May 24, 1973, was an unforgettable night for the POWs, as they received a hero's welcome by Nixon and tributes from celebrities during a homecoming celebration.
"Given the circumstances, we're the luckiest people around, because we all made it back," said former POW Brian Ward.
Tricia Nixon Cox did the honors Friday night.
"You never lost faith in America, and my father never lost faith in you," she said.
Some of the veterans in the room spent several years in captivity. Norm McDaniel was held for seven years after his plane was shot down near Hanoi.
"Coming out of north Vietnam, after all the torture, after all of the deprivation, not knowing if you'd live to see the next moment sometimes, it was like returning from hell," he said.
McDaniel says the experience changed his outlook on life.
"I have learned to make the best of each day, because yesterday is but a memory, and tomorrow is but a vision," McDaniel said.
As POWs, they turned to prayer and song to cope. At the dinner 40 years ago, the POW choir sang a hymn one soldier wrote during captivity.
Four decades older and unrehearsed, choir members sang the words they learned long ago, when they were far from hope and far from home.
To honor the POWs, an exhibit will be up at the library through Labor Day.