15th Wing Public Affairs
10/8/2013 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
A rededication of the Operation Homecoming memorial took place here Oct. 7.
The ceremony, which was held near the original site the first 20 prisoners of war to return from Vietnam landed, was attended by former POW retired Capt. Jerry Coffee, who also served as guest speaker for the occasion.
"This event was to commemorate and pay tribute to the American spirit, teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of those held as prisoners of war during the Vietnam Conflict," said Capt. Bryan Ewing Sr. of the 647th Contracting Squadron.
Between Feb. 12 to April 1, 1974, 591 POWs were released from captivity by the North Vietnam government and flown from Southeast Asia to Clark Air Base in the Philippines to Hickam Field. This was known as Operation Homecoming and marked the end of Vietnam War. On Feb. 12, 1974, the first POWs to return from the war landed at Hickam Air Force Base's Military Airlift Command Terminal and stepped off the plane to more than 2, 000 members of the Hickam community waiting to welcome them home.
A monument was soon built to serve as a reminder of the historical moment and was a mainstay in the parking lot of the Fire Stone gas station for more than 40 years before a small group of students at Hanalani High School came up with the idea to relocate it to a more peaceful location.
According Jessie Higa, volunteer base historian, the new memorial, complete with benches, a small flower garden and walk path, is now a place veterans can come for reflection, fellowship and inspiration away from the hustle and bustle of the gas station customers.
"We needed to do a community project and decided to do this as a way to commemorate the service and sacrifice that the men of the Vietnam War gave us," said Bryan Ewing Jr, a junior at Hanalani High School and project participant. "This took a lot of time and effort but was a big deal for us. I'm very honored and glad that we chose this. We did great work and I'm really very proud."
Higa said the project, which originated during a base tour she was giving, was a good way to get younger members of the community involved in the history of the base.
"This ceremony not only acknowledges that our base doesn't forget the contributions these men made to our history, but it is a teaching opportunity for the next generation," she said. "They have to get involved ... they have to get personally invested in history and make a contribution in order to make it more valuable to them and make them want to pass it on. Patriotism is not something you teach, it's something you have to experience and that's where true loyalty is formed. That's how you build an appreciation for legacy and honor."
Higa said though the previous memorial was built with good intentions, years of neglect from being in such an obscure location had made it almost illegible. However, thanks to the school donating a grant from the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, as well as donations from the Hickam Chief's Group and Top Three, the new memorial is now under contract and will be maintained year round for vets who want to visit it.
"That's the unfortunate state of the economy right now," she said. "Everyone is doing more with less. With the state of money and manpower things like this truly would not happen without volunteers and donations. Everyone has to do their part to help out. It really is about partnership and serving where we can to fill in the gaps."
The new Operation Homecoming memorial is located on the corner of Freedom Ave. next to the skate park and is available 24 hours a day, seven-days-a-week to those with a military ID.