In 1973, Americans welcomed home their returning Vietnam prisoners of war (POWs). Among those released heroes walked Colonel Robinson "Robbie " Risner. During 33 years of service, he fought in three wars and received the Air Force's highest award, the Air Force Cross. He joined the US Army Air Corps during World War II and completed pilot training in 1943. He eagerly awaited a combat posting, but he was assigned to Panama flying the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and the Bell P-39 Airacobra. Following the war, he served in the Oklahoma Air National Guard flying the North American P-51 Mustang until his recall to active duty during the Korean War. Eager to contribute, Risner volunteered for duty as a photo-reconnaissance pilot.
After arriving in Korea, however, he wrangled an assignment with the famous 4th Fighter Wing flying the new North American F-86 Sabre. After pursuing and killing a MiG-15 over a Chinese air base, his wingman's fuel tanks and hydraulics were severely damaged by flak. Heroically, Risner had his wingman shut down his engine, carefully inserted the nose of his F-86 into the crippled aircraft's tailpipe and pushed it 60 miles to Cho Do Island, where a rescue unit waited for his wingman to bail out. In Korea, Risner accumulated eight aerial victories and earned the title "Ace." In 1957, Risner set a transatlantic speed record in his North American F-100 Super Sabre, flying from New York to Paris in 6 hours and 37 minutes. In 1965, he took command of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
As a 22-year fighter veteran, he was now leading Republic F-105 Thunderchief strikes out of Thailand against targets in North Vietnam, a role that resulted in his appearance on the cover of TIME magazine. While flying a ROLLING THUNDER mission on September 16, 1965, he was shot down and taken prisoner. Because of the TIME article, the North Vietnamese believed they had an important American officer, and they were determined to break him through torture and solitary confinement. A living model of spiritual fitness, Risner kept his faith in God, country, fellow POWs, and his family. His personal valor, loyalty, and adherence to the Code of Conduct provided invaluable inspiration for his fellow prisoners during his 7 ½ year imprisonment in the Hanoi Hilton.
Following repatriation in 1973, Risner flew the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and was later assigned as Commander, 832d Air Division, Cannon AFB, New Mexico, flying the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark. His combat and POW experiences are chronicled in his book, The Passing of the Night, which he dedicated to the youth of America. Risner retired from the Air Force in 1976 as a Brigadier General, and he lives with his wife, Dot, in Texas.
"Robbie" Risner, known for his courageous and positive attitude, was a fighter pilot in World War II and the Korean War (where he earned "Ace" status with eight combat kills). In 1973, he emerged from the Hanoi Hilton as a national hero after 7 ½ years of torture, loneliness, and deprivation. His faith in God, personal valor, loyalty, and adherence to the Code of Conduct provided invaluable inspiration for his fellow prisoners