Okay, you got me curious now...so here's the official story.
The yellow ribbon phenomenon is based on an actual occurrence in which
a man arrives home from prison on a bus. One of the other passengers on the
bus wrote a letter describing what happened to the New York Post and columnist
Pete Hamill wrote it up as a story. The story later appeared in Reader's
Digest (1971). The Tony Orlando song was released in 1973. No mention of
a James Earl Jones TV version though in any of my research. Interesting note,
though...It has recently been remade into a Japanese film entitled "Yellow
Handkerchief." Ah, the Global Village...