US Air Force Captain Robert Parsels at Gia Lam Airport, repatriated during Operation Homecoming
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. 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.
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 is now in a museum.
From February 12 to April 4, there were 54 C-141 missions flying out of Hanoi, bringing the former POWs home. 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 six to eight years as prisoners of war. 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 nine POWs were released from Laos, as well as an additional three from China. The prisoners returned included future politicians Senator John McCain of Arizona and Representative Sam Johnson of Texas.
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.
The culture of the POWs held at the infamous Hanoi Hilton prison was on full display with the story that would come to be known as the "Kissinger Twenty". One of the tenets of the agreed upon code between those held at the Hanoi Hilton stipulated that the POWs, unless seriously injured, would not accept an early release. The rule entailed that the prisoners would return home in the order that they were shot down and captured. The POWs held at the Hanoi Hilton were to deny early release because the communist government of North Vietnam could possibly use this tactic as propaganda or as a reward for military intelligence.
The first round of POWs to be released in February 1973 mostly included injured soldiers in need of medical attention. Following the first release, twenty prisoners were then moved to a different section of the prison, but the men knew something was wrong as several POWs with longer tenures were left in their original cells. After discussions the twenty men agreed that they should not have been the next POWs released as they estimated it should have taken another week and a half for most of their discharges and came to the conclusion that their early release would likely be used for North Vietnamese propaganda. Consequently, in adherence with their code, the men did not accept release by refusing to follow instructions or put on their clothes. Finally, on the fifth day of protest Colonel Norm Gaddis, the senior American officer left at the Hanoi Hilton, went to the men's cell and gave them a direct order that they would cooperate. The men followed orders, but with the stipulation that no photographs were to be taken of them.
It turned out that when Henry Kissinger went to Hanoi after the first round of releases, the North Vietnamese gave him a list of the next 112 men scheduled to be sent home. They asked Kissinger to select twenty more men to be released early as a sign of good will. Unaware of the code agreed upon by the POWs, Kissinger ignored their shot down dates and circled twenty names at random.
Overall, Operation Homecoming did little to satisfy the American public's need for closure on the war in Vietnam. 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 for years to come. As of November 2015, the Department of Defense still claimed there were 516 unaccounted for U.S. Army personnel, of which 21 are believed to have been prisoners who died while in captivity but whose remains have never been recovered.
In addition, the return of the nearly 600 POWs further polarized the sides of the American public and media. A large number of Americans viewed the recently freed POWs as heroes of the nation returning home, reminiscent of the celebrations following World War II. Others approached the situation with apprehension, questioning if treating these men as heroes served to distort and obscure the truth about the war. A majority of the POWs returned in Operation Homecoming were in fact bomber pilots shot down over enemy territory carrying out the campaign waged against civilian targets located in Vietnam and Laos. Some felt these men deserved to be treated as war criminals or left in the North Vietnamese prison camps. No matter the opinion of the public, the media became infatuated with the men returned in Operation Homecoming who were bombarded with questions concerning life in the VC and NVA prison camps. Topics included a wide range of inquiries about sadistic guards, secret communication codes among the prisoners, testimonials of faith, and debates over celebrities and controversial figures.
The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and the U.S. Department of State each had liaison officers dedicated to prepare for the return of American POWs well in advance of their actual return. These liaison officers worked behind the scenes traveling around the United States assuring the returnees' well being. They also were responsible for debriefing POWs to discern relevant intelligence about MIAs and to discern the existence of war crimes committed against them. Each POW was also assigned their own escort to act as a buffer between "past trauma and future shock". However, access to the former prisoners was screened carefully and most interviews and statements given by the men were remarkably similar, leading many journalists to believe that the American government and military had coached them beforehand. Izvestia, a Russian news service, even accused The Pentagon of brainwashing the men involved in order to use them as propaganda, while some Americans claimed the POWs were collaborating with the communists or had not done enough to resist pressure to divulge information under torture. The former prisoners were slowly reintroduced, issued their back pay, and attempted to catch up on social and cultural events that were now history. Many of the returned POWs struggled to become reintegrated with their families and the new American culture as they had been held in captivity for anywhere between a year to almost ten years. The men had missed events including the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the race riots that broke out in cities from coast to coast in 1968, the political demonstrations and anti-war protests, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon, and the release of The Godfather.
