In 1973 Americans welcomed home their returning Vietnam prisoners of war. Among those heroes walked Lieutenant Colonel Robinson "Robbie" Risner, a man revered by those who served and endured with him the years of confinement in North Vietnam. 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 Corps. He completed pilot training and eagerly awaited a combat posting. However, to his great disappointment, he would fly the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and the Bell 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, he wrangled an assignment in the new North American 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. With 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, Risner pushed his wingman 60 miles to a friendly rescue unit on Cho Do Island where his wingman bailed out.
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 in Okinawa, Japan. 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 16 September 1965, he was shot down and taken prisoner. Because of the TIME article, the North Vietnamese believed 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, Risner's personal valor, loyalty, adherence to the Code of Conduct, and faith in God and country became rallying points for his fellow prisoners.
Returning to the States, he became combat ready in the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and was assigned as Commander, 832d Air Division, Cannon AFB, New Mexico. Brigadier General Risner retired from the Air Force in 1976, and lives with his wife, Dot, in Texas.
"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.