Breaking

Burst of Joy, 1973

 
The picture marks the end of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War, and the prevailing sentiment that military personnel and their families can begin the process of healing after having endured the horrors of limited war.

After spending more than five years in a North Vietnamese camp, Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Sturm reunited with his family at Travis AFB on March 13, 1973. Burst of Joy is a Pulitzer Prize winning photograph by Associated Press photographer Slava. Years" Vader. The picture marks the end of the United States' involvement in the Vietnam War, and the prevailing sentiment that military personnel and their families can begin the process of healing once they have endured the horrors of war.
Prisoners of war freed from prison camps in North Vietnam land at Travis Air Force Base in California. Although there were only 20 PWs on the plane, around 400 family members arrived to return home. Vader was part of the big press show and recalls that: "You could feel the energy and raw emotion in the air". In the photo, United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Sturm is shown reuniting with his family after spending more than five years in captivity as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. The centerpiece of the photo is Sturm's 15-year-old daughter, Laurie, who is enthusiastically greeting her father with outstretched arms, as the rest of the family follows directly behind her.

Despite outward appearances, the reunion was a rough one for Sturm. It is disheartening to read that three days before the photograph was taken, Lieutenant Colonel Robert L. Sturm receives a letter from his wife that she wants a divorce. His wife took 140,000 of his salary when he was a POW, their two young children, a house, a car, 40% of his future pension, and $300 a month in child support. He had to pay only $1500 of his money used on trips with other men. He fought against her in court and lost. She then had to live with her mother in San Francisco to take care of her older children. It looks like a prisoner of the wife.

Three decades after the Sturm reunion, the scene, appearing in countless books, anthologies, and exhibitions, remains part of the nation's collective consciousness, often serving as an uplifting postscript for Vietnam. Of the picture and its legacy, Laurie Sturm Kitching once said, "We have this great picture of a very happy moment, but every time I look at it, I miss those families. Those who were never met again, and those who are meeting again today - many, many families - and I think, I am one of the lucky ones.

But there was more to the story than what was captured on film. Three days before Sturm landed at Travis, a pastor handed him a Dear John letter from his wife. "I can't help but think about it. Sturm says of the TODAY photo. "I was so happy to see my kids—I loved them all and still do, and I know they have a hard time. There was time—but there was a lot to deal with." Laurie says, "A lot had happened—there was so much that my dad missed—and it took him a while to come back into our lives and accept his authority. Her parents divorced within a year of her return. Her mother remarried in 1974 and lives with her husband in Texas. Robert retired from the Air Force in 1977 as a colonel and Worked as a corporate pilot and businessman. They married and then divorced. Now 72 and retired, he lives in Foster City, California.

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