VFW honors former "Hanoi Hilton" POW during memorial ceremony

  • Published
  • By Danny Bazzell
  • 412th Test Wing Public

More than 100 family and friends gathered at the Tri-County Fairgrounds in Bishop, Calif. on Sept. 12 to honor the memory of a former Hanoi Hilton prisoner of war, who passed away on June 21, 2021.

The memorial service for retired Air Force Col. Robert F. Waggoner was organized by local Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8988, of which Waggoner was a life member. The event was highlighted by a two-ship T-38 Talon flyover piloted by crews from the 416th and 419th Flight Test Squadrons, 412th Test Wing, Edwards AFB, Calif. while the Nellis Honor Guard, 99th Air Base Wing, Nellis AFB, Nev. rendered honors.

On Sept. 12, 1966, while flying his 25th combat mission over North Vietnam, Waggoner’s aircraft was hit by hostile fire forcing him to eject over enemy territory.

Due to a lack of communications over their target and no friendly eyewitnesses to his aircraft having been shot down, Waggoner was listed as missing in action for two years before his fate as a POW was confirmed.

Waggoner was captured by the North Vietnamese and taken to the Hỏa Lò prison in Hanoi, North Vietnam which was given the nickname of “Hanoi Hilton” by the POW’s held there during the Vietnam War.

He enlisted in the Air Force on April 14, 1955, then received a commission as a second lieutenant, along with his aviator wings, from the Aviation Cadet Program, Laughlin AFB, Texas on July 28, 1956.

On January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords, was signed. One of the conditions of the agreement was the repatriation of U.S. POWs held by the North Vietnamese.

Operation Homecoming, as the mission was called, began on February 12, 1973, and ended on April 4, 1973. During this time 591 American POWs were airlifted home by the USAF. 395 of these were USAF Airmen, and on March 4, 1973, Waggoner came home, after 2,366 days in captivity.

Waggoner's final assignment was as Commander of the Air Force Plant Representative Office with Hughes Aircraft Company in Los Angeles. He retired from the Air Force on August 1, 1981.