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C-141 Heaven:Homecoming Missions


Dave Grant, an ever-reliable source of information about the C-141 has provided this list of all the Operation Homecoming missions.

While 66-0177 gets the glory, many other C-141's participated in this effort and their contributions, like that of the entire fleet over the years, should not go without being acknowledged.

NOTE:If you look at these figures carefully, you may note that a few figures don't quite add up correctly. For example, the first 3 flights from Hanoi indicate a total of 116 POWS returned from Hanoi to Clark. Then over the next few days, 142 returned from Clark to CONUS. I don't know where the 'extras' came from but if anyone has updated/corrected information, please let me know. The only thing I can think of here is that perhaps a few were flown out of Hanoi on other aircraft, perhaps C-130 or 135 or maybe even a 'commercial' flight (heaven forbid), or something like that.

I've not bothered to 'audit' the full list and have no way to know what the correct figures are at this time...that's not the point. The point is to give recognition to ALL C-141's that flew these missions!

February 12, 1973 - HANOI to CLARK
66-0177    40 POWs
65-0243    40 POWs
65-0236    36 POWs

February 13, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
65-0230    2 POWs

February 14, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
65-9398    20 POWs

February 15, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
65-0243    20 POWs
66-0177    20 POWs

February 16, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
65-0236    20 POWs
66-0161    20 POWs
67-0007    20 POWs

February 17, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
65-9398    20 POWs

February 18, 1973 - HANOI to CLARK
64-0641    20 POWs

February 19, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
67-0001    One POW)

February 20, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
65-0258    18 POWs

February 23, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
64-0641    One POW

March 4, 1973 - HANOI to CLARK
66-0177    40 POWs
66-7944    40 POWs
65-0243    28 POWs

March 5, 1973 - HANOI to CLARK
66-0161    34 POWs

March 7, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
66-0177    20 POWs
66-7944    20 POWs
67-0007    20 POWs
65-0243    20 POWs

March 8, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
65-9398    19 POWs
67-0001    18 POWs
66-0161    19 POWs

March 13, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
64-0618    One POW

March 14, 1973 - HANOI to CLARK
67-0007    40 POWs
64-0641    40 POWs
66-7944    28 POWs

March 16, 1973 - HANOI to CLARK
65-0280    32 POWs HANOI

March 17, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
67-0007    20 POWs
64-0641    20 POWs
66-7944    20 POWs

March 18, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
66-0177    19 POWs
65-0280    17 POWs
65-0232    20 POWs

March 19, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
66-0161    14 POWs
67-0001    12 POWs

March 27, 1973 - HANOI to CLARK
67-0001    32 POWs

March 28, 1973 - HANOI to CLARK
67-0007    10 POWs (Laos)
67-0031    40 POWs

March 29, 1973 - HANOI to CLARK
65-0280    40 POWs
65-0238    27 POWs

March 30, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
67-0007    18 POWs
66-7944    14 POWs

March 31, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
65-0232    12 POWs
65-0238    18 POWs
67-0001    18 POWs

April 1, 1973 - CLARK to CONUS
66-0161    16 POWs
66-0177    17 POWs
65-9398    20 POWs
65-0280    16 POWs

April 4 - CLARK to CONUS
67-0031    One POW

On May 26th, 2007, I got the following note from Tom Webb, who was a pilot at McGuire in the early 70's.:

I was reading some 2004 blogs, when I came across your Operation Homecoming Mission List and it's mention of discrepancies of numbers. I was the aircraft commander of one of those flights and I'll fill in some missing information.

My crew and I were from the 18th MAS at McGuire and 22nd AF had no intention of letting us east coast crews anywhere near Clark AFB, but politics reared it's ugly head. On March 13, 1973 the Peoples Republic of China released a POW from the Korean war with the direct intervention of President Nixon. The Brits picked him up at the Chinese border and flew him to the Hong Kong airport, where he boarded a C-9 for the short flight to Clark. His name was John T. Downey. He stepped off the C-9 and on to our C-141, 64-0618.

