Fifty years ago, the Vietnam War was ended by President Nixon and nearly 600 Prisoners of War came home to their families. Five decades after that extraordinary and emotional homecoming, the Richard Nixon Foundation will host the official celebration of the 50th anniversary of their repatriation; nearly 200 POWs and their families will attend three days of reunion events from May 23 to 25, 2023 at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, California.
On May 24, 1973 President and Mrs. Nixon hosted the largest dinner in White House history —then and now— in honor of the Vietnam POWs. On May 24, 2023, exactly 50 years later, nearly 200 of those POWs will dine in the Nixon Library’s White House East Room replica and recreate that dinner, down to the menu items and centerpieces.
In addition to the White House dinner recreation, reunion events include the grand opening of Captured: Shot Down in Vietnam, a new, original special exhibition about the experience of the Vietnam POWs, a community parade through the city of Yorba Linda, recognition and honors from the United States Military, and an opportunity to hear their reflections and stories on-stage.
American airmen, seamen and Marines were shot down and taken prisoner during the Vietnam War by the North Vietnamese. These Prisoners of War endured the harshest conditions imaginable, including regular subjection to physical and psychological torture as well as mental abuse and isolation at the hands of their captors, in violation of the Geneva Conventions, to which North Vietnam was a signatory.
Their collective plight became a rallying cry to Americans at home, expressed through films, songs and cultural movements, most notably the presence of yellow ribbons in kitchen windows, town squares and community centers, and the wearing of “POW bracelets.”
One of President Nixon’s two non-negotiable conditions in his administration’s negotiations with the North Vietnamese was the return of all American Prisoners of War.
After the Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 27, 1973, 591 Prisoners of War were repatriated — while having to restart life at home, and pick up the pieces of time lost.
On May 24, 1973 President and Mrs. Nixon welcomed the POWs to Washington, D.C. The President spoke to the POWs and personally greeted each one while the spouses, mothers and guests of the POWs met with First Lady Pat Nixon, Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower. That evening, more than 1,600 people —including the best-known celebrities of the day, including John Wayne, Bob Hope, Joey Heatherton and Sammy Davis, Jr.— gathered on a rainy Washington evening in a colorful tent on the White House South Lawn to celebrate the service of the POWs and their return home.
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