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C-141A Starlifters carrying repatriated Vietnam War POWs lands at Scott AFB

Ex-POWs are on a flight about to be reunited with family members in February 1973.
Ex-POWs are on a flight about to be reunited with family members in February 1973.

On Feb. 14, 1973, the first of 14 C-141A Starlifters carrying Vietnam War ex-POWs landed at Scott Air Force Base.

During the 1970s, Scott AFB and the 375th Aeromedical Airlift Wing, forerunner of today’s 375th Air Mobility Wing, continued their involvement in the critical aeromedical airlift mission as the Vietnam War wound down.

The C-141A that landed at Scott AFB on Feb. 14, 1973, was the first of 14 aircraft, carrying 11 of the 20 initially-released ex-POWs. The returnees were then taken to various Armed Forces hospitals throughout the U.S., including Scott AFB, each accompanied by a MAC aeromedical airlift attendant.

On Jan. 27, 1973, U.S. and Vietnamese officials signed the Paris Peace Accords, calling for a cease-fire, repatriation of all U.S. POWs, and a full accounting of those missing in action. As the lead command, Military Airlift Command, today’s Air Mobility Command, took responsibility for the planning of Operation HOMECOMING, originally called EGRESS RECAP prior to implementation, the airlifting of ex-U.S. POWs from the Southeast Asia back to the continental U.S.

The returnees were initially flown to the U.S. aboard MAC Lockheed C-141A Starlifter aircraft and, upon their arrival in the U.S., were transferred to McDonnell-Douglas C-9A Nightingale aeromedical evacuation aircraft, including those of the 375 AAW’s 11th Aeromedical Airlift Squadron at Scott AFB.

The C-141A that landed at Scott AFB on Feb. 14, 1973, was the first of 14 aircraft, carrying 11 of the 20 initially-released ex-POWs. The returnees were then taken to various Armed Forces hospitals throughout the U.S., including Scott AFB, each accompanied by a MAC aeromedical airlift attendant.

As the first group of POWs was about to be released in Southeast Asia, Scott AFB’s 11th Aeromedical Airlift Squadron C-9s, and crews began staging to various parts of the U.S. to expedite the movement of the returning POWs to their destination hospitals as soon as they arrived in the U.S. from Clark Air Base, Republic of the Philippines.

Scott AFB was one of 13 Air Force bases where the ex-POWs were brought for intelligence debriefing, possible medical attention, and in many cases, the first meeting with their families following long years of captivity in Southeast Asian POW camps.

Scott AFB was one of 13 Air Force bases where the ex-POWs were brought for intelligence debriefing, possible medical attention, and in many cases, the first meeting with their families following long years of captivity in Southeast Asian POW camps.

During Operation Homecoming, four detachments of Scott’s 375 AAW transported ex-POWs:

▪ Detachment 1 based at Andrews AFB, Maryland: Transported 124 ex-POWs and 124 attendants to hospitals within their area of responsibility, whcih included Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia;

▪ Detachment 2, based at Maxwell AFB, Alabama: Transported 95 ex-POWs and 95 attendants to hospitals in their AOR, which included Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee;

▪ Detachment 3, based at Buckley Air National Guard Base, Colorado: Transported 14 ex-POWs to Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Denver; and

▪ Detachment 5, based at Kelly AFB, Texas: Transported 150 ex-POWs in 19 missions within their AOR, which included Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Louisiana, and Arkansas. Overall, 109 ex-POWs were transferred from C-141As to C-9As at Kelly AFB, while some patients were transported to Wilford Hall and Brooke Army Medical Centers in San Antonio.

Altogether, 347 returnees, including 13 litter patients and 334 ambulatory patients, and 354 attendants were flown to 26 destination hospitals aboard MAC C-9A Nightingale aircraft for medical examinations and treatment. A total of 591 American ex-POWs were transported to the U.S. utilizing 61 airlift missions coordinated by the 375 AAW’s Patient Airlift Center at Scott AFB.

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