Brigadier General Robinson Risner: US airman who served in Korea and was decorated for his leadership of fellow prisoners of war in Vietnam

 

Long before he retired as a much-decorated brigadier general, Robbie Risner was one of the most celebrated pilots in the US Air Force. He was an ace in the Korean War, shooting down eight Russian-built MiG-15s, and received the Silver Star for a daring mid-air manoeuvre to steer a fellow pilot to safety. More than a decade later during the Vietnam War, he led the first flight of Operation Rolling Thunder, a high-intensity aerial bombing of North Vietnam. He received the Air Force Cross in 1965 for leading air strikes against a strategic bridge in North Vietnam. Later that month he was featured on the cover of Time magazine.

He flew 55 missions over Vietnam. In five missions in a single week, he recalled, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire four times. "Fear is a luxury one can't afford," he said. But in September 1965 his luck ran out. During a raid his F-105 Thunderchief was hit by groundfire. He was forced to bail out and was taken captive. Because of the Time story he would become one of the highest profile US prisoners of the Vietnam War. He was held for more than seven years in Hoa Lo prison – the "Hanoi Hilton" – before his release in 1973.

In September 1952, Risner's fighter unit was in a dogfight when he noticed that the plane of his wingman, Joe Logan, had been hit and was leaking fuel. They were 60 miles from friendly territory. Amid heavy anti-aircraft fire, Risner moved his jet behind Logan's and at more than 200mph, placed the nose of his plane in the tailpipe of the damaged plane. Risner pushed Logan's powerless plane until they were beyond enemy territory and within reach of US troops. Logan bailed out over water but became tangled in his parachute lines and drowned.

Risner received the first of two Silver Stars for his heroics; his second came only after he went home from Vietnam – it was awarded for his leadership as a POW. Risner was a lieutenant colonel when he was taken captive and because of his high rank he faced particularly harsh treatment. He was kept shackled for weeks at a time and spent more than three years in a darkened, solitary cell.

After Vietnam, Risner commanded several fighter training programmes before his retirement in 1976. He was a friend of the businessman and former presidential candidate Ross Perot, who commissioned a statue of him at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It was a reminder of Risner's leadership among the POWs after he organised a forbidden church service in the Hanoi Hilton in 1971. As he was led away his comrades began to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner." "I felt like I was nine feet tall and could go bear hunting with a switch," he said later. The statue at the Air Force Academy stands nine feet tall.

James Robinson Risner, airman: born Mammoth Spring, Arkansas 16 January 1925; twice married (six children); died Bridgewater, Virginia 22 October 2013.

© The Washington Post

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

DT Teacher - Food Technology

£100 - £145 per day + Pension and travel: Randstad Education Maidstone: SUPPLY...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star