Returned to sender, 40+ years later (Richard Dutton)

A special delivery of long-forgotten letters and photos came from Vietnam to an Air Force widow.

The United States and Vietnam are working together to return personal belongings of prisoners of war to their rightful owners; and, a package was delivered today to the family of retired Col. Richard Dutton.

Dutton finished his 30-year career at Hurlburt Field as the ninth commandant at the United States Air Force Special Operations School. He became a POW on Nov. 5, 1967, after he was forced to eject over North Vietnam. He spent 1,956 days in captivity, and earned two Silver Star medals in the process. He passed away Dec. 12, 1999.

The current commandant, Lt. Col. Dan Roesch, presented the package to Dutton’s widow and son, Jean and Russell, during a ceremony at the schoolhouse.

This whole experience has been surprising and emotional, Mrs. Dutton said.

“When I first found out these photos and letters still existed, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “All I could think was, ‘Wow.’ Where have they been all this time? Why did they hold on to them?”

Mrs. Dutton recalled a few times she wrote the letters in code to keep her husband informed.

“When I found out he was getting promoted to lieutenant colonel, I told him we just planted a ‘lima charley tree’ in our yard and it was going to bear a lot of fruit,” she said. “Then, when we found out he was getting promoted to colonel, I told him a ‘pair of birds’ were destroying that tree.”

Although it was a hard five years, Mrs. Dutton said she got through it with support from her base at the time (Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada), neighbors, fellow POW spouses, and of course, writing letters to her husband.

“I know the letters and photos were a morale-booster for him,” she said. “I’m grateful that some of them came back to me.”

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