Former POW to speak at Andersonville Memorial Day Program

Published 8:53 am Thursday, May 23, 2019

ANDERSONVILLE — Former Prisoner of War Capt. William A. Robinson USAF (retired), will present the keynote address at the Memorial Day Observance Ceremony to be held in Andersonville National Cemetery at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 26.

Robinson was born in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. He enlisted into the United States Air Force after graduating high school in 1961. After several assignments within the United States and a one-year tour in Korea, Airman First Class Robinson was transferred to Thailand to serve with an Air Rescue and Recovery unit in the spring of 1965. In North Vietnam on Sept. 20, 1965, flying aboard an HH43B helicopter during a rescue mission to save a downed F-105 pilot, A1C (E4) Robinson and his crew were shot down by enemy fire. He and his crew survived the crash but were soon captured by enemy forces on the ground. He spent the next seven and half years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

After his release and return to the United States in 1973, Robinson was one of three enlisted men to receive a direct commission to lieutenant in the United States Air Force by the President of the United States, in recognition of his conduct while being held as a prisoner of war. In addition, Robinson was the first enlisted man to receive the Air Force Cross, a medal for valor, second only to the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award. His Air Force Cross is currently on display at the Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall, a museum located on Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

Robinson earned a Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, POW Medal, and two Purple Hearts along with 17 other awards and decorations. He is also honored at the Eglin Air Force Base Museum in the Vietnam Prisoner of War Display. He and Neal Black are listed in a book titled “Honor Bound, American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia” as the longest-held enlisted POWs in American history. A biography of his life has been released, “The Longest Rescue,” written by Glenn Robins, Ph.D.

After serving in Vietnam, Robinson completed aircraft maintenance training and was assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing Eglin Air Force Base as an aircraft maintenance officer. He retired from the Air Force in 1984, after serving his country honorably for 23 years. His service includes 12 years’ enlisted service and 11 years as a commissioned officer. He now lives in Lenoir City, Tennessee, with his wife Ora Mae.

Memorial Day commemoration activities at Andersonville National Historic Site begin on Friday, May 17. Volunteers from Robins Riders and park staff will raise the Avenue of Flags, lining the cemetery roads with over 200 full-sized American flags and the National Prisoner of War Museum parking area with all 50 state flags.

On Saturday, May 25, hundreds of Boy Scouts and other volunteers will add to the patriotic atmosphere by placing a small American flag on more than 21,000 gravesites in Andersonville National Cemetery. The dramatic and moving display of thousands of veterans’ graves decorated with American flags, set against a backdrop of over 200 full-sized American flags, will create a powerful and patriotic setting for the Memorial Day Observance Ceremony.

On Sunday, May 26, a Memorial Day Observance Ceremony will be held in Andersonville National Cemetery. The U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence Band will perform beginning at 1:30 p.m. and the formal program will begin at 2 p.m. The ceremony will feature a keynote address from Capt. William A. Robinson; wreath presentations by several military, civic, and patriotic organizations; presentation of military honors including a rifle salute; and more.

At 11 a.m. Monday, May 27, the Knights of Columbus will hold a special mass in the cemetery. The public is invited.