JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, HAWAII--Fifty years ago, a U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter operating under the call sign MAC177, touched down at Travis Air Force Base, California, carrying passengers eager to come home.
These passengers were some of the 591 American prisoners of war held captive in North Vietnam, who were finally returned to the U.S. The release came as a result of the signing of the Paris Peace Accords, ending the U.S. military operations in the country.
Now, five decades later, members from Travis AFB are retracing that same journey home, honoring those members and the mission known as Operation Homecoming.
On March 27, a Travis C-17 Globemaster III, crewed by 21st AS members and nine mission-essential personnel, operating under the MAC177 call sign once more, landed at Noi Bai International Airport, Vietnam, to commence a series of remembrance events.
Col. Ryan Garlow, 60th Air Mobility Wing vice commander, delivered remarks at a ceremony held at the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, Detachment 2, in Hanoi.
“This heritage flight and events of today provide the opportunity to reflect on all the positive changes in our two nations’ relationship over the last 50 years,” said Garlow. “The men and women of Travis Air Force Base are committed to the shared partnership in the security and prosperity of the region.”
MAC177 proceeded to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, March 28, just as the original mission did, but this time to attend a subsequent ceremony hosted by the agency.
“I’ve always been enamored by these gentlemen who were POWs,” said Jonnie Webb, ceremony guest speaker. “I’m honored to be here with you today, the 50th anniversary of the return of the American POWs from the Vietnam War. Some 50 years ago, just a short distance from here, the first C-141 touched down with the first group of POWs to be returned. That was a great day for their families and our nation.”
Continuing to retrace the historical mission, MAC177 returned to Travis AFB the following day, where half a century ago, many families eagerly awaited the return of their loved ones they once feared they would never see again.
“Being selected to lead this mission was truly an honor,” said Lt. Col. Austin Street, 21st AS commander, C-17 pilot and commander of the mission. “I tried to put myself in the shoes of the aircraft commander who executed this mission 50 years ago and tried to imagine what the crew must have felt when flying to Vietnam, knowing they had a significant role in reuniting POWs with their families. I imagine that crew felt an immense responsibility to ensure mission success, and they likely considered it one of the most important missions they had flown. I tried to approach this commemorative flight with the same mentality.”
Planning this mission began in January. Maj. Luis Jimenez, 21st Airlift Squadron C-17 Globemaster III pilot, was responsible for coordinating everything from crew lodging to ensuring proper flying and personnel clearances in Vietnam and Japan.
“This was a big ask, because of the pressure to make sure we get it right,” said Jimenez. “We owe it to those service men and women who did us proud 50 years ago to make sure this isn’t taken lightly and that we are ever so proud to call them American heroes. I only wish we could do more.”
For more about the original Operation Homecoming mission, visit https://www.travis.af.mil/Information/Operation-Homecoming/
For more imagery from the 50th anniversary commemorative MAC177 mission, visit
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Austin Street, left, 21st Airlift Squadron commander, Maj. Vitaliy Benz, center, and Capt. Sarah Aravich, both 21st AS C-17 Globemaster III pilots go through pre-flight procedures on a C-17 March 24, 2023, at Travis Air Force Base, California. Members from the 21st AS, 860th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 60th Security Forces Squadron and 60th Air Mobility Wing flew to Vietnam and Hawaii, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Operation Homecoming. The operation brought 591 American prisoners of war back to the U.S. from Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Traci Keller)