Operation Homecoming

As Paris peace negotiations neared an end, the U.S. military knew that preparations must be made to return the POWs to the United States.  The Secretary of Defense ordered Dr. Roger E. Shields, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, to oversee all POW/MIA affairs.  He held this position until 1976. Dr. Shields immediately enlisted the help of the military services to begin planning.  


 Key personnel were:  General Paul K. Carlton, USAF Commander-in-Chief, Military Airlift Command.  General Carlton ordered the 9th Aeromedical Evacuation Group with its fleet of C-141 aircraft to stand ready to evacuate the POWs. Admiral Noel A. Gaylor, Commander-in-Chief, Pacific, Lt. General William G. Moore, Jr., Commander, 13th Air Force, and Major General John F. Gong, Commander, 22nd Air Force were ready.

American POWs at Hanoi’s Gia Lam Airport, awaiting flights for home, Feb. 12, 1973.
American POW flying out of Hanoi during Operation Homecoming
Everett Alvarez and Robert Shumaker, both held as POW's for more than 8 years as they are about to be released

Operation Homecoming was a significant U.S. operation conducted at the conclusion of the Vietnam War to repatriate American prisoners of war (POWs) held by North Vietnam. This operation took place from February 12 to April 1, 1973, following the signing of the Paris Peace Accords on January 27, 1973 which aimed to end the conflict and restore peace in Vietnam. It is often said that there were 591 POWs released during Operation Homecoming.  In fact, there were 566 U.S military released, and 25 civilians released.

As to the 566 military: 544 were flown out of Gia Lam airport, Hanoi to Clark AFB by C141s. Two (Phil Smith & Robt. Flynn) were released from China in Hong Kong 3/15/73..  They immediately flew from Hong Kong to Clark AFB.  20 were flown out of Ton Son Nhut airbase, South Vietnam to Clark AFB in the Philippines on 2/12/73.


As to the civilians released, one deserves special mention. John T. Downey, a CIA agent was captured by the Chinese during the Korea Conflict.  He was held for over 20 years in solitary (11/19/52 to 3/12/73).  Dr. Kissinger negotiated his release as part of Operation Homecoming. Downey was flown to Clark 3/12/73.   More information about Downey’s capture and incarceration can be found in this article and the never-before-told story of Downey’s decades as a prisoner of war and the efforts to bring him home have been chronicled in Lost in the Cold War: The Story of Jack Downey, America’s Longest-Held POW

The primary objective of Operation Homecoming was to bring back American military personnel who had been captured and held as POWs by North Vietnamese forces during the war. The process involved multiple flights from Gia Lam Airport in North Vietnam, Ton Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam and Hong Kong airport to Clark Air Base in the Philippines. POWs stayed three days at Clark AFB for immediate medical and dental treatment, uniform fittings, and phone calls home to their families. From there, the POWs were flown to the United States.  Aircraft were re-fueled at Hickam AFB in Hawaii.  From Hickam the POWs were flown to military airbases throughout the US for reunion with their families who had travelled to the airbases for emotional reunions.  

Medical treatment and official debriefings were conducted at the nearest military base hospitals.  A total of 31 military hospitals supported Operation Homecoming (8 Army, 10 Air Force and 13 Navy). All POWs were granted a five-month convalescent leave before returning to their assigned active-duty stations.

Key Personnel in Operation Homecoming

General John F. Gong
Admiral Noel A. Gayler
General William G. Moore
General Paul K. Carlton

Dr. Roger Shields

Dr. Roger E. Shields

Dr. Roger W. Shields held the position of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for POW/MIA Affairs during the Vietnam War. In this role, he was intricately involved in Operation Homecoming, the mission focused on the repatriation of American prisoners of war (POWs) from North Vietnam.

Early Career and Education
Dr. Shields had a distinguished background in military and defense studies, though specific details about his early education and initial career steps are less widely publicized. His expertise in military affairs and policy development led him to his role at the Department of Defense (DoD).

Role in Operation Homecoming
Dr. Shields’ role in Operation Homecoming was pivotal. As the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, he was primarily responsible for the coordination and management of efforts to support the return of American POWs. This operation began after the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, which concluded direct U.S. military involvement in Vietnam and stipulated the release of all prisoners of war.

Under Dr. Shields’ leadership, his office coordinated with various military and governmental entities to facilitate a smooth transition for the returning soldiers. This included logistical support for the flights returning the POWs from Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam, and ensuring that medical and psychological care was available immediately upon their return. His office also played a role in debriefing the POWs to gather intelligence about POW conditions and remaining MIAs (Missing in Action).

Post-Vietnam Contributions
Following the end of the Vietnam War, Dr. Shields continued to work on POW/MIA affairs, focusing on policy and ongoing efforts to account for missing service members. His work helped to set the standards for future operations concerning American military personnel captured or missing in conflicts.


