Dubbed Operation Homecoming – North Vietnam released the last of its U.S. prisoners, captured during the war and the last U.S. troops boarded planes, heading back to the States, officially ending its involvement in the Vietnam War. A group of Western reporters were invited by Hanoi to cover the release of the POWs and assembled outside the prison known as “The Zoo” in Hanoi, as the POWs were being made ready to be put on buses and taken to Gia Lam airport. After a briefing by a North Vietnamese official, who talked about how well the prisoners were taken care of in his camp, the reporters were taken inside the compound where the last group of POWs were being inspected by members of the Joint Military Commission. The North Vietnamese guards warned reporters and prisoners not to speak to each other, but it was largely ignored. In one cell area there was a protest – prisoners turned their backs on the visitors and were angry. It was later told the prisoners objected to the display because it wasn’t the way they lived during their captivity. All but one of the prisoners was released. The very last one, Army Captain Robert White was still being held, but officials said he was to be released the following week.
It was later revealed, after all the prisoners had been released and the Pentagon lifted restrictions on what POWs could say about conditions in the camps, that the stories were considerably different than the official reports. Newly released prisoners, arriving at Clark Airbase in the Philippines, told reporters of repeated beatings and torture to induce confessions or to make anti-War statements.
It was a historic day, and most all of this NBC Nightly News broadcast was devoted to it, this March 29, 1973.