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Photographer Slava "Sal" Veder immortalized Lt. Col. Robert L. Stirm's reunion with his family in March 1973. An Air Force fighter pilot, Stirm was imprisoned after being taken down over North Vietnam in 1967. When the former POW landed at Travis Air Force Base in California, his daughter Lorrie was the first to embrace him, quickly followed by her three siblings (Robert Jr., Roger, and Cynthia) and mother (Loretta).
Lorrie recalled, "I just wanted to get to Dad as fast as I could... We didn't know if he would ever come home... That moment was all our prayers answered, all our wishes come true."
Veder was among numerous journalists awaiting Stirm, all of whom "could feel the energy and the raw emotion in the air." Veder caught that energy on film with an image that came to represent hope and healing in the aftermath of an unwinnable conflict. He received the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography in 1974.
The truth behind the photo was much more complex, however. Stirm had received a letter from his wife days earlier indicating their marriage was over. After an attempted reconciliation, Robert and Loretta divorced a few months later.
Stirm later acknowledged his mixed feelings about the photo:
I have several copies of the photo but I don’t display it in the house... I was very pleased to see my children - I loved them all and still do, and I know they had a difficult time - but there was a lot to deal with... In some ways, it’s hypocritical, because my former wife had abandoned the marriage within a year or so...