JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR HICKAM, Hawaii --
A ceremony was held at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, on Mar. 28, 2023, recognizing the 50th anniversary of Operation Homecoming.
The homecomings occurred between Feb. 12 to April 1, 1973, when 591 POWs arrived at Hickam Air Field’s Military Airlift Command terminal, touching U.S. soil for the first time and celebrating their release from captivity after the Vietnam War.
“My dad was a Vietnam War veteran — it really is very emotional and an honor to be a part of [the ceremony],” said U.S. Marine Col Matt Brannen, DPAA deputy director for operations. “Their indomitable spirit, courage, sacrifice, and the hardships they endured serve as an example for us to follow.”
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Johnie Webb, former DPAA deputy director for outreach and communications and Vietnam veteran, spoke as a guest speaker during the ceremony, sharing his own experiences during the Vietnam War.
“It’s an extraordinary thing to remember,” said Webb, one of the first American’s back in Vietnam after the war. “I think this is most appropriate and especially to have it here at DPAA where we’re still trying to carry on the work to bring all those men back home that didn’t come back.”
DPAA’s mission is a joint operation providing the fullest possible account for remaining missing-in-action service members from past conflicts, returning personnel to their families and to the nation.
“[The anniversary] puts the POW/MIA mission back on the — not necessarily on the front page, but in a way on the front page because people don’t know this,” said Natalie Rauch, daughter of Vietnam veteran U.S. Air Force Col. Warren Anderson, MIA. “Even some active duty don’t know this mission goes on.”
Since the conclusion of the war, more than1,000 missing service members have had their remains returned to the United States for burial with full military honors. Today, there are 1,581 still missing Americans from the Vietnam War.
Rauch continued to explain the importance of the ceremony, remembering the 591 POWs that were returned 50 years ago and how it can educate younger service members.
“They’re going to be reminded of the sacrifice that went before them and they’re going to have a different understanding,” said Rauch.