by Carolyn Kleiner Butler
The minutes crept by like hours，” she recalls， and then， all at once， the car door opened. “I just wanted to get to Dad as fast as I could，” Lorrie says. She tore down the runway toward him with open arms， her spirits—and feet—flying. Her mother， Loretta， and three younger 1）siblings—Robert， Roger and Cindy—were only steps behind. “We didnt know if he would ever come home，” Lorrie says. “That moment was all our prayers answered， all our wishes come true.”
2）Associated Press photographer Slava Veder， whod been standing in a crowded bullpen with dozens of other journalists， noticed the 3）sprinting family and started taking pictures. “You could feel the energy and the raw emotion in the air，” says Veder， then 46， who had spent much of the Vietnam era covering antiwar demonstrations in San Francisco and 4）Berkeley. The day was overcast， meaning no shadows and near-perfect light.He rushed to a 5）makeshift darkroom in a ladies bathroom on the base （6）United Press International had commandeered the mens）. In less than half an hour， Veder and his AP colleague Walt Zeboski had developed six remarkable images of that singular moment. Veders pick， which he instantly titled Burst of Joy， was sent out over the newsservice wires， published in newspapers around the nation and went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1974.
It remains the 7）quintessential homecoming photograph of the time. Stirm， 39， who had endured gunshot wounds， torture， illness， starvation and despair in North Vietnamese prison camps， including the 8）infamous 9）Hanoi Hilton， is pictured in a crisp new uniform. Because his back is to the camera， as Veder points out， the officer seems anonymous， an everyman who represented not only the hundreds of 10）POWs released that spring but all the troops in Vietnam who would return home to the mothers， fathers， wives， daughters and sons theyd left behind. “Its a heros welcome for guys who werent always seen or treated as heroes，” says Donald Goldstein， a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and 11）coauthor of The Vietnam War： The Stories and The Photographs. “After years of fighting a war we couldnt win， a war that tore us apart， it was finally over， and the country could start healing.”
But there was more to the story than was captured on film. Three days before Stirm landed at Travis Air Force Base， a 12）chaplain had handed him a 13）Dear John letter from his wife. “I cant help but feel 14）ambivalent about it，” Stirm says today of the photograph. “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.”
Lorrie says， “So much had happened—there was so much that my dad missed out on—and it took a while to let him back into our lives and accept his authority.”
Her parents were divorced within a year of his return. Her mother remarried in 1974 and lives in Texas with her husband. Stirm retired from the Air Force as a colonel in 1977 and worked as a corporate pilot and businessman. He married and was divorced again. Now 72 and retired， he lives in Foster City， California.
As for the rest of the family， Robert is a dentist in 15）Walnut Creek， California； he and his wife have four children， the oldest of whom is a marine. Roger， a major in the Air Force， lives outside 16）Seattle. Cindy， a waitress， resides in Walnut Creek with her husband and has a daughter in college. And Lorrie， now 47， is an executive administrator and mother of two sons. She lives in 17）Mountain View， California， with her husband. All four of Stirms children have a copy of Burst of Joy hanging in a place of honor on their walls. But he says he cant bring himself to display the picture.
Three decades after the Stirm reunion， the scene， having appeared in countless books， anthologies and exhibitions， remains part of the nations collective consciousness， often serving as an 18）uplifting postscript to Vietnam. That the moment was considerably more fraught than we first assumed makes it all the more 19）poignant and reminds us that not all war casualties occur on the battlefield.
Lorrie says， “Every time I look at the picture， I remember the families that werent reunited， and the ones that arent being reunited today—many， many families—and I think， Im one of the lucky ones.”