On January 27, 1973, Henry Kissinger (then assistant to the President for national security affairs) agreed to a ceasefire with representatives of North Vietnam that provided for the withdrawal of American military forces from South Vietnam. The agreement also postulated for the release of nearly 600 American prisoners of war (POWs) held by North Vietnam and its allies within 60 days of the withdrawal of U.S. troops.[1] The deal would come to be known as Operation Homecoming and was divided into three phases. The first phase required the initial reception of prisoners at three release sites: POWs held by the Viet Cong (VC) were to be flown by helicopter to Saigon, POWs held by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) were released in Hanoi, and the three POWs held in China were to be freed in Hong Kong. The former prisoners were to then be flown to Clark Air Base in the Philippines where they were to be processed at a reception center, debriefed, and receive a physical examination. The final phase was the relocation of the POWs to military hospitals.[2]

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.

Locations of POW camps in North Vietnam
From February 12 to April 4, there were 54 C-141 missions flying out of Hanoi, bringing the former POWs home.[3] During the early part of Operation Homecoming, groups of POWs released were selected on the basis of longest length of time in prison. The first group had spent 68 years as prisoners of war.[4] The last POWs were turned over to allied hands on March 29, 1973 raising the total number of Americans returned to 591.

Of the POWs repatriated to the United States a total of 325 of them served in the United States Air Force, a majority of which were bomber pilots shot down over North Vietnam or Viet Cong controlled land. The remaining 266 consisted of 138 United States Naval personnel, 77 soldiers serving in the United States Army, 26 United States Marines, and 25 civilian employees of American government agencies. A majority of the prisoners were held at camps in North Vietnam, however some POWs were held in at various locations throughout Southeast Asia. A total of 69 POWs were held in South Vietnam by the Viet Cong and would eventually leave the country aboard flights from Loc Ninh, while 9 POWs were released from Laos, as well as an additional 3 from China. The prisoners returned included future politicians Senator John McCain of Arizona and Representative Sam Johnson of Texas.[5]

According to John L. Borling, a former POW returned during Operation Homecoming, stated that after being flown to Clark Air Base, hospitalized, and debriefed, many of the doctors and psychologists were amazed by the resiliency of a majority of the men. Some of the repatriated soldiers, including Borling and John McCain, did not retire from the military, but instead decided to further their careers in the armed forces

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