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AF holds 50th anniversary Vietnam War commemoration ceremony

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The Air Force is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War by honoring prisoners of war and missing in action, veterans and their families during a wreath-laying ceremony at 10:30 a.m. EST, March 2, at the Air Force Memorial in Washington D.C.

This is the first Headquarters Air Force event in support of the 50th Vietnam War Commemorative Partner Program. This multi-year campaign aims to thank and honor the veterans of the Vietnam War for their sacrifice and service and pay tribute to the contributions of their families.

"Vietnam veterans are a generation of Americans who saw our country through one of the most challenging eras we have ever faced," said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.

March 2, marks the 50th anniversary of retired Lt. Col. Hayden J. Lockhart's aircraft being shot down over Vietnam and his becoming the first Air Force POW. The day also marks the beginning of the Operation Rolling Thunder bombing campaign. During this three-year Vietnam War campaign, Air Force, Marine and Navy aircraft bombed targets throughout North Vietnam. U.S. and Australian warships complemented the air assault by bombarding coastal targets.

The bombings cost North Vietnam more than half of its bridges, virtually all of its petroleum storage facilities and nearly two-thirds of its power generating plants. The U.S. lost more than 1,000 aircraft in the campaign.

"Airmen fought bravely and proudly in the service of our nation and we honor them," James said.

The U.S., North Vietnam and the Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South Vietnam signed the Paris Peace Accords on Jan. 27, 1973. Article 8 of the accords required the repatriation of POWs by all adversaries within 60 days.

Between Feb. 12 and March 29, a total of 591 Americans, including 566 military and 25 civilian personnel, were released by their captors. Nine foreign nationals were also released.

For more information about Vietnam War commemoration, how to become a commemorative partner, and calendar of local events, click here.