The returning of POWs was often a mere footnote following most other wars in U.S. history, yet those returned in Operation Homecoming provided the country with an event of drama and celebration. Operation Homecoming initially ignited a torrent of patriotism that had not been seen at any point during the Vietnam War. Overall, the POWs were warmly received as if to atone for the collective American guilt for having ignored and protested the majority of soldiers who had served in the conflict and already returned home. The joy brought by the repatriation of the 591 Americans did not last for long due to other major news stories and events. By May 1973, the Watergate scandal dominated the front page of most newspapers causing the American public's interest to wane in any story related to the war in Vietnam. Correspondingly, Richard Nixon and his administration began to focus on salvaging his presidency rather than saving the world from communism.
Many worried that Homecoming hid the fact that people were still fighting and dying on the battlefields of Vietnam and caused the public to forget about the over 50,000 American lives the war had already cost. Veterans of the war had similar thoughts concerning Operation Homecoming with many stating that the ceasefire and returning of prisoners brought zero sense of an ending or closure.
The plane used in the transportation of the first group of prisoners of war, a C-141 commonly known as the Hanoi Taxi (Air Force Serial Number 66-0177), has been altered several times since February 12, 1973, to include its conversion (fuselage extension) from a C-141A to a C-141B. Nevertheless, the aircraft has been maintained as a flying tribute to the POWs and MIAs of the Vietnam War and is now housed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. The Hanoi Taxi was officially retired at Wright Patterson Air Force Base on May 6, 2006, just a year after it was used to evacuate the areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
Operation Homecoming has been largely forgotten by the American public, yet ceremonies commemorating the 40th anniversary were held at United States military bases and other locations throughout Asia and the United States.
The Alcatraz Gang was a group of eleven American prisoners of war (POW) held separately in Hanoi, North Vietnam during the Vietnam War because of their particular resistance to their North-Vietnamese military captors. These eleven POWs were: George Thomas Coker, USN; Jeremiah Denton, USN; Harry Jenkins, USN; Sam Johnson, USAF; George McKnight, USAF; James Mulligan, USN; Howard Rutledge, USN; Robert Shumaker, USN; James Stockdale, USN; Ronald Storz, USAF; and Nels Tanner, USN.
These prisoners were held in solitary confinement from 25 October 1967 to 9 December 1969 at a special facility (dubbed "Alcatraz" by Commander Stockdale) in a courtyard behind the North Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense, about a mile away from Hoa Lo prison ("Hanoi Hilton"-named by Lt. Commander Schumaker, the earliest captured prisoner among the eleven). The prisoners were shackled with legcuffs every night in 3-by-9-foot windowless concrete cells with the light on around the clock. The eleven Americans were separated because they were leaders of the prisoners' resistance". Stockdale once tried to kill himself so that the North Vietnamese could not force him to make a propaganda film. The suicide attempt failed and the film was never made. Of Stockdale, Lt. Coker said "He was probably the strongest, most exemplary leader of the whole North Vietnamese POW environment". Coker and McKnight were the last POWs assigned to the Alcatraz Gang, being so assigned for previous fierce resistance to their treatment and an unsuccessful escape from the Power Plant or "Dirty Bird" prison camp.The group received special torture and were taken into torture sessions in order of rank, highest to lowest. Coker was the youngest and lowest ranking of the eleven POWs and was taken in last. He said he is still grateful for every minute the others held out. During the end of his session, something changed and the session stopped, which the POWs thought was because of a political decision from higher authorities to stop the sessions. All of the prisoners except Storz were moved to other prisons in December 1969. Storz, debilitated from sickness and untreated injuries, was left behind and died in captivity on 23 April 1970.When all the POWS were released from North Vietnam in February and March 1973 (Operation Homecoming), so much had changed back in the United States that Coker (and Commander Denton) said it was as if "...we weren't here (in America) at all. We were strangers in our own country, and we didn't like a lot of what we saw". Many still have throbbing in joints from the rope torture and Coker's wife says, "In his sleep, he holds up 'the wall'". Coker also said, "If you're never tested, you don't know (what you can do)".
