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POWS mark 25 years since Vietnam release

The gates at Hanoi's infamous Hoa Lo prison swung open 25 years ago Thursday, releasing the first wave of U.S. prisoners of war who had been tortured and starved in retaliation for battling the communist regime in Vietnam.

Among the 135 Americans taking their first step toward freedom that day was Col. Sam Johnson of Texas, a decorated Air Force combat pilot whose F-4 Phantom had been shot down over North Vietnam nearly seven years earlier.Johnson, now a Republican congressman from suburban Dallas, was among the celebrated "Alcatraz 11," who were singled out for especially brutal treatment because of their uncommon resistance. The Alcatraz alumni include former Sen. Jeremiah Denton, R-Ala., and retired Adm. James Stockdale, who was Ross Perot's running mate in 1992.

A nation badly divided over Vietnam celebrated when its POWs returned home.

"It was a joyous time," retired Navy Capt. James Mulligan of Virginia Beach, Va., also a survivor of Alcatraz's solitary confinement. "It was for us a magnificent experience to come home and be acclaimed like that."

Thursday, the House paid tribute to Johnson, his fellow POWs and the more than 2,000 Americans who remain unaccounted for from the war. A resolution praises "these patriots for their courage and exemplary service."

House Speaker Newt Gingrich urged "every county, every city and every state" to hold events during this 25th anniversary year honoring POWs and their families. "I think it's all too easy in peacetime to forget exactly how much was sacrificed," Gingrich said.