We flew him to Elemendorf where another crew flew him to the east coast. His mother was dying and President Nixon was able to broker his release to ease tensions. We logged 10.6 hours, which was alot for an A model. He sat on the jumpseat several hours with us and at one point over the Alaskan chain of islands, looked out and said "Gee, I guess Alaska is a state now!"

Check The following links for more info on him:

PowNetwork.org       WikiPedia.org       TaskForceOmegaInc.org       Answers.Com

He was with the CIA, and later went on to be elected LT Governor of Connecticut.

So, one 21st crew did get involved in Operation Homecoming, and the POW was from the Korean War.

Tom Webb
18th MAS, McGuire AFB, 1970-1974

Here's an article about Downey from Time Magazine, March 26, 1973

Monday, Mar. 26, 1973

Twenty Years in China

In the winter of 1951, Mary Downey waved goodbye to her eldest son John at a small Connecticut train station. She had only a vague notion of the job he was going to take in Japan -it had something to do with the Korean War. "A shudder went through me then," she recalled, "and I have always felt it to be a premonition of the horrible thing that was to happen to Jack."

A year later, she was informed that he was missing on a flight from Japan to Korea. In 1953, she received his death certificate from the Defense Department. The following year, Jack Downey appeared on trial in China as the "archcriminal of all U.S. prisoners." He was sentenced to life imprisonment. After many pleas, Mary Downey was permitted to visit her son five times. Now 75, she suffered a severe stroke earlier this month. President Nixon appealed directly to Premier Chou En lai, and Downey was released last week.

He did not think that there had been anything heroic about his long incarceration in a mazelike prison outside Peking. "I thought the 20 years were to a large extent wasted," he said at a press conference in New Britain, Conn. "I don't see that it benefited anybody. Not Uncle Sam or anybody else. I wouldn't recommend it for character building." He admitted that, under pressure, he had told his captors everything he knew. But it was "ancient history" without much importance. He is not planning to write a book unless a publisher is interested in "500 empty pages. Life in a Chinese prison is a crashing bore."

If someone had to be chosen to spend that much time in prison, probably a more resourceful man could not have been found. At Yale, Downey was a B.M.O.C.-a good student who majored in English literature, a sturdy guard on the football team and captain of the wrestling team. He was the kind of man the CIA liked to recruit, particularly in the cold-war days when the organization had glamour and an allure for ambitious, idealistic youth.

Downey has not described his brief, fateful career with the CIA. Another American P.O.W., Steve Kiba, has supplied the details. After he was shot down in North Korea in 1953, Kiba served part of his two-and-a-half-year sentence in the prison where Downey was confined. Downey told him that he had joined the CIA after graduation and was given paramilitary training, then was sent to Japan to work with Chinese Nationalists who were smuggled onto the mainland to get information. On one mission, nine agents were dropped by parachute at Jehol in Manchuria. They were captured almost immediately, and one broke down under interrogation. He agreed to radio Seoul, requesting that the CIA plane return to pick up one of the agents. Downey and a fellow civilian, Richard Fecteau, went along for the ride in the C-47, even though they did not have to; they were restless and itching for some action in the field.

Crunch. The plane was to make a low sweep over the appointed area, then drop a sling for the Nationalist agent to jump into. But as soon as the aircraft made the pass, the Communists opened fire with machine guns, and the plane was forced down. The pilots were shot; Downey and Fecteau were captured. The date was Nov. 29, 1952.

The first two years in prison were the worst. Downey spent ten months in leg chains. Kiba describes the prison food as consisting of a thin rice gruel for breakfast and rice with a few vegetables for lunch and dinner. Occasionally, the Chinese placed small white stones in the rice gruel. The famished prisoners would crunch down on the food and cut their mouths. "You had to learn to move your mouth around to sift out the stones," says Kiba.

Downey said he had been intensively questioned but not beaten in prison. According to another American airman taken captive, Wallace Brown, the Chinese employed an "extremely subtle torture that is as difficult as any other, and Downey had as much of that as anyone did." For days on end, a P.O.W. would be made to stand without sleep or food until he finally talked. When he refused, he was prodded with a rifle barrel and threatened with death.

