Former prisoner of war celebrates 30 years of freedom (Robert Sponeybarger)

Retired fighter pilot Robert Sponeybarger doesn’t suffer flashbacks and isn’t jarred awake in a cold sweat from nightmares of being held captive by the North Vietnamese. Never was a problem for him, he says.

And he says he rarely thinks of ejecting from his crippled plane, threats of execution or imprisonment in the nightmarish Hanoi Hilton prison. Instead, when asked about his ordeal, the key image the former Upper Milford Township resident relates is the hero’s welcome the released prisoners of war received 30 years ago this week upon their safe return to American soil.

“We were thrust into an environment that nobody was ready for,” said Sponeybarger, who lives in Tennessee. He remembers well the throngs of well-wishers and lavish gifts that were offered upon the prisoners’ return.

Because of much antiwar sentiment and those who were captured believing Americans would think POWs had failed their country, the joyous welcome surprised Sponeybarger. Many servicemen returning home were shunned, but Sponeybarger says people he encountered wanted to see the POWs. They wanted to learn of their ordeal, help make up for their lost time and thank them for serving their country during the Vietnam War.

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