Ex-Vietnam war POWs see their rescue plane

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Former Vietnam War POWs take final ride on ‘Hanoi Taxi’
by James Hannah

Photo: Former Vietnam prisoners of war line up to board the Hanoi Taxi, a C-141 U.S. Air Force aircraft, for a 79-minute flight at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Friday, May 5, 2006, in Dayton, Ohio. More than 30 years later, the Air Force is retiring the aircraft that in two trips rescued 79 POWs captured during the Vietnam War. Many of those who took the flights of freedom reunited Friday to ride the Hanoi Taxi once more and relive the unforgettable.

For years, they languished in prison camps in North Vietnam, fighting to keep hope alive. Then in 1973, a cargo plane later dubbed the “Hanoi Taxi” swooped down and took home a group of American prisoners of war.

Now the Air Force is retiring the aircraft that in two trips rescued 79 POWs captured during the Vietnam War. A total of 124 POWs who flew the Hanoi Taxi or other rescue planes gathered at the base Friday for two flights…

     

“We sat there and just kind of looked out the window and did a lot of recollection,” said Bill Robinson, 62, Madisonville, Tenn., who was shot down in 1965 and freed in 1973.

“As I’m getting old, I realize I am part of history,” he said. “It definitely was a re-enactment, a wonderful feeling.”

The Hanoi Taxi was the first of 18 C-141s that picked up nearly 600 POWs in “Operation Homecoming.” Now the last in service, it will be retired Saturday after landing near the National Museum of the United States Air Force on the base.

The former POWs on Friday were called by name, one-by-one, to board the plane, as was done when they left Vietnam.

Reminiscent of the joyful scenes three decades earlier of homecomings from Vietnam, wives and other relatives dashed out onto the taxiway, arms outstretched, to greet the veterans at the end of their flight Friday.

Jerri Mechenbier, wife of former POW and retired Air Force Reserve Maj. Gen. Ed Mechenbier, described it as “the end of an era.” In her husband’s last mission nearly two years ago, he flew the Hanoi Taxi to Vietnam to bring home remains of fallen comrades.

“I haven’t seen him upset, but he hides his feelings well, as all POWs do,” she said. “My husband never dwells on the painful parts. In fact, it was many years and through interviews that I found out that things were not quite so pleasant for him.”


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