Dr. Roger Shields’ work during Operation Homecoming left a lasting impact on military repatriation policies and the care provided to returning POWs. His dedication ensured that returning servicemen received the respect and support necessary to reintegrate into civilian life, setting a compassionate precedent for handling similar situations in the future.

Dr. Shields’ contributions during this critical period were instrumental in bridging military efforts with humanitarian needs, reflecting his profound commitment to the welfare of American soldiers.

Dr. Roger Shields delivering remarks on the last night of the national organization of former Vietnam POWs (NAMPOWs.org) 45th Anniversary of Freedom reunion August 15-19, 2018 in Frisco, Texas. Dr. Roger E. Shields worked in President Nixon’s administration and was responsible for the planning and execution of Operation Homecoming that returned the POWs to freedom in 1973

Other Key Figures

Frank Sieverts

Frank Sieverts was an official in the U.S. State Department who played a crucial role in Operation Homecoming during the Vietnam War. He served as the deputy director and then the director of the Office of Prisoner of War/Missing in Action Affairs at the State Department. His primary responsibility was to coordinate efforts and policies regarding American prisoners of war and those missing in action in Vietnam.

Operation Homecoming was the program initiated under the Paris Peace Accords that facilitated the return of 591 American prisoners of war from captivity in North Vietnam in 1973. Sieverts’ involvement was critical in the negotiations and diplomatic efforts that led to these releases. His work entailed direct communications with North Vietnamese representatives and coordination with international agencies to ensure the safe return of American POWs.

Sieverts’ role was not just administrative but also deeply involved in crafting the strategies and dialogues that bridged the gap between the U.S. and North Vietnam, ultimately contributing to the success of Operation Homecoming. His dedication to this cause was a significant aspect of his career, reflecting his commitment to resolving the issues of prisoners of war and those missing in action during a tumultuous period in American history.

Charles Trowbridge

Charles Trowbridge was involved with Operation Homecoming during the Vietnam War, primarily in a coordinating and supervisory capacity. He served as a member of the U.S. State Department and played a significant role in the efforts to secure the release and repatriation of American prisoners of war (POWs) held by North Vietnam.

Operation Homecoming, which took place in 1973 following the Paris Peace Accords, saw the return of 591 American POWs from captivity. Trowbridge’s responsibilities likely included liaising with various governmental and military agencies, overseeing the implementation of the accords’ provisions concerning POWs, and ensuring that the logistics of the repatriation process were handled effectively.

While there is less public recognition and detailed information readily available about Charles Trowbridge compared to more prominently known figures involved in POW/MIA affairs, his contributions would have been part of the broader collaborative efforts by U.S. government officials who worked diligently behind the scenes during this critical period of the Vietnam War.

Select Videos about Operation Homecoming


A total of 591 American POWs were released during Operation Homecoming. 32 military had previously escaped (2 LA, 28 VS) and 64 military had previously been released from VN, CB, VS and LA in propaganda efforts.

The remaining 566 military came from various branches of the U.S. armed forces: 


Army:1 VS; 4 CB/VS; 13 VS/CB/VS; 59 VS/VN. Sub-total; 77.


USMC: 1/VS/CB/VS; 1 LA/VN; 9 VN; 15 VS/VN. Sub-total 26.


USN: 1 CH; 1 LA/VN; 135 VN; 1 VS/VN. Sub-total: 138


USAF:1 CB/VS; 1 CH; 7 LA/VN; 312 VN; 4 VS/VN.  Sub-Total: 325.


Note: (Army notation examples: One Army officer (Captain Robert White) was the only one captured, held and released in South Vietnam; 4 were captured in CB but released from VS; 13 were captured in VS, held in CB, and returned to VS 2/12/73 for release. 59 Army were captured in South Vietnam, taken to North Vietnam where they were held in Hanoi camps until release Feb-March 1973).

More on the POWs released from South Vietnam: The 19 U.S. military who were held in Cambodia were transferred by trucks to a staging point (Loch Ninh) in South Vietnam on February 12th for release.  They were joined by eight U.S. civilians who also were held in Cambodia.  All 27 were picked up by a U.S. UH1 Helo and flown to Ton Son Nhut airbase in Saigon.  Civilian Richard Waldhaus declined the flight to Clark AFB.  He stayed behind at the U.S. hospital.  He returned to California later.  The remaining 26 men were flown by E9A aircraft no. 10878 from Ton Son Nhut to Clark AFB in the Philippines 12 Feb 1973. Only Captain White remained captive in South Vietnam.  

The only POW still held in South Vietnam as of February 12th, 1973, was Capt. Robert White, USA. A vindictive South Vietnamese base commander refused to release him. The base sub-commander released White and transported him to Loch Ninh.  White was released 4/1/73 in violation of the release agreement which ended March 29th.  He flew from Ton Son Nhut to Clark AFB.  With the release of Capt. White, 566 released U.S. military POWs ended Operation Homecoming

For listings of POW passenger manifests from Hanoi to Clark AFB, and from Clark AFB to USA, go to this Link: 


Additional Reading