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    Operation Homecoming Celebrates 49th Anniversary

    Operation Homecoming Celebrates 49th Anniversary

    Courtesy Photo | (From left to right) Navy Lt. Jacob Westerberg, Robert E. Mitchell Center (REMC)...... read more read more



    Courtesy Story

    Navy Medicine Operational Training Center

    NAVAL AIR STATION PENSACOLA, Fla. – The Robert E. Mitchell Center (REMC) for Repatriated Prisoner of War Studies hosted an event here celebrating the 49th anniversary of Operation Homecoming on April 8, 2022.
    The ceremony celebrated the operation that saw the successful return of 591 American Prisoners of War (POWs) from North Vietnam between Feb. 12, 1973 and April 4, 1973.
    To recognize this momentous occasion, Navy Capt. (Ret.) Charlie Plumb, former aviator, prisoner of war, and career naval officer shared lessons learned from his harrowing experience with a group of 120 Sailors, Marines, and civilians at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute.
    A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and Navy Fighter Weapons School (later known as TOPGUN), Plumb was assigned to the USS Kitty Hawk in 1967 to fly the F-4 Phantom fighter jet. He flew 74 successful combat missions over North Vietnam. It was during his 75th mission, just five days before the end of his tour, when he was shot down over Hanoi. Plumb would spend the next 2,103 days there as a POW.
    In recounting his experience, Plumb detailed the harsh conditions of confinement, isolation, and starvation suffered within his eight-by-eight foot prison cell. He described the ingenuity of the tap code, a system for prisoners to communicate with each other using only a sequence of percussive knocks.
    The captain retold stories of selflessness, like that of his cellmate Petty Officer 2nd Class Douglas Hegdahl, who committed to memory 250 fellow prisoners’ names, identification numbers, and phone numbers’ for next-of-kin so that upon release he may be able to ensure all were accounted for and their families were made aware of their status.
    Intertwined within the vivid stories of Plumb’s time in captivity, were battle-tested truths such as the power of mindset and the shared understanding that everyone can make a positive contribution for one another.
    Plumb shared that while you may never find yourself in a prison cell, “you may find yourself trapped in the eight-by-eight inch space between your ears,” which shapes the way you see and think about the world. Acknowledging that the circumstances in which people find themselves may rest outside of their control, the attitude they bring to those circumstances is a choice.
    “Though not often an easy choice,” said Plumb, “we can choose to see obstacles or opportunities. It is this mindset of optimism that provides greater potential for resilience.”
    The heroic former POW also imparted, from his experience, he came to understand that everyone has the potential to positively contribute to the lives of others – no matter their rank.
    “From the most junior enlisted sailor to the most senior officer,” said Plumb, “we all have the opportunity to be a parachute packer.”
    He explained that parachute packers are considered the people in our lives who positively support our emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual fortitude for when the time comes that a pilot may be “shot down.”
    Plumb acknowledged that while most people will never be shot down flying a combat mission, life will inevitably find a way to change and challenge their plans.
    “Knowing that we all will experience hardship, the mission of each Sailor and Marine is a simple one,” said Plumb. “Let your interactions with others be such that they stand to soften an otherwise hard landing. Be the reason your shipmate can confront life’s challenges with a sense of confidence, purpose, and resilience.”
    Plumb’s experience as a POW speaks to the strength of the human spirit. The lessons he shared about the power of mindset, the importance of positively investing in each other, and knowing each person has a part in the fight, is as relevant to today’s warfighter as it was 49 years ago.
    In closing, he expressed his gratitude for the Navy’s continued dedication to POWs and the therapeutic opportunity he has personally experienced in being seen and followed by the people at REMC for nearly five decades.



    Date Taken: 04.08.2022
    Date Posted: 04.15.2022 10:01
    Story ID: 418575
    Location: PENSACOLA, FL, US 

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