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Flight to Freedom

Rep. Sam Johnson Among First Round Of POWs Brought Home

Thirty years ago today, freedom finally arrived for American prisoners of war on a tarmac at Hanoi’s Gia Lum Airport in Vietnam.

In this Feb. 12, 1973, photo, a group of America’s longest-held POWs prepare to board an Air Force C-141 cargo jet for the United States as part of Operation Homecoming. The freed POWs included future Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), who was released after nearly seven years in captivity, half of which was in solitary confinement. Johnson can be seen on the right side of the photo, waiting in line to shake hands with a military official; he is fourth in line with his head bowed, just above the man in the white hat.

Johnson was awarded two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, one Bronze Star with Valor, two Purple Hearts, four Air Medals and three Outstanding Unit Awards for his Air Force service.

Operation Homecoming continued through the spring, with 16 cargo planes helping bring nearly 600 POWs home.

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