Longest Serving Enlisted POW Visits McGhee Tyson

  • Published
  • By Capt. Gary L. Taft
  • 134 ARW Public Affairs
Retired Capt. William (Bill) Robinson who is the longest-held enlisted prisoner of war in American history was released from the infamous Hanoi Hilton on Feb. 12, 1973, over seven years after the Kaman HH43B "Huskie" helicopter he served on was shot out of the sky by the enemy. The time he spent in captivity makes him the longest serving prisoner of war in the history of the U.S. military. Government investigations of the incident never determined whether Robinson and his crewmates were shot down by the North Vietnamese Army or by insurgent guerrillas operating in the area near the Laotian border where they were captured.

Regardless of who was responsible for bringing down the aircraft, Robinson ultimately ended up in the control of the North Vietnamese Army and was transported to the Hanoi Hilton prison, made famous by one of its most well-known inmates: Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain. Robinson remarked that he "considered himself the welcoming committee for McCain because I had been there for over two years when he arrived". After seven years of starvation, daily beatings, sickness and death, Robinson survived and was returned to American military control. On April 9, 1973 he received a battlefield commission as a 2nd Lieutenant for his valorous and honorable behavior during captivity that was frequently brutal and inhumane.

William (Bill) Robinson shared the story of his capture and internment while visiting with members of the 134 ARW on March 13, 2010. As a surviving POW and proud veteran, Robinson spends ever more frequent amounts of time visiting with military groups and school children to share his story and teach them the value of honor, dignity and duty. It would be hard to imagine losing seven years of your life and not harboring resentment and hostility but Robinson has in fact done just that, and more. During his visit, Robinson shared a story of his return to Vietnam in 1995. The Vietnamese government offered to provide for Robinson and his wife to visit their country again to visit the site of his former prison in Hanoi. Robinson graciously accepted and even visited with the former soldier who appears with him in the famous photograph of his capture. The photograph was so popular in Vietnam at the time, that it was used as the image for official postal stamps used by the mail department of Vietnam. When asked about that meeting and his feelings toward his former enemy, Robinson stated that "she was very gracious and kind" and that "she was just a soldier doing what was asked of her".

William (Bill) Robinson retired from active duty in 1984 for medical reasons but he left with an impressive record of military service that included 23-years in service, with 7 of those being in captivity. He was one of the first enlisted members to receive the Air Force Cross in addition to being awarded the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, POW Medal and two Purple Hearts.

McGhee Tyson ANGB and the 134 ARW are truly rateful for his visit and his inspiration to others who serve our country. Robinson has truly set the standard for honorable duty under unbearable conditions, and it's a standard that we as Tennessee Air National Guardsmen should strive for to achieve the Air Force Core Values of "Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do".