Labor of love: Learning to deal with the loss of an only son

Veterans Voices

BOONSBORO, Md. (WDVM) — When a local Vietnam veteran’s only son was killed 20 years ago in a terrorist attack on his warship in Yemen, Tom Wibberley dealt with his grief by restoring old Corvettes. It was a “labor of love” that he and his son shared when Craig was driving one of his Stingrays to high school in Williamsport.

“I love restoring old Corvettes,” said Wibberley as he looked inside the cockpit of a Corvette he is restoring. This particular Stingray only has 49,000 miles on the odometer. During the next two years, Tom will remove the steering column, dashboard, seats and all of the gauges, including the radio.

Thousands of parts from this Stingray will be restored to their original condition before they are put back into the Corvette and the Stingray is sent to a paint shop.

“Everything needs to be cleaned and checked out,” said Wibberley, who has restored almost a dozen Stingrays. He loves LT-1’s because they are rare. Chevrolet only made a little over 1,700 of them.

Tom Wibberley currently has two LT-1s in his garage.

A completely-restored 1971 LT-1 Corvette Stingray is Wibberly’s pride and joy because his son drove it to high school before it was restored.

“I actually bought it back in the early 90s. It was a car that I was able to drive before I started restoring it. Craig actually got to drive it,” said Wibberley. Craig and his sister Penny were Corvette Kids.

Craig pictured on the left and his sister Penny on the right loved to go to car shows with their dad.

“I took the Corvette behind them to Carlisle. It was the first time I showed the car and it took First Place and Best of Show in 1985.

“I think about him a lot and one thing I’ve kept with the car when I restored it is the gear shift knob,” said Wibberley, as he started the Stingray.

The gear shift knob is the only part in the 1972 LT-1 that was not restored.

“It’s scratched and old, but it’s the original gear shift knob that was in it when I bought it and I was able to leave it untouched for sentimental reasons, because Craig’s held that gear shift knob in his hand,” said Wibberley.

Wibberley is not only having to deal with the death of his only son, but also the death of his father. Thomas Wibberley Sr. died one month after his grandson was killed halfway around the world. Wibberley Sr. also loved Corvettes and owned one.

Thomas Wibberly, second from the left in the top row, was a B-24 bomber pilot during World War Two.

Tom’s father trained B-24 bomber crews during WWII and is buried next to his grandson in a cemetery about two miles from where his son lives. Tom Wibberley visits their graves often, but one night of the year is special.

“I always go there at midnight on Christmas Eve to be by myself with him and have a drink,” said Wibberly, who feels like the terrorists who blew a big hole in the side of USS Cole, his son’s warship, robbed him. Wibberley can’t believe that the mastermind of the terrorist attack is still alive and well in a holding cell at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Wibberley has attended every hearing for the terrorist, but sees no resolution in sight.

Craig Wibberly was killed along with Seaman Patrick Roy who grew up in Keedysville, Maryland. But Tom Wibberly says the boys only knew each other as shipmates.
Seaman Patrick Roy is buried at Antietam National Cemetery

On the 20th anniversary of the attack, Gold Star families, including the Wibberleys and Roys were invited to tour the restored warship at Norfolk Naval Station, its home port. The anniversary was bittersweet. The families have received their share of a 30 million dollar settlement from Sudan in exchange for the U.S. dropping Yemen from its list of state-sponsored terrorists.

But Tom Wibberley says no amount of money can ever replace his son, Seaman Apprentice Craig Wibberly.

USS Cole is set to deploy later this year. Destination? Not publicized for security reasons.

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