NASWI Welcomes American Prisoners of War

Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI) commemorated the 40th anniversary of Operation Homecoming, Feb. 12.

Operation Homecoming marked the beginning of the American Prisoners of War (POWs) repatriation from captivity in North Vietnam.

Retired Maj. Joe Crecca, U.S. Air Force, retired Capt. Gary Thornton, U.S. Navy, retired Col. Larry Writer, U.S. Air Force, retired Capt. Bill Wilson, U.S. Air Force, and retired Col. Bill Reeder, U.S. Army, served a cumulative 18 years and four months between them as American prisoners of war held by North Vietnam, all visited NASWI for the commemoration.

“It’s unbelievable that it’s been 40 years since our homecoming,” Wilson said.

The Association of Naval Aviation (ANA) Whidbey Island, Whidbey Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), and Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association (River Rats) hosted the commemoration at NASWI’s theatre. Five POWs shared their experience and gave advice to Sailors at NASWI.

“I hope that no one ends up in the situation that I was in,” said Writer. “But if they do, they need to keep the faith in self, family, God, service, and their fellow POWs.”

According to the national museum website, Operation Homecoming returned 591 POWs: 325 Airmen, 77 Soldiers, 138 Sailors, 26 Marines, and 25 civilians. A total of 660 American military POWs survived the war.

“Several things to take with you is to have a sense of humor, be optimistic, have faith, and most important make a commitment,” said Thornton.

Close to 80 percent of the military POWs continued their military careers, according to the national museum website. The airmen adopted a motto, “Three’s in.” It signified an aircraft, number three in a four-ship group, rejoining a “missing man” formation.

“This was a great insight on what they dealt with as POWs,” said Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Veronica Vastian, with NASWI Search and Rescue. “It’s definitely an eye-opening experience hearing the stories from the actual POWs. They went through something so tragic.”

According to the national museum website, POWs who were captured in Southeast Asia endured inhumane torture, political exploitation, filthy living conditions, and endless attempts at communist indoctrination.

Capt. Jay Johnston, NASWI’s commanding officer, thanked the five former POWs for their time and service.

“You guys lived it,” Johnston said. “For us it’s a patch on our flight suit. It’s humbling to know what you have been through. You guys are our heroes in my mind and everyone else here. Welcome back.”

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Naval Today Staff, February 18, 2013

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