Photo Credit: National Archives and Records Administration- College Park
On February 12, 1973, the first group of American POWs left Vietnam. This came just over two weeks after the Paris Peace Accords were signed agreeing to the release of the POWs within sixty days.
The first stop for the former POWs was at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines for health checks before landing back in America. President Nixon describes in his memoirs:
The scene at Clark Air Force Base was tremendously moving as one by one the men came down the ramp, walking or hobbling on crutches, saluting the flag. Some made eloquent statements. Some fell to their knees to kiss the ground. I had been concerned that they might have been so scarred by what they had been through that they would be bitter and disillusioned, or broken and unable to adjust to the conditions they would find at home. But these were no ordinary men. These were true heroes.
According to President Nixon’s daily diary, Col. Robinson Risner (USAF) called the President from the Philippines on behalf of the former POWs to express appreciation. Over the next few days, the President completed multiple phone calls with the wives of returning POWs and had a meeting with the Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer and other advisors, to discuss job opportunities for the returning prisoners.
Nearly 600 American POWs returned in Operation Homecoming between February 12 and April 1, 1973. On March 29, 1973, the last combat troops departed Vietnam and President Nixon addressed the nation. “For the first time in 12 years, no American military forces are in Vietnam. All of our American POWs are on their way home.” March 29 is now recognized as Vietnam Veterans Day.
The Nixon Foundation is the Official Site of the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of Operation Homecoming. On May 23-25, nearly 200 POWs and their families will gather at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum for a three-day reunion.