National Headquarters

3201 East Pioneer Parkway #40

Arlington, Texas 76010-5396

817-649-2979

817-649-0109 - FAX

hq@axpow.org

 


Five years ago, noted editorial cartoonist Jeff MacNally gave a warm tribute to returned POWS...

 

 

 Operation Homecoming Facts

 591 POWs released to U.S. authorities

13 captured in Laos and released in North Vietnam

­122 Captured in South Vietnam

28 released in the South

94 released in the North

­ 3 released in China

Released from enemy control prior to Operation Homecoming

­76 early releases

5 released by Laos

32 released by Cambodia

13 released by North Vietnam

1 released by China

25 released by South Vietnam

Escaped from enemy control prior to Operation Homecoming

­32 early releases

30 captured in South Vietnam

2 captured in Laos

Escaped from enemy control post Operation Homecoming

­2 captured in South Vietnam and escaped to Saigon

 

 

Operation Homecoming started Feb, 12, 1973, with three C-141A aircraft heading to Hanoi, North Vietnam, and one C-9A aircraft to Saigon, South Vietnam. They all departed Clark Air Base, Philippines, early that morning, with the C-9A departing first. Later that day, the arrival of each aircraft was to be broadcasted live by satellite around the world (a telecast of this scale was a first ever).

 All aircraft had an aeromedical team of two flight nurses and three aeromedical evacuation technicians with a couple of flight surgeons. The aeromedical crew for the C-141 aircraft were composed primarily of 10th Aeromedical Evacuation Group (10th AEGp) personnel. Front end crews were from various bases of their aircraft. The C-9A aeromedical crews were from the 9th Aeromedical Evacuation Group (9th AEGp) based at Clark AB, Philippines. Their front end crews were from the 20th Aeromedical Operations Squadron and co-located with the 9th AEGp. The flight surgeons were from the Clark AB Hospital. Along with the medical and flight crews were two escorts for each POW and an AF News media team.


Each dedicated C-141A aircraft (all were ‘A’ models back then) was especially painted white and marked with a red cross on their tail to clearly mark its peaceful intention to all. All C-9A aircraft had those markings, already. The mission was for three C-141As to fly towards the North Vietnam border as a group, then enter North Vietnam, one at a time. While aircraft 60177 and its medical crew flew into Hanoi to pick up our American POWs, the other two C-141s circled to distance themselves by 30 minutes each. This was a precaution before proceeding across ‘enemy territory’ to minimize potential loss.  Aircraft 60177 and its crew, like the others, brought back 40 POWs. The POWs who required immediate medical attention were in the first airplane followed by those who had been imprisoned the longest. During the early part of Operation Homecoming, groups of POWs released were selected on the basis of longest length of time in prison. The first group had spent 6-8 years as prisoners of war.

 

 

It was an overcast day, but beautiful to the POWs.

 Larry Chesley had been a POW for more than seven years. In his book, “Seven Years in Hanoi”, he wrote:

 “February 12th was a beautiful day in North Vietnam, - at least to 112 American POWs. We had received our going away clothes the night before and cleaned up our rooms as well as we could. We assembled in the courtyard and made our way under guard to the gate of the Hanoi Hilton. This was the first time we had moved anywhere from there without being blindfolded and handcuffed.”

 Camouflaged buses carried the men to the airfield in Hanoi.

 

 

At Hanoi’s Gia Lam airfield, the men marched in military style through the crowds. Maintaining their military bearing and discipline was a key to getting through the POW experience for many, as was their religious faith.

 Awaiting the POWs at the airfield was an American military commission. Larry wrote:  How good it was to see those United States uniforms again. As a Vietnamese officer read off our names one by one . . . we saluted Colonel Al Lynn, the U.S. officer in charge. He shook each of us by the hand... ...Then a U.S. military escort walked us to the plane, giving us a hug of welcome as they did so.

 Meanwhile, in South Vietnam, another group of Americans also prepared to go home. They were prisoners of the Viet Cong, and only a very few of those POWs survived to return to freedom. They were taken to a release point in a rural area, not a city. And as you can see, they left in the pajama-style prisoner uniforms that they had worn throughout their captivity. The men from the South definitely appeared to be in worse condition than those from the North. But their joy that day was certainly at least as great as that of their comrades from the Hanoi Hilton.

 

 

Wayne Everingham was an aeromedical technician during Operation Homecoming. He commented that each of the newly freed men was dressed in the same colored clothing, carried a diddy bag and wore a very somber face. But that changed immediately to a beaming smile as they got inside of the aircraft - they hadn’t wanted the Vietnamese to see any expression! All the POWs were flown to Clark in the medevac C-141s. Larry Chesley commented:  “We were met at the door by pretty young ladies, the first American women we had seen in years. We sat down in the seats and looked around. Everything seemed like heaven. Just like heaven. When the doors of that C-141 closed, there were tears in the eyes of every man aboard.”

