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Some in the first batch of returnees had acquired a certain celebrity while in captivity. One was Lieut. Commander Everett Alvarez Jr., 35, of San Jose, Calif. Shot down over North Viet Nam on Aug. 5, 1964, he was the North's longest-held captive and became a leader of the prisoners during the long ordeal. His homecoming was destined to be less joyous than he might have hoped. His wife Tangee, whom he married in 1963, got a Mexican divorce in 1970 and remarried. Meantime, his sister Delia became a bitter critic of the war. "It is very important that Everett is coming home," Delia said after learning that he was in the first group. "But so many others are still missing, and the war still goes on."
Also in the group was Air Force Ace Pilot James Robinson ("Robbie") Risner, 47. Winner of the Air Force Cross for heroism in 1965, he appeared on TIME's cover that year as an exemplar of America's fighting men. A few months later, he ejected from his crippled F-105 near Thanh Hoa in North Viet Nam and was captured. He was a colonel then, but would discover this week that he had been promoted to brigadier general.
Navy Captain James Bond Stockdale, one of the highest-ranking Navy P.O.W.s, was also coming out with the first group. After he was shot down in 1965, his wife Sybil, mother of their four sons, became a founder and national coordinator of the National League of Families of P.O.W.s/M.I.A.s.
Lieut. Commander William M. Tschudy, 37, also among the first out of the prisons, was a navigator-bombardier on an A-6 fighter-bomber from the carrier Independence shot down on July 18, 1965. His wife Janie and eight-year-old son Michael would be waiting for him when he arrived at Portsmouth, Va., along with his parents. One added satisfaction: Tschudy's A-6 commander, Navy Captain Jeremiah Denton, was also among the first released and would be coming home to Virginia with him.
Gold Pass. Air Force Colonel Lawrence Guarinox would be coming out nearly eight years after his capture. He appeared on a British TV film in 1966, stating that he was a prisoner of war and not a war criminal, as the North Vietnamese claimed. Air Force Sergeant Arthur Black, declared missing in September of 1965, was also among the first. So was Air Force Major Murphy Neal Jones, who was taken in 1966 after he bailed out of his F-105. He was paraded through the streets of Hanoi for public inspection and mocked as "Johnson's Peace Disturber" because his knees were knocking together at the time. Another coming home was Air Force Major Glendon Perkins, captured in 1966.
The nation greeted the release with an honest and appropriate pleasure, but also with a few inevitable touches of somewhat exaggerated sentimentality. Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was quick to offer each returnee a gold lifetime pass to any major-league game. The Ford Motor Co. wanted to give each of the prisoners a new car. There were sure to be other offers, and Pentagon officers sometimes found themselves squirming a bit at the spectacle. President Nixon struck the right note when he said, "This is a time that we should not grandstand it; we should not exploit it."