Robinson Risner, former POW

This Memorial Day, we remember the sacrifices of our service men and women. We invite you to watch or listen to our interview with James Robinson Risner, filmed for Vietnam: A Television History in 1981.

J. Robinson Risner, 1981

Risner, a celebrated fighter pilot who led missions in both the Korean and Vietnam wors, was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in April of 1965.

In September of that same year, Risner was shot down flying over North Vietnam. He ejected and landed hard in a rice paddy, badly injuring his knee. He was captured and taken to the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” prison and later to Cu Loc Prison, known as “The Zoo”. His captors revelled in the fact that they had captured the hero from the cover of Time. He was tortured for 32 days and held in solitary confinement for 3 years.

Despite these unbearable circumstances, Risner helped lead American resistance in the prison, using a tapping code to communicate, and inspiring the other POW’s with his resilience and spirituality. He later wrote:

“To make it, I prayed by the hour, I did not ask God to take me out of it. I prayed he would give me the strength to endure it…

Risner's release, 1973. Courtesy DOD

J. Robinson Risner was released in 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming. He was awarded the Air Force Cross multiple times, and rose to the rank of Brigadier General. A nine-foot bronze statue of Risner now stands on the central plaza of the Air Force Academy in Colorado, honoring the sentiment he shared that hearing fellow prisoners singing “The Star Spangled Banner,” in the Hanoi Hilton made him feel nine feet tall.

Watch the entire interview with J. Robinson Risner here on Open Vault.

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