I didn’t anticipate that on Thursday, May 23, I’d be a witness to history.
Ruth & I, traveling with friends Ed & Diane, were on our way to the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Yorba Linda, California, when we learned that a special event was occurring there that would both enhance our experience and enthrall us for 7 hours.
Jim Thompson was the longest held Prisoner of War in U.S. history. In March, 1964, his plane crashed and Thompson was taken prisoner by the Viet Cong. He ended up in the ironically named Hanoi Hilton where, during one stretch, he didn’t get to speak to another American for 5 years. He spent almost 9 years in captivity and was released in March, 1973. He died 29 years later.
Another pilot, Navy Commander Everett Alvarez, was shot down and held in North Vietnam. He spent 8 years in the Hanoi Hilton. He is today the longest held POW still living and among the featured guests at the 3 day, 40th Anniversary Commemoration that began on May 23, 2013, at the Richard Nixon Library, the only place where this particular event would be appropriate.
At 1 pm, a line of similar busses escorted by the Patriot Guard Riders pulled up to the Library’s entrance and about 200 former Viet Nam POWS were officially welcomed in an opening ceremony by Yorba Linda’s mayor, Tom Lindsey, and Richard Nixon’s Grandson, Chris Cox. Nixon’s brother Ed is standing behind Chris in the photo above. The honorees spent the day touring the facility, attending a ceremony at 4 pm, and enjoying a BBQ dinner within sight of the historic helicopter that took Richard Nixon to Camp David 56 times and to Andrews AFB on his final presidential flight. We mingled with them as they toured the Library and submitted to interviews by CBS, ABC, Fox, etc.
Our 37th President was a man of many great accomplishments. For one, on May 23, 1973, Richard & Pat Nixon hosted a White House party to honor the 571 American captives he was responsible for bringing home. It remains the largest dinner ever held at the White House. China and crystal had to be rented to set 126 tables.
On Friday, May 24th, 2013, the official 40th Anniversary POW Dinner was held in an exact replica of the White House’s East Room at the RNPL&M. According to the program, Tricia Nixon Cox, Chris’ Mom and Richard’s Daughter, spoke to the guests.
Quite understandably, I didn’t hear a single negative word about the former President all day Thursday. That’s not to say that this 5 Compass Presidential Library honoring Richard Nixon at 18001 Yorba Linda Boulevard ignores Watergate. It definitely doesn’t. As Ed & I neared the painfully detailed Watergate exploration, Ed said sadly, “If only he hadn’t lied to the American people.”