonia and Okinawa. He received a Purple Heart after being hit by a mortar shell and suffering a chest wound and temporarily losing sight.
- Wilfred Vila served with the Army during World War II and parachuted for the 82nd Airborne. He was later assigned to retrieve prisoners of war.
- Hector Vila served in the Marines during the Korean War and fought on the front lines as a machine gunner.
- Robert Vila served in the Navy during the Korean War. He was on a battleship that fired against enemy railroads, harbors and positions.
- Denio Vila served in the Army from 1960 to 1962 and in the reserves from 1962 to 1966. He was a medical specialist.
- Tony Vila served in the Navy from 1962 to 1966 and was in active reserves from 1975 to 1995. His ship was sent to Cuba as part of the blockade during the Cuban Missile Crisis in November 1962. He later served as a hospital corpsman and Spanish translator. In 1965, he was sent to Vietnam, and in 1991 he served in Operation Desert Storm.
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Denio Vila, 85, and Tony Vila, 79, are the last surviving brothers.