50 years after the US exited Vietnam, a new exhibit sheds light on the infamous ‘Hanoi Hilton’ (John Parsels)

50 years ago, direct U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War officially ended as the last remaining combat troops and prisoners of war returned to American soil.

It was a complex moment for the country, as the war was deeply unpopular and ended in defeat. More than 58,000 Americans died in the war, along with three million Vietnamese. Fredrik Logevall told Under the Radar that Americans were ready for the war to be over.

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“I think they felt on some level, many of them, conflicted,” he said. “They wanted these deaths to be justified, for this to matter.”

After the Paris Peace Accords were signed on January 27th, 1973, American POWs were sent home in February and March.

“The prettiest thing I ever saw was when I looked out the window and saw the Golden Gate,” one POW told KPIX in 1973, shortly after walking off the plane at an Air Force Base in California. “I want you all to remember that we walked out of Hanoi as winners. We’re not walking with our tail between our legs. We return with honor.”

But the horrors of war can be hard to forget. Tim Sullivan spent about five years at the “Hanoi Hilton,” an infamous Vietnamese prison, and described to Under the Radar what happened soon after his plane was shot down.

“I ended up being interrogated right after I got there and went through probably three or four hours of basic interrogation,” he said. “They were doing the, ‘I’ll ask you a question, you give me an answer, if I don’t like it, I’ll smack you until I get the answer I like.'”

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