Brig. Gen. Robinson Robbie Risner


Brig. Gen. James Robinson "Robbie" Risner (January 16, 1925 – October 22, 2013)

Robbie enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet in April, 1943, and attended flight training at Williams Field, Arizona, where he was awarded his pilot wings and a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in May 1944. He completed transition training in P-40 Warhawk and P-39 Airacobra fighters before being assigned to the 30th Fighter Squadron in Panama.

Risner's determination to be assigned to a combat unit was nearly ended when on his last day before going overseas he broke his hand and wrist falling from a horse. Robinson deliberately concealed the injury, which would have grounded him, until able to convince a flight surgeon that the injury had healed. He actually had his cast removed to fly his first mission.

He arrived in Korea on May 10, 1952, assigned to the 15th Reconnaissance Squadron at Kimpo Air Base. In June, when the 336th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, also at Kimpo, sought experienced pilots, he arranged a transfer to 4th Fighter Wing through the intervention of a former OKANG associate. Risner was often assigned to fly an F-86E-10, nicknamed Ohio Mike and bearing a large cartoon rendition of Bugs Bunny as nose art.

On September 15, 1952, Risner's flight escorted F-84 Thunderjets who’s target was a chemical plant on the Yalu River near the East China Sea. During their defense of the bombers, Risner's flight overflew a MiG base at Antung Airfield, China. As the MiGs came up to greet the bombers, Robbie broke off to take them on.

Chasing one MiG at nearly supersonic speeds down to, and at surface level, Risner pursued it down a dry riverbed and across low hills to an airfield 35 miles inside China. Shooting off its canopy, setting it on fire, and finally the fight concluded after flying in between hangars of the Communist airbase, where he shot down the MiG into parked enemy fighters.

After Robbie returned to his flight, he discovered that his wingman, 1st Lt. Joseph Logan, was struck in his fuel tanks by AA fire over Antung. Knowing they were still over enemy territory, Robbie told him to shut down his engine as he maneuvered to place the nose of his own jet into the tailpipe of Logan's, The object of the maneuver was to push Logan's aircraft to the island of Cho Do off the North Korean coast, where the Air Force maintained a helicopter rescue detachment.

Jet fuel and hydraulic fluid spewed out from the damaged Sabre onto Risner's canopy, obscuring his vision, and turbulence kept separating the two jets. Risner was able to re-establish contact and guide the powerless plane out over the sea until fluids threatened to stall his own engine. Near Cho Do, Logan bailed out after calling to Risner, "I'll see you at the base tonight.”

Logan came down close to shore, but sadly became entangled in his parachute shrouds and drowned.

Risner shut down his own engine in an attempt to save the fumes that were left in his tanks, but eventually his engine flamed out...and still 
Robbie managed to extend his glide enough to arrive to a deadstick landing at Kimmo.

In October 1952 Risner was promoted to major and named operations officer of the 336th FIS. Risner flew 108 missions in Korea and was credited with the destruction of eight MiG-15s, his final victory occurring January 21, 1953

On the morning of September 16, 1965, Risner scheduled himself for the mission as the "hunter" element of a Hunter-Killer Team searching for a SAM site in the vicinity of Tuong Loc, 80 miles south of Hanoi and 10 miles northeast of the Thanh Hoa Bridge.

Risner's aircraft was skimming the ground at approximately 600 mph, was lured to a decoy of a concentration of AAA. Heavy ground fire struck Risner's F-105 in its air intakes when he popped up over a hill for his attack. Again he attempted to fly to the Gulf of Tonkin, but had to eject when his aircraft caught fire, and pitched up out of control.

He was captured by North Vietnamese while still trying to extricate himself from his parachute.

Risner spent more than three years in solitary confinement.

In 1965 to 1973 he helped lead American resistance in the North Vietnamese prison complex through the use of improvised messaging techniques ("tap code"), endearing himself to fellow prisoners with his faith and optimism. It was largely thanks to the leadership of Risner and his Navy counterpart, Commander (later Vice Admiral) James Stockdale, that the POWs organized themselves to present maximum resistance.

He was a POW for seven years, four months, and 27 days.
12 February 1973 Robbie returned to the United States, and was assigned to the 1st Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, where he became combat ready in the F-4 Phantom II. Risner was later transferred to Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico in February 1974 to command the 832d Air Division, in which he flew the F-111 Aardvark fighter-bomber. He was promoted to brigadier general in May 1974. On 1 August 1975

At his death, Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark A. Welsh III observed: "Brig. Gen. James Robinson "Robbie" Risner was part of that legendary group who served in three wars, built an Air Force, and gave us an enduring example of courage and mission success... Today’s Airmen know we stand on the shoulders of giants. One of 'em is 9 feet tall… and headed west in full afterburner.”

Brig. Gen. James Robinson "Robbie" Risner (January 16, 1925 – October 22, 2013) United States Air Force, double recipient of the Air Force Cross, awarded the first for valor in aerial combat and the second for gallantry as a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese for more than seven years. He was the first living recipient of the medal.






  • miguel morris

    I have two aircraft models that once belonged to Gen. Risner: a F-100 the first aircraft I supported and a F-105 one of the last. I had an autographed book that he wrote that some how disappeared. But the greatest gift was his friendship during many rounds of golf. Proud to say he was my friend. Retired Lt.Colonel Miguel H. Morris.

  • Linda Long

    The respect Robbie exhibited throughout, for Country/Military/Citizens/
    Life/etc. is extraordinary. And the respect [for him & his life] which he earned, now demands respect & honor from every American Citizen. His testimony deserves to be shared, far more often. L.L.

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