Three of the ten out of eleven surviving "Alcatraz Gang" POWs including Stockdale (he was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1976), had died by November 2008. Denton died in 2014. The others keep in close touch.Andrew Carroll
Andrew Carroll (born September 27, 1969) is an American author, editor, activist, and historian. He is best known as the author of the 1997 New York Times best-selling Letters of a Nation: A Collection of Extraordinary American Letters and the 2001 New York Times best-selling book War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars, which was later turned into an episode of the television program American Experience.Bill O'Brien (actor)
Bill O'Brien is a television series actor, and the Senior Advisor for Program Innovation for the National Endowment of the Arts.Bill O'Brien was appointed to serve as Deputy Chairman of Grants and Awards for the National Endowment for the Arts shortly after the election of President Barack Obama in 2008 where he supervised the design and implementation of grants and awards programs, designed and led national leadership initiatives, developed partnerships to advance discipline fields, and managed the panel review process across multiple arts disciplines.
In 2009 he was appointed Senior Advisor for Program Innovation for the Endowment. This appointment serves as the senior executive at the NEA responsible for exploring, examining and identifying innovative and emerging practices, programs and endeavors in the arts that are transformative and potentially worthy of federal government support or acknowledgement. In this capacity, he has served as the agency's lead on the Walter Reed/NEA Healing Arts Partnership (including Operation Homecoming) investigating the role of the arts in helping to heal military service members recovering from traumatic brain injuries and psychological health issues, the State Department's "Declaration of Learning" initiative and various activities of interest to the agency at the intersection of arts, science, technology and the humanities.
Prior to these appointments, O'Brien was named the NEA's Director of Theater and Musical Theater in July 2006, where he designed and directed national leadership initiatives, promoted partnerships to advance the theater field, and managed the review process for theater and musical theater applications. In 2007, he designed and initiated the NEA National New Play Development program—administered by Arena Stage, which featured the NEA Outstanding New American Play and Distinguished New Play Development selections.
Before joining the NEA, he served for seven years as producing director and managing director for Deaf West Theater (DWT) where he received a Tony and a Drama Desk nomination for producing the Broadway sign language production of Big River and received three Ovation Award nominations for his work on the production of Big River at Deaf West (as producer, sound designer and lead actor). That production went on to win three Best Musical awards (Ovation, LADCC and Back Stage Garland Awards) and the cast of Big River was awarded the 2004 Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre. Other productions he produced for Deaf West include A Streetcar Named Desire (Ovation Award for Best Play) and Oliver! (Ovation Award for Best Musical). He has appeared in Deaf West productions of True West and Big River (Backstage West Garland Award for Lead Actor, Helen Hayes Award Nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor).
His advocacy efforts on behalf of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act of the United States Department of Education helped garner Deaf West Theatre the Secretary of Health and Human Services Highest Recognition Award for “bridging the gap between the deaf and hearing worlds through theatre.”
In addition, O'Brien has served as executive vice president on the executive board of the National Alliance for Music Theatre and as a task force member, conference speaker, and grant panelist with Theatre Communications Group, both national service organization for the theater and musical theater fields.
O'Brien also performed onstage in 48 states in numerous national touring and regional productions, was an American College Theatre Festival Irene Ryan Acting Competition National Finalist and has recurred in all seven seasons as Kenny, Marlee Matlin's interpreter, on The West Wing.
O'Brien graduated with a degree in Musical Theater from the University of Northern Iowa in 1985.Chance Phelps
Chance Russell Phelps (July 14, 1984 – April 9, 2004) was a private first class – posthumously promoted to lance corporal – in the United States Marine Corps. He served with 2nd Platoon, Battery L, 3rd Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment (3/11), 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Phelps was killed in Iraq as the convoy he was escorting came under heavy fire. His story is the subject of an HBO movie, Taking Chance.George Thomas Coker
George Thomas Coker (born July 14, 1943) is a retired United States Navy commander who was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism as a prisoner of war (POW) during the Vietnam War. An Eagle Scout, he is noted for his devotion to scouting.
