News | Sept. 17, 2021

Ohio played a part in repatriating POWs from North Vietnam

By Stefanie Hauck DLA Land and Maritime Public Affairs

As we pause on this National POW/MIA Recognition Day to reflect on those who were held as prisoners of war or remain missing in action, it is important to remember the ongoing mission to bring home all who served in America’s conflicts from World War II to the present.

POWs celebrate after takeoff
When the C-141A known as the Hanoi Taxi left the ground, the POWs knew they really were free. (U.S. Air Force photo)
POWs celebrate after takeoff
POWS celebrate takeoff
When the C-141A known as the Hanoi Taxi left the ground, the POWs knew they really were free. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Photo By: Photograph courtesy of U.S. Air Force
VIRIN: 090424-F-1234P-0220
On Feb. 12, 1973, a C-141A Starlifter later known as the Hanoi Taxi Tail No. 66-0177, ferried the first 40 POWs out of Hanoi, North Vietnam back to the United States in an initiative which would later be known as Operation Homecoming.  A total of 18 C-141s airlifted 591 former POWs out of the country during the operation from February 1973 to April 1973.

The first flight included Former Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Edward Mechenbier, and retired Air Force Col. George “Bud” Day, a Medal of Honor recipient.

After years in captivity, the former POWs reacted with great joy after moments of tension as the aircraft reached cruising altitude.

Three people talking on an aircraft
Retired Maj. Gen. Edward J. Mechenbier talks about the maintenance of the "Hanoi Taxi," a C-141 Starlifter, with Staff Sgt. Jeremy First (left) and Tech. Sgt. Mike Heaton, reservists with the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 3, 2006. General Mechenbier, a former prisoner of war, was repatriated on the Hanoi Taxi during Operation Homecoming. General Mechenbier and about 120 other former POWs will take part in a weekend of aircraft retirement events May 5 and 6. The aircraft is set for retirement and dedication at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, on May 6. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Senior Airman Kenny Kimbrell)
Three people talking on an aircraft
Retired Maj. Gen. Edward J. Mechenbier talks about the maintenance of the Hanoi Taxi
Retired Maj. Gen. Edward J. Mechenbier talks about the maintenance of the "Hanoi Taxi," a C-141 Starlifter, with Staff Sgt. Jeremy First (left) and Tech. Sgt. Mike Heaton, reservists with the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, on Wednesday, May 3, 2006. General Mechenbier, a former prisoner of war, was repatriated on the Hanoi Taxi during Operation Homecoming. General Mechenbier and about 120 other former POWs will take part in a weekend of aircraft retirement events May 5 and 6. The aircraft is set for retirement and dedication at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, on May 6. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Senior Airman Kenny Kimbrell)
Photo By: U.S. Air Force Photo/Senior Airman Kenny Kimbrell
VIRIN: 060502-F-0528K-1010
Mechenbier, of Dayton, Ohio was stationed at Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam, when on his 80th mission over North Vietnam, his F-4C Phantom II fighter was shot down. He was captured by the North Vietnamese and remained a POW from June 1967 until that flight in February 1973. Mechenbier was a Command Pilot with over 3,700 flying hours and has flown the F-4 and RF-4 Phantom II, F-100 Super Sabre, A-7 Corsair II, T-39 Sabreliner, and the C-141 Starlifter. He was the last surviving Vietnam POW still serving in the Air Force until his retirement in 2004.

Listen to an episode of the Springfield, Ohio based 178th Wing’s Beyond the Horizon podcast from April 5, 2021 of  Mechenbier recounting his experiences as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton in North Vietnam.

Plane flying
This C-141 Starlifter aircraft, known as the "Hanoi Taxi," flies over its soon-to-be new home at the National Museum of the United States Air Force adjacent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005. This particular aircraft gained fame when it was used to return American prisoners of war back home at the end of the Vietnam War. The aircraft is set for retirement and dedication at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, on May 6. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Rossino)
Plane flying
051213-O-9999T-001.jpg
This C-141 Starlifter aircraft, known as the "Hanoi Taxi," flies over its soon-to-be new home at the National Museum of the United States Air Force adjacent to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, on Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2005. This particular aircraft gained fame when it was used to return American prisoners of war back home at the end of the Vietnam War. The aircraft is set for retirement and dedication at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, on May 6. (U.S. Air Force photo/John Rossino)
Photo By: John Rossino
VIRIN: 051213-O-9999T-1010
After Operation Homecoming, Tail No. 66-0177 remained in service for more than 40 years logging more than 40,000 flying hours in missions around the world. It was last flown by the 445 Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve unit based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio for several decades until its retirement in 2006. During this time, it was upgraded to a C141C and repainted to its original Vietnam-era paint scheme minus the Red Cross it originally bore.

The aircraft was known as a flying museum as it carried photos of the POWs returning to their families mounted up and down the cargo cabin on both sides and signatures of former POWs adorned the oxygen panel and latrine door.

In May of 2004, Mechenbier piloted the aircraft back to Vietnam to repatriate the remains of two of the missing back to the United States.

“We were the lucky ones, those who survived, and [we] have the obligation to remember those who were not,” said Mechenbier during the 2004 repatriation ceremony at Anderson Air Force Base in Guam.

Prior to its retirement to the National Museum of the United States Air Force on May 6, 2006, more than 100 former POWs participated in a special reenactment flight above Wright Patterson AFB. During the flight the men cheered just as loudly as they did originally after the Hanoi Taxi left the confines of the base. One former POW even brought his current dog along to honor the dog he took home with him on the original flight.

A man and child looking at the wall of signatures aboard the C-141 Starlifter known as the Hanoi Taxi
Tech. Sgt. Robert Schultz shows his son, Jordan, the wall of signatures aboard the C-141 Starlifter known as the "Hanoi Taxi." This wall was signed by prisoners of war leaving Vietnam. Along with the signatures, the plane is lined with photos of the POWs coming home. The aircraft is set for retirement and dedication at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, on May 6, 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bethann Caporaletti)
A man and child looking at the wall of signatures aboard the C-141 Starlifter known as the Hanoi Taxi
050625-F-0201C-039
Tech. Sgt. Robert Schultz shows his son, Jordan, the wall of signatures aboard the C-141 Starlifter known as the "Hanoi Taxi." This wall was signed by prisoners of war leaving Vietnam. Along with the signatures, the plane is lined with photos of the POWs coming home. The aircraft is set for retirement and dedication at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, on May 6, 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bethann Caporaletti)
Photo By: Staff Sgt Bethann Caporaletti
VIRIN: 050625-F-0201C-1390
The search and recovery of the missing and unaccounted for continues to this day with activities being carried out by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. The agency ensures that no one who served in America’s conflicts since World War II is forgotten.

The agency’s website has a searchable database of those still missing and unaccounted for. People can search by name or by state on a geographical interface. The site also has a section for those recently accounted for with an archive that goes back to 2016. The site also has a section for family members, called FamWeb whose purpose is to provide ongoing support for the families of the missing and unaccounted for.

The C141C known as the Hanoi Taxi can be seen in the Global Reach Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force near Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.