Taipei Air Station - 1966 - - - " What you have in the end are memories"......... Photo Courtesy of Richard Reesh.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Operation Homecoming - 40 Years Ago This Week.

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Operation Homecoming.

Our men, prisoners of the North Vietnamese in North and South Vietnam, were released and flown aboard US C-141 and C-9 aircraft to Clark AB, Philippines and freedom.

 Taste the freedom,  at last - aboard a C-141 enroute to Clark AB.

Imagine the absolute Joy these men felt.  
You can't help but feel it yourself as you study these photos. 

The men wearing US military uniforms were "escort officers" accompanying the men from Hanoi.  They were along to take care of anything the men needed.

The first -141 out of Hanoi landed at Clark Monday 12 February 1973.

We begin with a news video from ABC News HERE.
(Editor: You have to watch the commercial before the ABC News Video begins )

Below clean film from Clark AB, February 13, 1973.

The US Air Force has an article on Operation Homecoming  HERE.

If you want to read the newspaper article, double click on the photo.
If you still want larger print, hold down the Ctrl key on your keyboard and tap on the + key next to the backspace key.  Keep taping until the print gets large enough for you.

Continuation of the Stars & Stripes Front Page stories.

The base newspaper printed a few days before the release of our men took place.

An article in the above edition of the base paper reported,
"Exchange (Clark AB) short half million dollars last year."
 Oh my!  imagine that, $500,000. MISSING? Hummm.

The base newspaper published a "Supplement" on 16 February 1973.
This edition of the paper is crumbling from age.  

Clark base personnel and families turned-out in droves to see the men as they came off the aircraft and all along the bus route to the Clark Hospital.

The men went through a receiving line as they stepped off the aircraft, and

walked to one of those Ambulance type buses which ever so slowly drove over to the base hospital.

It was a very slow ride, as folks lined the streets cheering and waving to the men.

Our unit, the Quick Reaction Recovery Team, out of Okinawa, had our office a couple hundred yards from the hospital.  We were able to see all of the bus traffic pass by our door, and all of us were out on the street to wish the men a welcome home.  

It was emotional to stand there, watching the bus approach, seeing the men and knowing what they had gone through.

I think everyone who greeted these men at Clark, wanted to give them something more than we could express.  

All we could do was shout, wave our arms, salute, holler, jump up and down and smile as we had never smiled before.  I've never again experienced the feelings I felt on those days in 1973, as the men arrived.  You would see many of the men around the base. it was a special time, something wonderful.

For those who were at Clark sometime in your career, this will remind you of how the bus moved from the flightline to the hospital.

The hospital is the large black building just southeast of the 1973 on the map.

Our Okinawa QRT office was along the road off from the right side of the hospital.

Our team consisted of approximately 40 individuals, primary and backup personnel.  We came together sometime in late 1972 and began practicing for the release of our POWs in Southeast Asia.

We had no idea where the men would be taken for release. We set-up a complete team of personnel and equipment capable of going any where that our POWs showed up.

It was thought that the POWs held by the VC in the south might end up left out in a jungle clearing by themselves.  We had to assume and consider any and all possibilities of their release.

Personnel were chosen from a variety of fields, including, doctors and medics, communications and electronics, supply, food service, intelligence, translators and administration. Have I missed anyone.  It was a small but very capable group of men.

We loaded our equipment into wheeled trunks which could be quickly loaded and offloaded from aircraft or vehicles.

When word came in late January, we loaded our gear on a C-130 aircraft out of Kadena and flew into Clark to wait-out instructions.  Clark was designated as the receiving base for all Homecoming functions.

Our group set-up office close to the hospital, got 3 new vans from the Clark motor pool and began our operation at Clark.  Each team member had a walkie talkie assigned, so as to be immediately available for departure from Clark at a moments notice.  

Although I was not privy to discussions on the POW release news, I did hear the stories from our senior officers who attended meeting throughout the day.  It was a time of "waiting" for all of us.  

Life went on, we were restricted to Clark, so the temptations of off-base fun and games was quashed. We were given a BX card with a dollar amount of $25.00 limit.  Good enough to get most anything we needed.

I don't remember all of the folks who were in our quarters trailer, other than my boss, the ranking Sergeant Major of the team.  He was one smart man, who was from the old "brown shoe corps."  although we sometimes believed he was related to Sergeant Bilko. Bob Colvin retired in the Ft Huachuca area.   I found his obituary recently.

