1973 began with the announcement of the Paris Peace Accords on January 27. It was intended to halt the fighting between North and South Vietnam and end the American military involvement. Fighting continued in spite of the ceasefire. One American military advisor reported that operations were continuing much as they had before. But there were signs that the war was winding down. Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announced that the draft would be ending, and security advisor Henry Kissinger visited Hanoi to discuss establishing diplomatic relations with North Vietnam.
But one bit of news was the most important to many American families. It was announced that 591 American prisoners in North Vietnam would be released. In Operation Homecoming, three transport planes flew to Hanoi to bring them home. Some of the prisoners had been held for over eight years. The prisoners had received minimal medical care, and many had to be carried into the planes on stretchers. When the planes got airborne and the reality of freedom sank in, the former prisoners yelled, cried, and cheered. Air Force Captain Larry Chesley remembered that “everything seemed like heaven.” He said that when the doors closed and the planes took off, “there were tears in the eyes of every man on board.”
Back in North Dakota, the family of Lieutenant Richard Bates waited anxiously for news. Bates, from Plaza, was an Air Force navigator. When he left for Vietnam on March 29, 1972, he promised his 24-year-old wife that he would see her in one year. He was unable to keep that promise. His Phantom jet was shot down over North Vietnam on October 5th that same year. He was originally listed as missing in action, but on this date in 1973, the Bismarck Tribune announced that Lieutenant Bates was coming home.
Brenda Bates got to see her husband on television when he got off the airplane at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, and she talked to him by phone – exactly one year after he left for Vietnam. She planned to fly to St Louis so she would be there when Bates arrived at Scott Air Force Base. She said he had lost 30 pounds, but other than that he was fine.
Remembered Sky. “Operation Homecoming.”
Accessed 23 February, 2016.
United States Air Force. “Operation Homecoming.” "http://www.af.mil/News/ArticleDisplay/tabid/223/Article/109716/operation-homecoming-for-vietnam-pows-marks-40-years.aspx" http://www.af.mil/News/ArticleDisplay/tabid/223/Article/109716/operation-homecoming-for-vietnam-pows-marks-40-years.aspx Accessed 23 February, 2016.
Bismarck Tribune. “Saturday’s Good News.” 31 March, 1973.