In 1966, the A-6 Intruder jet on which Coker was serving as co-pilot, bombardier, and navigator, was shot down over North Vietnam. He was held as a prisoner of war in the "Hanoi Hilton" and other camps for six and a half years. After his release, he continued to serve in the Navy until his retirement in 1986.Hanoi Taxi
Hanoi Taxi is a Lockheed C-141 Starlifter strategic airlift aircraft (serial number 66-0177) that was in service with the United States Air Force and became famous for bringing back the first returned prisoners of war in Operation Homecoming. This aircraft, which was delivered to the Air Force in 1967, was the last C-141 to be withdrawn from service after a career of almost 40 years, as the last of the fleet was retired in 2006 as sufficient C-17 Globemaster III aircraft became available in the regular Air Force to allow C-141s still serving with Air Force Reserve units to be replaced by the C-5 Galaxy aircraft being seconded from the regular Air Force. The Hanoi Taxi is currently housed at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, near Dayton, Ohio.ITVS
ITVS (Independent Television Service) is a service in the United States which funds and presents documentaries on public television through distribution by PBS and American Public Television, new media projects on the Internet, and the weekly series Independent Lens on PBS. Aside from Independent Lens, ITVS funded and produced films for more than 40 television hours per year on the PBS series POV, Frontline, American Masters and American Experience. Some ITVS programs are produced along with organizations like Latino Public Broadcasting and KQED.
Besides Independent Lens, ITVS series include Indie Lens Storycast on YouTube and Women of the World with Women and Girls Lead Global. Prior series include Global Voices (on World) and FutureStates.ITVS is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and is based in San Francisco.
ITVS has funded more than 1,400 films, with an eye on diversity and underrepresented audiences and filmmakers. The organization champions inclusion on the screen and behind the camera: Nearly 70% of ITVS funds go to diverse producers, 50% to women.Jack Lewis (author)
Jack Lewis (born January 20, 1964) is an American author and military veteran.
Lewis was born in Portland, Oregon, and was a United States Army Staff Sergeant in the Iraq War in 2004 and 2005.
Lewis' writing was included in the book Operation Homecoming, and in the Oscar-nominated documentary Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience in which he both appears, and is credited as a writer.He has been a contributor to a number of publications including Crosscut.com, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and Motorcyclist magazine where he writes the "Behind Bars" column.Jeremiah Denton
Jeremiah Andrew Denton Jr. (July 15, 1924 – March 28, 2014) was a U.S. Senator representing Alabama from 1981 to 1987, a United States Navy Rear Admiral, and Naval Aviator taken captive during the Vietnam War.
Denton was widely known for enduring almost eight years of grueling conditions as an American prisoner of war (POW) in North Vietnam after the A-6 Intruder he was piloting was shot down in 1965. He was the first of all American POWs held captive and released by Hanoi to step off an American plane during Operation Homecoming in February 1973. As one of the earliest and highest-ranking officers to be taken prisoner in North Vietnam, Denton was forced by his captors to participate in a 1966 televised propaganda interview which was broadcast in the United States. While answering questions and feigning trouble with the blinding television lights, Denton blinked his eyes in Morse code, spelling the word "TORTURE"—and confirming for the first time to U.S. Naval Intelligence that American POWs were being tortured.
In 1976, Denton wrote When Hell Was in Session about his experience in captivity, which was made into the 1979 film with Hal Holbrook. Denton was also the subject of the 2015 documentary Jeremiah produced by Alabama Public Television.
In 1980, Denton was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he focused mainly on family issues and national security, helping pass the Adolescent Family Life Act (the so-called "Chastity Bill") in 1981 and heading the Judiciary Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism.List of Iraq War documentaries
This is a chronological list of Iraq War-related documentaries.
