Yellow ribbons were first used during the Vietnam War.
The inspiration came from a Civil War legend about a soldier returning home from the infamous Andersonville Prison.
He had written his wife to hang a yellow handkerchief on the oak tree in the town square if she still loved him; otherwise he would stay on the stagecoach and move on.
A modernized version became the hit song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” and a new custom was born.
L. Russell Brown was inspired to write the song one late spring morning, and he drove thirty-three miles to Irwin Levine’s house to tell him the story.
Irwin changed the yellow handkerchief to a ribbon so as not to offend anyone with the reality of what makes handkerchiefs yellow. They also updated the story by changing the stagecoach to a bus.
The song was released in February 1973. It was the number one hit by April 1973.
The song became a hit again in 1981 when the fifty-two Iran hostages were returned after 444 days of captivity.