When relations between the U.S. and China were strained, the prisoners suffered. When relations improved, they were better off. Fecteau was released in 1971. Though not permitted to read American newspapers during his imprisonment, Downey was given all the English-language Chinese publications he wanted. Despite the propaganda, he was able to glean from them an outline of world events. His family sent him hundreds of paperback novels.

He did not learn Chinese, but his captors proudly took him on tours to see the newest factories or farm machinery. Once a month, he was allowed to write a one-page letter to his mother. He once wrote that he had "done 23,000 calisthenics, run about 55 miles and washed about 100 items of clothing." He stayed sane, he says, by living in the present and forgetting about the future. "On a day-to-day basis, you'd be surprised how much time can be taken up by picayune chores like sweeping the floors. You learn just to go along."

Downey looked and acted well on his return. Uncertain about what he will do now, he is being compensated in some small way for the time taken from his life. His back pay at the CIA amounts to about $350,000. "I wish it were $2,000,000," says ex-Prisoner Brown. "Whatever it is, it's not enough."

Here's a link to a few more articles published around the time of the POW release:

More POW Articles.

Despite all the hoopla about 177 being the "first into Hanoi" it was actually a C-130 that went in first. I got a photo in the mail from Lt Col Gene Thompson, who at the time was C-130 pilot on one of the C-130 missions into Hanoi. He was able to snap this shot a C-141(*) being loaded for departure at Gia Lam on 28 March 73. The C-130 crew members escorted the ex-POW's from their release point to the back of the C-141, carrying their small ditty bag of possessions.

(*) Note:On 28 March 1973, two aircraft flew into Hanoi and back to Clark: 67-0007 and 66-7944. The photo from which this was scanned was too grainy to make out the tail number of this aircraft.

By sheer coincidence, on the same day I got Gene's photo in the mail, another C141Heaven visitor, Brian Gann, ran across a web site with a few photos of the C-141s on the tarmac at Gia Lam. Here's a link to the "1st Mob/Comm" site.

With permission of the web-master of that site I've posted a few of the shots below:

The C-130 support/maintenance aircraft Operation Homecoming (POW Release) Gia Lam Airport, Hanoi, North Vietnam - 1973 - Picture by Tony Kristol

The crew of the support/maintenance aircraft Operation Homecoming (POW Release) Gia Lam Airport, Hanoi, North Vietnam - 1973 - Picture by Tony Kristol

Picture by Tony Kristol

The 1st Mob was there! The project consisted of 7 trips into Hanoi with a backup at Da Nang. One Mobster and a AN/MRC-108 radio jeep per location. 1st trip, TSgt Joseph L. Harvey III - Gia Lam Airport, Hanoi, North Vietnam & MSgt Benjamin Scott - Danang AB, South Vietnam. 2nd trip MSgt Benjamin Scott - Gia Lam Airport, Hanoi & SSgt Tony Kristol - Danang AB. 3rd thru 7th trips SSgt Tony Kristol - Gia Lam Airport, Hanoi & TSgt Joseph L. Harvey III - Danang AB - picture by Tony Kristol

March 4, 1973

1st US POW released that day, photo by C130 copilot Gia Lam Airport, Hanoi, North Vietnam - Was on a Herc crew out of UTapao Thailand on March 4, 73 that was the first US bird into Gia Lam that day dark and rainy morning in support of Operation HomeComing, second release. LtCol Ed Jackson DO, 777 TAS Pope AFB NC was the a/c. We stopped at Saigon Tan Son Nhut for an 0'DarkThirty pick up of the "CHIP" team and various support folks who were to oversee and support the release of our POWs plus we had some NVs on board also. Bird was a C130E, # 274 I think. As first in that day, we also acted as weather bird for the Star Lifter, that came in (after the wx cleared out) to bring our men home. Wonder if that's a picture of our bird on the pock marked ramp at Gia Lam. - J.R.Repucci, Youngstown, Ohio Picture contributed by J.R.Repucci (C130 copilot)