In Shifting Sands (2001)
Back to Babylon (2002)
About Baghdad (2003)
Baghdad or Bust (2004)
Control Room (2004)
Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories (2004)
Iraq Raw: The Tuttle Tapes (2004)
Last Letters Home (2004)
Soldiers Pay (2004)
Uncovered: The War on Iraq (2004)
Voices of Iraq (2004)
War Feels Like War (2004)
War with Iraq: Stories from the Front (2004)
We Iraqis (2004)
Alpha Company: Iraq Diary (2005)
American Soldiers (2005)
Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope (2005)
The Dreams of Sparrows (2005)
Gunner Palace (2005)
In the Shadow of the Palms (2005)
Iraqi War: The Untold Stories (2005)
Occupation: Dreamland (2005)
Off to War: From Rural Arkansas to Iraq (2005)
Why We Fight (2005)
Baghdad ER (2006)
The Corporal's Boots (2006)
The Ground Truth (2006)
Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers (2006)
Iraq in Fragments (2006)
My Country, My Country (2006)
Nice Bombs (2006)
No Substitute / Victory: Vietnam to Iraq (2006)
Shadow Company (2006)
The War Tapes (2006)
When I Came Home (2006)
Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq (2007)
Body of War (2007)
Buying the War (2007)
Ghosts of Abu Ghraib (2007)
I Am an American Soldier (2007)
No End in Sight (2007)
Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience (2007)
This Is War: Memories of Iraq (2007)
Three Soldiers (2007)
Year at Danger (2007)
PBS Frontline: Bad Voodoo's War (2008)
Bulletproof Salesman (2008)
Changing Us (2008)
The Corporal's Diary: 38 Days in Iraq (2008)
Leading to War (2008)
Fighting for Life (2008)
My Vietnam, Your Iraq (2008)
Reserved to Fight (2008)
Brothers at War (2009)
Triangle of Death (2009)
Poster Girl (2010)
This is War (2010)
The Tillman Story (2010)
The Unreturned (2010)
The War You Don't See (2010)
The Iraq War: Regime Change (2013)Megan Parlen
Megan Sloan Parlen (born July 9, 1980 in Los Angeles, California, U.S.) is an American actress. She is best known for her role as Mary-Beth Pepperton on the NBC series Hang Time (1995–2000).In 2005, she received a Master's degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication. She has since worked on a documentary about servicemen returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan called Operation Homecoming.Military Airlift Command
For the current active command, see Air Mobility CommandThe Military Airlift Command (MAC) is an inactive United States Air Force major command (MAJCOM) that was headquartered at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. Established on 1 January 1966, MAC was the primary strategic airlift organization of the Air Force until 1974, when Air Force tactical airlift units in the Tactical Air Command (TAC) were merged into MAC to create a unified airlift organization.
In 1982, the heritage of the World War II Air Transport Command (ATC) (1942-1948) and the postwar Military Air Transport Service (MATS) (1948-1966) were consolidated with MAC, providing a continuous history of long range airlift.
Inactivated on 1 June 1992, most of MAC's personnel and equipment were reassigned to the new Air Mobility Command (AMC), with a smaller portion divided between U.S. Air Forces in Europe (USAFE), Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) and the newly created Air Education and Training Command (AETC). The heritage of MAC (and its predecessor organizations) was officially consolidated into AMC in 2016.Operation Homecoming (book)
Operation Homecoming was a United States National Endowment for the Arts–Department of Defense therapeutic writing program for returning war veterans. It resulted in a book and television documentary.Richard A. Stratton
Richard Allen Stratton (born October 14, 1931) is a retired Naval Aviator (No. V-11444) and clinical social worker. He served as a Lieutenant Commander during the Vietnam War from 1966 to 1973. He was attached to the USS Ticonderoga (CVA-14)/Air Wing 19/Attack Squadron VA-192 flying 22 combat missions earning two Air Medals and the Combat Action Ribbon. After capture by the North Vietnamese in January 5, 1967, he served with the Fourth Allied POW Wing, Hanoi, DRVN. He earned the Silver Star for his valor and leadership while a prisoner of war. His post service career was as a clinical social worker licensed to practice in Rhode Island and Florida and a national certified addiction counselor, Level I. He served as the Chairman, Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Prisoners of War from 1989 to 1995.Richard E. Robbins
Richard E. Robbins is an American filmmaker and documentary maker, who has produced and directed several documentaries for ABC and PBS. The most notable is Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, which puts forward the perspective of American troops returning home from service in Iraq. In January 2008, Robbins received an Academy Award nomination for the film as well as two Emmy nominations, and nominations from the International Documentary Association and the Directors Guild of America. He is also a noted producer, having produced several series for Peter Jennings Reporting, including Peter Jennings Reporting: LAPD and Peter Jennings Reporting: Dark Horizon – India, Pakistan, and the Bomb. He was a producer for the ABC special The Century: America's Time."