 At Clark Field

The greeting party consisted of Admiral Gayler, the commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific. The son of his predecessor in that position was one of the POWs and is now Senator John McCain from Arizona. Also meeting the returning men were Roger Shields, President Nixon’s top assistant for POW issues, and General Moore, the senior Air Force officer in theater.

 

 

Quoting Larry Chesley again:

 “There were perhaps a thousand people to greet us, and as we walked down the ramp one at a time, we heard them clapping, singing and cheering in welcome. I didn’t start crying until after I had saluted and shaken hands with the admiral and the general who greeted us on the red carpet laid out for us.”

 Editor’s note. Larry Chesley subsequently retired from the Air Force and served several years as a state Senator in Arizona.

 Welcome Home, Heroes.

 




WAR POTATOES AND WISDOM

By Christine Hierlmaier
expressink@charter.net


When Grandma had her surgery, the family gathered like monks at the two-story farmhouse where my mother and five siblings grew up. Grandpa stood by the phone, wearing his usual chambray shirt rolled over mayonnaise jar biceps. A side part regimented his silvery hair. An unlit Camel defied gravity on his bottom lip.


Pacing, he swore under his breath. The throaty gruffness seemed right for moving heifers and shouting over a grumbling diesel tractor. But he rarely used that tone in the house, and it seized my 7-year-old heart. I glanced toward the potbelly stove in the kitchen where Grandma’s teapot waited with us for her return. Just then, the ringing phone jolted everyone from their meditations. We followed Grandpa’s lunge like a tennis match. His tanned face grimaced and twisted when he hung up the phone. Hand clutching his mouth, cigarette crushed, he turned toward the sun-streaked porch, voice cracking, “Dammit all to hell!”  The porch door wailed after his muddy boot tracks on the sidewalk.


 John “Jack” Dougherty was a WW II Army veteran and an ex-POW in Germany. He never talked about it; I guess it was difficult to remember eating dirty potato peels and watching guys who had barely started to shave fade away and die.


Years later, I read the letters my grandparents sent to each other during the war and saw them in a new light. Jack called his Mabel pet names like ‘Honey Girl’ and ‘Old Sweetheart,’ poured out his desire for her, his hopes for their future and his first son. They married just 15 months before Jack left with the draft, and my uncle, Don, was 3-years-old when he returned to Minnesota.


Despite the Army’s censorship of personal letters, Jack’s youthful frustration often shone through. “My God, how I wish this damn war was over and I could come home to you again. I’m fed up with this life and I don’t care who knows it. I hope God sees fit to end this war before we have to be apart for years.”


Mabel sent candy, egg white hankies and pictures of Don to Jack along with letters of home.  Jack had yet to hold his own child, so he carried the photos as closely as his dog tags. “The guys sure think he’s a cute kid. They tell me the looks must come from his mother because his dad sure didn’t have any. I think so, too.”


He never expected to be so far away on his first tour.  The African sand, strange trees and horrid insects married his heart to alfalfa fields and mosquitoes. After a nauseating journey by ship, he was entrenched in fox holes while shells cut the air like a thousand Fourth of Julys.  He forgot how to sleep, and after days of not bathing, even the sand fleas left him alone. “..A fellow gets the blues so bad once in a while that he thinks everyone in the world has forgotten him.”

Late in January 1943 after weeks of scurrying from hill to hill with little progress, the American troops received word of a skirmish near Tunis. Jack readied his pack, adrenaline quickening his veins. The Army’s telegram didn’t reach Mabel until late February, but by then several of her letters were returned. “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret...missing in action since February 15. Additional information will be sent.”

 

Three weeks dragged by, and then, “Your husband, private first class John Dougherty...reported a prisoner of war of the German government...letter of information follows from Provost Marshall General...” Surviving an 80-mile trip by air box car from Italy to Germany, standing shoulder to shoulder like cattle in a chute, Jack and other prisoners with experience were sent to work on a large German farm. His wish for alfalfa fields came true, and he harvested it by hand and milked 75 cows three times a day.   His pay was the leftover potato peels and hard bread of a German farmer’s table.

”I have been doing a lot of thinking and remembering as next Sunday is our wedding anniversary. Three years, dear girl, and we only had a few short sweet months...”


One day, after butchering a cow that died in labor, one of the few stories Jack later shared with Mabel  the farmer gave the prisoners some of the raw beef. To test their good fortune, Jack and a buddy from Britain decided to steal potatoes from the larder. The full sacks revealed tubers as large as their fists, and they stuffed their tattered shirts. Just as a sideways grin crept into his face, Jack heard a gut-wrenching click. It was a long walk back to the barracks with a rifle at his head, and only the beginning of the horror.


