Pieces of history: POWs return to Oceana (Robert Randall, Brady, McDaniel, McCuistion)

Homecomings at NAS Oceana, such as the return of Carrier Air Wing 7 on July 2, have always been a very special occasion. But perhaps the most emotional homecoming on the Oceana flightline took place on March 7, 1973 when a C-9 Nightingale touched down at about 10 minutes after 5 p.m. On aboard that plane were four former prisoners of war (POWs) held in Vietnam: Capt. Allen Brady, Cmdr. John Fellowes, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Christian and Cmdr. Eugene McDaniel, better known as “Red.”

Brady and Christian were squadron mates at Attack Squadron (VA) 85, flying the A-6 Intruder off USS Kitty Hawk (CVA 63); Christian was captured on April 27, 1976 and Brady on June 19, 1967.

Fellowes was attached to VA-65 flying missions off USS Constellation (CVA 64) when he was captured. McDaniel was attached to VA-35 at the time of his capture on May 19, 1967. In addition to McDaniel, other POWs from VA-35 returning to the U.S. at different times were Cmdr. Arthur Shuman III and Cmdr. Dale Doss.

The reunions with their families were not supposed to take place at Oceana, but instead at NAS Norfolk. But the C-9 wasn’t able to land at Norfolk due to heavy fog and bad weather, so instead was diverted to NAS Oceana. The POWs were greeted warmly by a crowd of about 250 fellow aviators, enlisted Sailors and community members who quickly assembled at Oceana, when revised flight schedule was announced. The welcome included a red carpet, flags and banners and a parade of official vehicles. Along with their families, also on hand to welcome the former POWs back were Oceana Commanding Officer Capt. Robert C. Mandeville and Oceana Executive Officer Capt. W.F. Rau. Above and beyond his official duty as CO, Mandeville had a personal reason for attending the homecoming: he was the skipper of VA-65 when Fellowes was captured.

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