He graduated from Harvard College.Tom Young (novelist)
Tom Young (born 1962 in Raleigh, North Carolina) is an American novelist. He is known primarily as the author of the military thrillers The Mullah's Storm, Silent Enemy, The Renegades, The Warriors, and Sand and Fire. Young served in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars with the West Virginia Air National Guard. Young's military experience inspired his debut novel, The Mullah's Storm, which garnered positive reviews. The Mullah's Storm, Silent Enemy, and The Renegades received Gold Medal awards from the Military Writer's Society of America. Silent Enemy, The Renegades, and The Warriors received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly.U.S. prisoners of war during the Vietnam War
Members of the United States armed forces were held as prisoners of war (POWs) in significant numbers during the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1973. Unlike U.S. service members captured in World War II and the Korean War, who were mostly enlisted troops, the overwhelming majority of Vietnam-era POWs were officers, most of them Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps airmen; a relatively small number of Army enlisted personnel were also captured, as well as one enlisted Navy seaman who fell overboard from a naval vessel. Most U.S. prisoners were captured and held in North Vietnam by the North Vietnamese Army; a much smaller number were captured in the south and held by the National Liberation Front (Việt Cộng). A handful of U.S. civilians were also held captive during the war.
Thirteen prisons and prison camps were used to house U.S. prisoners in North Vietnam, the most widely known of which was Hỏa Lò Prison (nicknamed the "Hanoi Hilton"). The treatment and ultimate fate of U.S. prisoners of war in Vietnam became a subject of widespread concern in the United States, and hundreds of thousands of Americans wore POW bracelets with the name and capture date of imprisoned U.S. service members.American POWs in North Vietnam were released in early 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming, the result of diplomatic negotiations concluding U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. On February 12, 1973, the first of 591 U.S. prisoners began to be repatriated, and return flights continued until late March. After Operation Homecoming, the U.S. still listed roughly 1,350 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action and sought the return of roughly 1,200 Americans reported killed in action but whose bodies were not recovered. These missing personnel would become the subject of the Vietnam War POW/MIA issue.
The US practice of handing over NVA and Viet Cong prisoners captured by Americans to the South Vietnamese military, where the abuse of such prisoners was commonly known, may have contributed to abuse of American POWs held by the NVA and Viet Cong as a means of retaliation.Vietnam War POW/MIA issue
The Vietnam War POW/MIA issue concerns the fate of United States servicemen who were reported as missing in action (MIA) during the Vietnam War and associated theaters of operation in Southeast Asia. The term also refers to issues related to the treatment of affected family members by the governments involved in these conflicts. Following the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, 591 American prisoners of war (POWs) were returned during Operation Homecoming. The U.S. listed about 2,500 Americans as prisoners of war or missing in action but only 1,200 Americans were reported to have been killed in action with no body recovered. Many of these were Airmen who were shot down over North Vietnam or Laos. Investigations of these incidents have involved determining whether the men involved survived being shot down. If they did not survive, then the U.S. government considered efforts to recover its soldiers' remains. POW/MIA activists played a role in pushing the U.S. government to improve its efforts in resolving the fates of these missing soldiers. Progress in doing so was slow until the mid-1980s, when relations between the U.S. and Vietnam began to improve and more cooperative efforts were undertaken. Normalization of U.S. relations with Vietnam in the mid-1990s was a culmination of this process.
Considerable speculation and investigation has contributed to a hypothesis that a significant number of missing U.S. soldiers from the Vietnam War were captured as prisoners of war by Communist forces and kept as live prisoners after U.S. involvement in the war concluded in 1973. A vocal group of POW/MIA activists maintains that there has been a concerted conspiracy by the Vietnamese and American governments since then to hide the existence of these prisoners. The U.S. government has steadfastly denied that prisoners were left behind or that any effort has been made to cover up their existence. Popular culture has reflected the "live prisoners" theory, most notably in the 1985 film Rambo: First Blood Part II. Several congressional investigations have looked into the issue, culminating with the largest and most thorough, the United States Senate Select Committee on POW/MIA Affairs of 1991–1993 led by Senators John Kerry, Bob Smith, and John McCain. It found "no compelling evidence that proves that any American remains alive in captivity in Southeast Asia."The issue has been a highly emotional one to those involved, and is often considered the last depressing, divisive aftereffect of the Vietnam War for the United States.
Easter Offensive (1972)
Post-Paris Peace Accords (1973–1974)
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