being put into an interrogation cell I was left entirely alone for
several hours. And during that period of time I wondered if there was
anyone close by. And so I began to sing, what was it, McNamara. My name is
McNamara, I'm the
leader of the band. I used this song.
I said, and I was singing loud enough that my voice would carry out of
the cell, you know, hoping someone would hear me, and I said, my name is
Robbie Risner, I'm the leader of the group. Listen to my story and I'll
give you all the poop. And so I shut up for a moment, and suddenly an
American voice came back and said, This is..., and he told me his name.
And so I had my first contact before interrogation started.
at that time that I was captured there was no torture going on. I was
captured the 16th of September, 1965
then, through some unique circumstances, I, maybe I helped perpetuate,
or ah precipitate the torture, I don't know. I was then moved after a
couple of weeks. Now, I had many interrogations in the two weeks I was
there at the Hanoi Hilton
I was giving only name, rank, serial number and date of birth. I was,
they tried to intimidate me. They brought in, I counted fourteen
different interrogators. And one of them was a woman, and they would
threaten me and tell me all kinds of things. But, of course, I kind of
vacillated. I didn't believe them basically. But I knew they were
capable of maybe executing us.
know. And, ah, I didn't hold too much grief for me. I had made my peace
before I, you know, before I even flew my missions. But, after a couple
of weeks they moved me to a new camp. And there they began to
interrogate me during the night, and the day, and tried to wear me down.
But at that time there was no torture. Then one day I had a visitor. And
they made me stand s—very tightly against the wall. The man came in.
I'm not positive, but I think it was Vo Nguyen Giap, what do they call him, Minister
of Defense, I suppose—the Commanding General. And he had a very thick
neck. He was dressed in only a pair of slacks and a white shirt rolled
up. And through the camp commander who spoke, we called him the Dog, we
named each one of them, you know, spoke rather good English.
he said you see, they had a dossier on me when I hit there, they had the
Time Magazine that they presented to me and showed that they knew who I
was. And in the interrogation they made a comment that I was to muse
about after that for some time, he said, We know who you are, Robinson
Risner. He said, Everyone in Vietnam knows.
see, my picture on the Time
said, with a banner across my chest, "Who's Fighting
In Vietnam," and then a feature story. And I had come back to the United
States and made a quick tour and had some press releases, and so forth,
and basically told them what we were doing over there and I thought we
were making a big impact on the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the bringing in of the
equipment to South Vietnam. So he said, We know who you are, Robinson
I knew it when he said what he followed with, that he was only making a
point. But he said, There's only three other people we had rather of
captured than you, and that's Johnson, McNamara, and Rusk.
And I thought, boy I'm pick'n in tall cotton, you know.
I was to regret the fact that I was Robinson Risner during the period of
time that I was in prison because they had pinned so much undue
importance on the fact that I had received some publicity; that I was
featured on Time Magazine
cover, and that most every pilot who was shot down were fighter pilots
and they all knew of me. And so when they were asked, "Do you know
Robinson Risner?", they would all say, "Yes.” Well that just made me
seem more important than I was, and so they constantly leaned on me.
after the interrogations were over at that particular camp they moved me
then to a place we named the Zoo. And there interrogations continued,
but they got no place because there was no reason for me to give them
more than name, rank, serial number and date of birth until finally they
caught a piece of paper that had been written by one of the POW's that I
was using kind of as an adjutant. He was next to me in another cell.
And I could tap through the wall to him and send messages out to the
rest of the people in the camp. And he was, this was taken from him with
bayonets. And it gave my name, it shouldn't of, should have used my code
name, but someone had slipped up and it said Robbie on it, so my
fortunes went down hill from there and they took me back to the Hanoi Hilton
, put my legs in
stocks, and I spent thirty-two days there in pretty primitive
They allowed me to live on my own body waste some of the time. For four
or five days at a time I got no food or water. They were trying to
weaken me, to make me give more than name, rank, serial number, and date
of birth. Well, at the end of about thirty-two days they had brought me
a bowl of green substance like alfalfa. And it was supposed to restore
my body functions. I had lost control of my bowels and the urinary
by just being locked in those stocks all that time and not having very
much to eat or drink, so I foun— I tried to write a message on the
bottom of my pan, the little dish they'd brought the soup in. And the
guard caught it. That night they came for me, they tortured me all
night. They took me to, I won't go into the details, but during the
night I would, I tried to endure the pain knowing that an American
military man should be able to endure torture until he died, but never
to give nothing to the enemy, never to give anything to the enemy.
And I tried my best. And my best wasn't good enough. And during the
night I heard someone screaming in a distance. And I thought, man, they
are torturing another prisoner. I felt so sorry for him, you know. And
then I would come back more closely to consciousness and found that it
was me I was hearing in the distance. I was the one that was doing the
screaming. And they tortured me all night.
And by daylight they had reduced me to such a place that I would give
them more than name, rank, serial number and date of birth. And they
hurt me pretty bad. They pulled my shoulders out of joint, and did some
things to my legs. But I found out that I was not as strong as I
thought. I couldn't be tortured to death, that my will would give before
my heart stopped beating. It was very disconcerting.
lived in abject misery for the rest of the time I was a prisoner,
knowing that I had not upheld the standards that I expected of everyone
else. Certainly it did one thing. It made me a lot more compassionate to
other PW's who might be called upon or forced to give more than name,
rank, serial number and date of birth.