Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Return of the Vietnam POW's (1973)

Operation Homecoming

Type of Activity
Return of our POW’s from Vietnam
Clark AFB PI
Date of Activity
12 February 1973
15°11'31.16"N 120°33'33.95"E  
The End of the Vietnam War

It was early 1973, many years since the War in Vietnam started but two more years before the conflict fully ended, President Richard Nixon announced that ‘peace with honor’ had been achieved.

The Paris Peace talks with North Vietnam had been going on for a long time when the talks concluded on January 13, 1973 with the final agreement. The peace agreement was formally signed on January 27, 1973.  America's longest war was finally over!

This was great news for all of us in the Military as this unpopular conflict was coming to an end!  Ever since my first trip with President Johnson to Dallastown PA in 1966 there were always anti-war protesters present at every event that WHCA would support! Bomb threats at speech sites became so frequent that the US Secret Service would have Explosive Ordnance (EOD) teams sweep all locations where the President, Vice President or other VIP’s were scheduled to speak. I personally sat through many threats and demonstrations while working in the USSS command post.

This was not a pleasant time for anyone remaining in the Military and the POW’s that first returned were not welcomed home by all Americans, it would take many months before our nation forgot this controversial conflict.

America’s POW’s are finally on there way home!
 Inside the C-141A, later known as the "Hanoi Taxi"
 Operation Homecoming was a series of diplomatic negotiations that in January 1973 made possible the return of 591 American prisoners of war held by North Vietnam. On Feb. 12, 1973, three C-141 transports flew to Hanoi, North Vietnam, and one C-9A aircraft was sent to Saigon, South Vietnam to pick up released prisoners of war. The first flight of 40 U.S. prisoners of war left Hanoi in a C-141A, later known as the "Hanoi Taxi" and now in a museum.

From February 12 to April 4, there were 54 C-141 missions flying out of Hanoi, bringing the former POW's home. Each plane brought back 40 POW's. During the early part of Operation Homecoming, groups of POW's released were selected on the basis of longest length of time in prison. The first group had spent 6-8 years as prisoners of war.

The first of the POW’s arrive at Clark AFB, PI. 
POW's return home
After Operation Homecoming, the U.S. still listed about 1,350 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action and sought the return of roughly 1,200 Americans reported killed in action and body not recovered.  These missing personnel would become the subject of the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue.

Dr Henry Kissinger chief negotiator in the Paris Peace talks 
President Nixon welcomes John McCain upon his return from Vietnam
The American commitment to defend South Vietnam, described as unequivocal by President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger, had been weakened by the Watergate scandal and Nixon's subsequent resignation. By that time, the Paris Accords seemed memorable only as the vehicle on which the United States rode out of Southeast Asia.

On April 30, 1975, a little over two years after the final agreement was signed by the United States of America, the North Vietnamese Army took over Saigon with little resistance, and Peace in Vietnam was restored!