Vietnam POWs honored at Travis ‘Homecoming’
The Reporter April 1, 2023
VACAVILLE, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — In 1973, hundreds of American Prisoners of War being held captive in Vietnam finally gained their freedom, boarding planes en route to the United States by way of Travis Air Force Base.
On Friday, those veterans were honored for their service and sacrifice during the second and final day of the 50th Anniversary of Operation Homecoming celebration at Travis.
Despite memories of the horrific war, the mood was jubilant and the veterans present were wreathed in smiles.
“It’s the way many of us dealt with things,” veteran Michael O’Connor, retired pilot and chief warrant officer, explained later.
In a video, Gen. Michael Minihan with Air Mobility Command shared deep gratitude for Vietnam veterans.
“I send my deepest honor and respect from Air Mobility Command,” he said. “It’s an honor to follow in your footsteps.”
Col. Derek Salmi, commander of the 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis, shared the sentiment, saying he was “honored and humbled” by their presence. He thanked their families for their sacrifices, as well, and said the celebrations at Travis “reaffirm what a grateful nation affirmed 50 years ago” and that the veterans are a “moral North Star to follow.”
“Know that we will never waver in our remembrance of you,” he said, nor would those Missing in Action be forgotten.
The Vietnam War ran from November 1955 to April 1975 with direct U.S. involvement ending in 1973. An estimated 58,220 servicemembers were killed.
A three-part video series followed, speaking with POWs about their time in captivity, and after. It was a moving remembrance.
Retired Capt. Charlie Plumb, a naval aviator and guest speaker, spoke about being shot down on his 75th mission and shared a bit about the experience. When freedom came it was unexpected, he said, but also “the most beautiful day of our lives. ... We thought we dreamed about it. We prayed.”
He thanked those that made the rescue possible.
On the tarmac, Salmi renamed the Travis AFB Passenger Terminal and hosted a historic marker dedication ceremony in the spot where former POWs touched down on American soil.
“We stand on your shoulders as we go forward,” he told the veterans.
The commander described the moment as deeply moving.
“It is amazing to see them and hear their stories,” he said.
The contingent later headed to the Travis Air Museum for a look at a new exhibit, that of a POW complete with “prison garb” worn in Vietnam. Michael O’Connor made the donation, describing how important it was that people never forget what servicemembers went through in Vietnam.
O’Connor hammered home that the story is just not about the prisoners, bu also their families and how so many came together to bring them home.
“I hope it helps people reflect on what sacrifices were made,” he said.
A POW roundtable was slated to complete the event.
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