In the gray chill of February 1945, unintelligible shouting jolted Jack from sleep. As his eyes focused, German soldiers came into view carrying bayonet-armed rifles. They walked through the barracks, kicking at sleeping prisoners and shouting. Then they lined everyone up and ordered them to march. They marched in confusion through German farmland, through villages and across rivers without a break or water for 18 hours, before they were herded into a nearby barn to rest. The next day was the same. Malnourished, cold, and exhausted, the marchers slowly registered the intent of their trek. As days turned into weeks, fallen husbands, brothers, and sons lined the death march trail.


On the night the remaining prisoners crossed the Elbe River a second time during the three-month march, a familiar hum broke the air. But their brief joy choked on bullets raining from British Spitfires. Throwing himself into the mud, Jack tasted blood on his lip from a shattered corpse a handshake away.


On May 2, 1945, Berlin succumbed to the Allies.  But the march continued, and more men gave up hope of going home. They died just days before the Germans fled, and a hastily fashioned cross of flour alerted Allied planes of comrades on the ground. For Jack and the remaining prisoners, liberation squealed on the tracks of an M24 Chaffee tank. “It’s a long stretch from no man’s land back to you, but I made it...”


After the war, my grandparents were reunited at a rural Minnesota train station. My uncle was the first to point out, “That’s my daddy,” as a stick man in dress greens with a sideways grin stepped off the train


They settled into family life, raising six children and farming in a whitewashed farmhouse on 80 acres.  Grandpa did the work of three men, milking and feeding cattle, harvesting corn and soybeans, lending a hand to neighbors. He observed armchair Sundays after Catholic mass to watch professional wrestling and indulge his grandchildren with Snickers bars. He always had time to visit, and insisted that the family, and any odd soul who happened upon the doorstep, ate well

 
Soon after Grandpa stormed out of that same farmhouse in 1978, we learned that Grandma was close to death, losing a battle with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. The doctors admitted they could do nothing, but I believe today that Grandpa could, and did, on that sunny afternoon so many years ago, talking man to God. You see, just five years after Grandma made a miraculous recovery, Grandpa died from lung cancer. Some say God doesn’t make deals and that dying at 60 is too young after the hell my grandfather endured.  But by age 27, he had lived a lifetime and his hard-won wisdom resonates in me like a grumbling diesel tractor.


Love much. Live like today is the last. Give of yourself to the end.


Christine Hierlmaier is Jack Dougherty¹s legacy, along with seven other grandchildren and six great-grandchildren  so far. She lives with her husband, Andrew Nelson, and daughter Natalie, 2, in Red Wing, MN.

 

The March

Starvation Walk to Freedom

Joseph B. Glydon
88 Dartmouth Ave.
Avenel, NJ  07001

 

Turned out into the winter’s chill

Thousands of men, some weak, some strong;

Daily bound by their captors’ will

Destined to march all winter long.

One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other.

Day after day, day after day.

 

Darkness came as cold rains fell,

After many miles and tired feet

Sleep came hard in the freezing hell

They huddled together preserving heat.

One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other.

Day after day, day after day.

 

Hunger follows those who walk

As icy winds compress their thighs:

All in thought, with little talk

As whistling winds through pine trees sigh.

One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other.

Day after day, day after day.

 

Friendly bombers in the sky

Watched by comrades now earth-bound,

Let the bombs fall from on high.

Trees with roots leap from the ground.

One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other.

Day after day, day after day.

 

Each day the number of marchers falls

As nighttime takes its steady tolls,

Unable to answer the rousing calls

Adding their names to memorial rolls.

One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other.

Day after day, day after day.

 

Liberation comes at last,

Hearts are full and heads rejoice,

No standards seen with colors fast,

But freedom’s heard in every voice.

One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other.

Day after day, day after day.

 

The men who walked that final mile

In time look back with thoughts anew,

And thinking back, they lose their smile;

Why couldn’t they all make it through?

One foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other.

Day after day, day after day.

 

 

 

Kasserine Pass February 1943

 

Kasserine Pass was a miserable place to be on Friday morning, the 19th of February, 1943. A cold wind blew sheets of rain onto the soldiers of Task Force Stark. The desert floor was so saturated from weeks of rain that even tracked vehicle movement was restricted to improved roads.

In the early morning fog, General Buelowius began the battle with an attempt to slip an infantry battalion through the pass. Stark’s outposts detected the attempt and called for fire from the 33d Field Artillery Battalion. By mid-afternoon Stark received reports the Germans were moving parallel to his front, climbing the two small mountains that formed the shoulders of the pass. Around 3:30 in the afternoon, Buelowius tried the direct approach, assaulting the pass with infantry and armor covered by German artillery fire. The Afrika Corps vehicles and the Italian tanks attached to them ran into Colonel Moore’s minefields, and the Germans withdrew, harassed by the American artillery. Buelowius, still confident, gathered his commanders around him and ordered them to infiltrate the American lines that night in preparation for a continuation of the assault the next morning.

