In 1973 Americans welcomed home their returning Vietnam prisoners of war. Among those heroes walked "Robbie" Risner, a man revered by those who served with him during the years of North Vietnamese confinement. During his 33 years of service, he fought in three wars and on two separate occasions received the Air Force's highest award, the Air Force Cross. Risner began his career in 1943 when he joined the Army Air Force. He completed pilot training and eagerly awaited a combat posting. However, to his great disappointment, he would fly the P-38 Lightning and the P-39 Airacobra in Panama.
Following the war, he served in the Oklahoma Air National Guard until his recall to active duty during the Korean conflict. Seeking combat, Risner volunteered for duty as a photo-reconnaissance pilot, but after arriving in Korea, wangled an assignment in the new F-86 Sabre with the famous 4th Fighter Wing. He demonstrated combat leadership and initiative following an intense engagement with a MiG-15 north of the Yalu River. As the enemy fighter crashed, Risner pulled away and saw his wingman taking numerous flak hits. His wingman out of fuel, Risner inserted the nose of his F-86 into the crippled aircraft's tailpipe and nudged it forward. Despite turbulence and blinding hydraulic fluid, he pushed his wingman 60 miles to Cho Do Island where they ejected near a friendly rescue unit; unfortunately, his wingman drowned before he could be rescued.
Risner left Korea in 1953 and returned to peacetime duties. In 1957, he flew the Charles A. Lindbergh Commemoration Flight from New York to Paris. Piloting the F-100 Super Sabre "Spirit of St. Louis II," he set a trans-Atlantic speed record, covering the distance in 6 hours and 37 minutes. In 1965, he was assigned to Okinawa, Japan, as Commander of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Having flown fighters for 22 years, he was now leading F- 105 Thunderchief strikes out of Thailand against targets in North Vietnam, a role that resulted in his i ll-fated appearance on the cover of TIME Magazine. While flying a Rolling Thunder mission on 16 September 1965, he was shot down and taken prisoner. Because his captors held a copy of that magazine, they felt they had an important American officer, whom they were determined to break through torture and solitary confinement.
Throughout his seven and one-half year ordeal, "Robbie" Risner's personal valor, loyalty, adherence to the Code of Conduct, and faith in God and country became rallying points for his fellow prisoners and an inspiration for all Americans. Returning to the States, he became combat ready in the F-4 Phantom and was assigned as Commander, 832d Air Division, Cannon AFB, New Mexico, flying the F- 111 Aardvark. Risner served out his career as Vice Commander of the USAF Tactical Fighter Weapons Center at Nellis AFB, Nevada, retiring in 1976.
"Robbie" Risner was a fighter Ace who combined outstanding aerial skill, marksmanship, and tactical awareness with a rare quality--intelligent aggressiveness. Testament to his aerial expertise was his becoming America's twentieth jet Ace in a brief, 4-month period. Flying the F-86 "Robbie's Hobbie," Risner flew more than 100 combat missions in "MiG Alley" over North Korea. He is credited with eight aerial victories while assigned to the 336th Fighter Squadron, 4th Fighter Wing, Kimpo, Korea.