I was on hand to greet the third wave of POWs from Viet Nam during ‘Operation Homecoming’ at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., in 1973.
I had just retired from the military and was living in Fairfield, Calif., five miles from Travis, where I had been stationed for 11 of my 27 years in the service.
The POWs had just been released from the Hanoi Hilton after being kept as prisoners by the North Vietnamese. They could not believe they were on American soil at last.
The prison guards had brought them out of the prison many times before and told them they were going home. They had been brought by bus to the airport in Hanoi, where the military air transportation with a C-130 was standing by with the release crew.
This time it wasn’t a joke and when the former POWs saw the C-130 they knew they were going home.
After being released, they went to Clark Air Force Base briefly and then to Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
The C-130 aircrew had an impromptu flight over the city of Hanoi, something they were told not to do. They were flying about the clouds on an overcast day, unable to see the ground. When they cut through the overcast skies, they saw they were indeed over Hanoi. They were told by the Vietnamese military that they were lucky they were not shot down.
I stood outside one of the hangers on the flight line at Travis with my family and watched these former American POWs unload off of the C-130 aircraft. Some of them had family there to greet them home. In all my years in the Air Force, I’ve never seen anything like this day. I saw no dry eyes that day.
The former POWs were taken to Travis Hospital for check-ups.
Many years ago I had stood almost on the same spot and watched our young men get on the planes to take them to war in Viet Nam. I was so happy to see these men returning.
Contributing writer Everett Vanover lives in Fairfield, Calif.