Late in the day, Colonel Stark was reinforced with two infantry battalions, which he ordered into positions on the Thala road. Brigadier Charles A. L. Dunphie, the commander of the 26th Armored Brigade of the British 6th Armored Division, had moved into Thala earlier that day. His mission was to support his parent unit at Sbiba or reinforce the Americans in the Bled Foussana. When the Germans were easily repulsed at Sbiba early on the 19th, Dunphie decided to concentrate on supporting Stark.

Late that afternoon, Dunphie visited Stark at his command post, a mile from the pass. Stark was optimistic about his ability to hold, but Dunphie became less so when a small band of Germans machine gunned Stark’s headquarters. Returning to Thala, Dunphie requested permission to send a battalion to reinforce Stark while the remainder of his command prepared defensive positions along the road between Kasserine and Thala.  As dusk fell, Dunphie’s request was approved, and he ordered the 10th Royal Buffs, a composite infantry, armored and artillery battalion to Kasserine.

As the British unit occupied their positions behind the American infantry, near the northern edge of the Bled Foussana, they began to encounter more and more American infantrymen, fanned out in many directions, trying to find the rear. Many of these soldiers were in their first combat. When the Afrika Corps surrounded their battalion headquarters and cut the communications to it, single soldiers and then small units abandoned their positions. The panic spread down the line, and some engineers joined in the rearward movement, despite the admonitions of their leaders. The situation became chaotic; no one knew what was happening. Colonel Moore considered a counterattack against the Germans, but he wasn’t sure where they were, and he finally reasoned there was no need to attack if the Germans were ready to break through the pass.

On the other side of the pass, Rommel reevaluated his situation. The continuance of the attack against Sbiba looked like a bloodbath; the strength of the Allied defense seemed to preclude the quick breakthrough the Germans so desperately needed. On the other hand, General Buelowius continued to be confident of success at Kasserine. Early in the evening, General Rommel ordered General Broich and the 10th Panzer Division to meet him at Kasserine and directed General Buelowius to continue the attack the next day.

Saturday, 20 February 1943...Saturday morning began in the same miserable fashion as the day before. Light fog hung over the Bled Foussana. Around 8:00 in the morning, Buelowius’ artillery opened up. Shells again fell around Madden and his men, and they had trouble remaining on the guns.

Madden drove the short distance to Colonel Moore’s headquarters to ask permission to withdraw. The engineer was still in the process of sorting out the events of the night before and brushed the lieutenant off, instructing him to remain in position.

The artillery fire continued until mid-morning when a single halftrack approached Madden’s position. He flagged down the vehicle, which was occupied by the commander of the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion. Madden appraised the officer of Moore’s decision and asked for his advice regarding withdrawing his men. The colonel looked to the east and asked Madden if he could see a burning track off in the distance. When the lieutenant replied he could, the colonel said that was his last tank destroyer. He couldn’t advise Madden, but he was heading to the rear. Madden immediately ordered the Bofors to march order.

With the 40mm gun and its AAA machine-gun in tow, Madden drove to the center of the pass. When he arrived at his platoon sergeant’s position, the NCO had already march ordered the gun and was preparing to move his crew to the rear on his own. He had understood Madden’s orders of the night before, but the intensity of the artillery fire had changed the whole situation. Madden led his men out of the artillery barrage down the dirt road to Tebessa. Two miles east of the pass, an officer flagged down Madden’s small convoy. It was Captain Zorini, who directed the lieutenant to move behind the field artillery, just off the road in the opposite direction. The situation was not good. The engineers had folded and the Afrika Corps was expected anytime.

Two hours later, around noon, Madden and his men saw 200 men in American uniforms walking down the lower slope of Djebel Chambi, heading towards the artillerymen. About 300 yards from Madden’s position, they stopped, emplaced the machine guns and then began firing. The Battery D machine guns returned the fire, but the attackers steadily moved toward the American artillery. The 40mm guns remained in position until the assailants came within hand grenade range and then withdrew under the covering fire of their AAA machine-guns.

Unsure of the situation, Rommel sent reconnaissance parties in both directions. Nine miles up the Thala road, Broich’s scouts encountered General Dunphie’s first line of defense and withdrew after a violent firefight. On the Tebessa road, Buelowius’ reconnaissance elements ran into American tanks near Djebel Hamra from Combat Command B, 1st Armored Division, which had moved into the Bled Foussana during the late afternoon. The Germans withdrew out of range and waited.

Upon receipt of the two situation reports, Rommel decided to wait until the next morning to continue the attack. The poor weather of the last two days was due to clear, and he hoped the Luftwaffe could provide the reconnaissance to clarify what was before him and attack the American artillery, which had given him so much trouble during the last week.

 

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