After seven years of torture, loneliness, and deprivation, "Robbie" Risner emerged from the "Hanoi Hilton" as a national hero and a symbol of freedom. Risner was born in Mammoth Springs, Arkansas, on 16 Jan 1925. He enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force in April 1943 and attended flight training at Williams Field, Arizona. There he earned his pilot wings and a commission as second lieutenant. In 1952, he went to the 336th Fighter Interceptor Squadron at Kimpo AB, Korea, where he flew more than 100 combat missions in the North American F-86 Sabre. Risner shot down eight enemy aircraft and became the 20th American jet ace.
In late 1954, he joined the 50th Wing to activate Hahn AB, Germany, where he became Commander of the 81st Fighter Bomber Squadron. Next, he returned stateside to George AFB, California, as Operations Officer of the 413th Fighter Wing. While at George AFB, he commanded the 34th Fighter-Day Squadron and was selected to fly the Charles A. Lindberg Commemoration Flight from New York to Paris. He covered the distance in 6 hours and 38 minutes in a North American F-100 Super Sabre, and set a transatlantic speed record. After Air War College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, Risner spent three years in CINCPAC Operations in Hawaii. In August 1964, he became Commander of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Kadena AB, Okinawa, and flew the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.
As America became embroiled in the conflict in Southeast Asia, Risner led the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Korat Royal Thai AB, Thailand. He was shot down over North Vietnam in May of 1965, but was rescued. In September he was shot down again. This time Risner was captured! Held prisoner in Hanoi, he served as the Senior Ranking Officer and later as Vice Commander for the 4th Allied Prisoner-of-War Wing. He was repatriated in February 1973 and 5 months later was assigned to the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, MacDill AFB, Florida. He became combat ready in the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II. In February of 1974 he transferred to Cannon AFB, New Mexico, as Commander of the 832nd Air Division, and was promoted to Brigadier General in May 1974.
He completed his Air Force career as Vice Commander of the Fighter Weapons Center at Nellis AFB, Nevada. General Risner is the first living recipient of the Air Force's highest award, the Air Force Cross, which he received twice. His many decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star with V for valor, two Silver Stars, eight Air Medals, and three Purple Hearts. He retired in 1976 and later wrote The Passing of the Night about his experiences as a POW. He dedicated the book to the youth of America.
In 1965, while flying over North Vietnam in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief, Risner was flying at 17,000 feet looking down at a highway in the mountain passes when he spotted a big truck with his binoculars. Following a 270-degree diving turn, he met the vehicle head-on and delivered a long burst. The truck exploded just as Risner was approaching supersonic speeds. The F-105 was hit in the fuselage tank by an exploding 37 mm round but made he made it back to Korat.