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Travis AFB commemorates Operation Homecoming 50th anniversary

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Casey Sturdivan
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from Travis AFB commemorated the 50th anniversary of Operation Homecoming March 30 through March 31, 2023.

Operation Homecoming took place at the conclusion of the Vietnam War, from Feb. 12, 1973 to April 4, 1973, and saw the repatriation of 591 American prisoners of war from Vietnam. 258 of these individuals passed through Travis AFB to return to their homes of record.

The operation in 1973 was executed in part by then Maj. Gen John Gonge, commander of the 22d Air Force. Gonge retired as a Lt. Gen. in 1977 and considered Operation Homecoming a major highlight in his career.

“They were just as dedicated, even though they’d been in a camp. Every one of them came to the door, stood, hit a brace and saluted the flag. And we welcomed them,” said Gonge. “If you ever felt like your heart was going to break, that’s the time it did. Tension was so great. The nice thing about it, you could have that kind of tension because you knew they were home.”

On March 30, Travis AFB hosted a warrior obstacle course to highlight the resilience of the POWs. Service members and their families paid homage to the bravery Vietnam veterans while completing the challenge. The evening capped off with a social hour meet and greet, allowing former POWs a chance to socialize with current base and civic leaders. 

“I think today is another opportunity for us to come together to reflect,” said Chief Master Sgt. Keith Scott, 60th Air Mobility Wing Command Chief. “When we reflect, it gives us an opportunity to figure out how we can rededicate ourselves to what so many others have done to pave the way.”

On March 31, the base hosted a series of events attended by former POWs, Vietnam veterans and members of Team Travis. To kick off the day’s events, the Travis passenger terminal was renamed the “Operation Homecoming Passenger Terminal” in an event presided over by Col. Derek Salmi, 60 AMW commander.

“Today we pause to reaffirm what a grateful nation affirmed fifty years ago,” said Salmi. “That Operation Homecoming was a time to celebrate heroes, the very best of America, and what this nation stands for.”

After the ceremony, guests were escorted outside to unveil a commemorative plaque and temporary nose art depicting the Operation Homecoming anniversary patch on a C-17 Globemaster III, a C-5M Super Galaxy and a KC-10 Extender. Additionally, the location on the flight line where the returning aircraft parked and the POWs took their first steps on American soil was marked with a dedicatory marker.

Guests then transitioned to the Travis Aviation Heritage Center to tour relics from the Vietnam War and hear from the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

Members of Team Travis were invited to attend an afternoon event with keynote speaker retired U.S. Navy Capt. Charlie Plumb, fighter pilot and former Vietnam POW, who was held captive for 2,103 days.

“You have to be strong; you have to have courage. This POW stuff is not for the faint of heart,” said Plumb. “Return with honor. Every decision you make has to be filtered through those three words.”

After Plumb’s speech, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions to a roundtable of four Vietnam veterans. Members included three former POWs: Capt. Plumb, retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Bill Tschudy, naval flight officer, and retired U.S. Air Force Maj Lynn Beens, pilot. Also included was retired U.S. Air Force Capt. Don Wyllie, pilot of one of the C-141 Starlifters that transported POWs home to the U.S.

Operation Homecoming marked the official termination of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. For more information about the commemoration events, visit