I was a young lad back in 1969 when I saw the story on television. (I think it was 1969, might be + or - a year). It was summer TV programming to fill in the emptiness between seasons. The show was called “Perpetual People Puzzle.” One segment dramatized the Tie a Yellow Ribbon story exactly as it was versified in the TO&D song. The bus, the hundred yellow ribbons on the tree, everything. I always thought the songwriters had seen that TV show and taken the song idea directly from there.
The song was based on an incident that occurred aboard a bus bound for Miami. One of the passengers was just out of prison, having served three years for passing bad checks. In a letter to his wife, he had written that she didn’t have to wait for him; but, if she was still interested, she could let him know by tying a yellow ribbon around the only oak tree in the city square is basically how the song goes.
The yellow ribbon was used to express the nation’s feelings for the American hostages in Iran and was played as a homecoming theme after their captivity ended on January 20, 1981. Since then colored ribbons have appeared everywhere signifying every cause under the sun.