When news of the POW release was announced,  we knew our group was not needed as aircraft would fly direct to Hanoi and South Vietnam to pickup our men.

It was still undetermined if all of the know POWs would show up on the aircraft and we had no way of knowing if some other men might pop up at other locations in Asia.  Our group was told to sit tight and wait.

In the evening of 14 February 1973, our group was taken off alert and told to relax.

Some of our group jumped on the next aircraft to Okinawa and Japan, a few of the remaining members of our group were given the opportunity to take a few days of R&R up at Camp John Hay north of Clark AB.  

We flew up to Camp John Hay in a US Navy helicopter out of Cubic Bay.  I had never been up there and the ride was spectacular, looking out the tail of the aircraft.  

Just as we finished checking in, here came another Navy helicopter flying right over the cabin check-in building, attempting to land in what appeared to be a helo landing area.  As the bird came down, one of the rotters caught a pine tree and the helicopter fell immediately to the ground in a cloud of dirt and dust.

It was surreal...  Everyone from the area rushed to the downed bird helping the passengers up the hill and away from the crash scene. Fortunately, three or four of our medical team were with us and they immediately set-up a triage in the building and everyone from the crash was seen.  No serious injuries to anyone, although there were some strains and bruises. I believe all of the men on the crashed bird were off the USS White Plains, including the Captain. 

We stayed in the John Hay area for a few days and then returned to Clark to wrap up checking out.  We had to turn-in everything we had out on loan from the various units on Clark.  Also, we had all of our supplies, including perishable food and drinks to dispose of.  We had everything locked-up at the MAC cargo area behind locked screened rooms.  Our team had a little bit of everything.  

After we packed up everything and determined how much we had, we arranged for a C-130 ride back to Kadena.  The bird was not due for a couple of days, so we had time to shop for monkeypod ware and other Filipino goods from the shops outside the gate at Clark.

We were soon back home in Okinawa.  It was a once in a life time experience.  Although we were never called upon, we were well trained and ready for any contingency.

These are some of the men who were with the Okinawa Quick Reaction Team at Clark.

Other members of our team were with us at Clark earlier, but were sent home because they were no longer needed.

I'm the guy center front row in both pictures
The Clark Hospital is the white building just to our backs.
The other thing I remember about Clark was the NCO Club.
I thought they had wonderful food.  Always a great menu and the food was prepared well.
The stag bar always had a big-stake poker game on-going, day and night.
I often wondered if the retired guys who lived outside of Clark spent the better part of their lives playing cards at the NCO Club.

All in all, Clark was one heck of a great place to be assigned.  (Other than Taiwan)

 I found this in a box in my garage.  I'm not the type of person who displays these type of things on the walls of my home. 

 It was something the Sergeant Major wanted each of us to have, of course we had to purchase one. 

Our group was never used, but it wasn't because we weren't ready!

The old saying, hurry-up and wait.

Here's an interesting page from the Stars & Stripes

The Stars & Stripes - What we read back in the day.....
Wonder who has those Taipei telephone numbers today..

If you were involved in Project Homecoming please leave a Comment below, or you can Email us at

Cheers my friends....

This San Miguel's for You.

(Back in the day, if the label didn't say, San Miguel Brewery Philippines, it wasn't fit to drink)

FOLLOW-UP  - 40 years after Homecoming


Jim Dwyer said...

Thanks Kent for this posting -- Remember this Happy Time!! I was still at CCK AB when the homecoming took place at Clark AB. Some crews from CCK were in Hanoi when the POW's were released and escorted them to the C-141. On 7 DEC 1973 I flew into Hanoi taking in a team from Hawaii that were going to search various crash sites for remains.

Anonymous said...

Four years before, I came home, but left, and I knew I WOULD leave, too many of my brothers behind. I never stop praying the ALL will come home. Especially to Major Morgan J. Donahue. Los 1968. Although we never served together, we Did serve at the same time. I promise you, Major Morgan, I WILL return the bracelet I wear in your honor, when YOU come home.

Anonymous said...

My dad is the Navy color guard in those pictures. He was a young AK stationed at Subic but was told to report to Clark for an assignment. Because of his supply experience, he also was the one that procured all those wooden plaques from a local woodcarver in Angeles City. The woodcarver's daughter ended up being my younger brother's nanny - kind of a bribe to get those plaques done!