By Lily Rothman
June 22, 2015

It was early 1973, many years into the War in Vietnam but two more before the conflict fully ended, that President Richard Nixon announced that ‘peace with honor’ had been achieved. Soon after, the prisoners of war began to come home.

As seen in this exclusive clip from the upcoming episode of CNN’s The Seventies, airing Thursday at 9:00 p.m., it was an emotional homecoming. As TIME reported that February in an issue focused on the return, rather than subject the former prisoners to immediate grilling by officers, doctors and journalists, they were given escorts to guide them through the process of evaluation and acclimation. The men would be slowly reintroduced to a variety of food and brought up to speed on the cultural and social changes they had missed. (They were also issued back pay, which for some long-held prisoners came out to over $100,000.)

But that doesn’t mean the return was easy. As Stefan Kanfer put it in an essay in that issue of TIME, the prisoners were like modern Rip Wan Vinkles: the world to which they returned was the same one they had left, but so much had changed in their absence. Here’s how Kanfer summed-up the new landscape:

Jesus freaks are gathered at the corner, mixing freely with other louder groups. They carry the perennial banners of militancy, each inscribed with the device, Liberation. Over it are the words Gay, Black, Women’s, Chicano and People’s. These are the remnants of a great tidal wave of protest that broke in Rip’s absence, still sporadically coursing through the streets and campuses. The year 1968 was at once its crest and ebb. Rip was gone when Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis and when 172 cities went up in smoke, when 3,500 were injured and 27,000 arrested. He was gone when Bobby Kennedy was murdered two months later, and when two months afterward, the city of Chicago seemed to become the epicenter for every disaffected demonstrator in America.

Perhaps there was something in the global ionosphere that year, something that still clings like smoke in an empty room. Without benefit of an unpopular war to trigger protest, Paris also was torn by civil disturbances; so were Mexico City and Tokyo. Even in Prague, the people rose up —only to be pushed into submission by armored tanks. Today all protest seems, somehow, to be an echo of that hopeful, dreadful time; but to the new listener there is no resonance, only the flat remnants of unassimilated rage.

Read the full essay, here in the TIME Vault: The Returned: A New Rip Van Winkle



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