With Veterans Day approaching I’d like to share a quick story with your readers.
In 1972, while serving in the Navy, I noticed that the PX was selling POW/MIA bracelets to honor those soldiers captured or missing in action in Vietnam. I decided to buy one, not knowing anything about the person on the bracelet (T/SGT William Robinson 9-20-65). I wore it for a year before putting it away with my other military items.
This fall I came across the bracelet, having kept it these past 45 years. I began wondering if there wasn’t more information out there on Tech Sergeant William Robinson. Was he ever found, or did he die in Vietnam? In today’s world of smart phones/tablets, I did a search, and here’s what was found.
William “Bill” Robinson enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on Nov. 22, 1961. He trained as a helicopter maintenance technician, and after several assignments was deployed to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai AFB, Thailand and assigned to the 38th Air Rescue Squadron in April 1965.
On Sept. 20, 1965, the aircrew participated in an extremely hazardous attempt to recover a downed F-105 pilot in North Vietnam. The mission required a flight of 80 miles over hostile controlled territory. On the way to the crash site their HH43B helicopter was shot down by enemy fire. Bill Robinson and three other crewmen survived the crash and stayed in caves until they were discovered and taken prisoner. At that time Bill was only 22 years old. He was paraded around in several villages where he was hit, spat upon, taunted and tortured.
Bill was transferred to the Hanoi prison system in early 1967 and wasn’t released until Operation Homecoming on Feb. 12, 1973, by the North Vietnamese after 2,703 days in captivity, just a little over seven years as a prisoner of war (POW). He is listed in a book titled “Honor Bound: American Prisoners Of War in Southeast Asia” as the longest held enlisted POW in American history.
Upon his return to the U.S. he was offered a commission as an officer and stayed in the Air Force until retiring as a captain in 1984. This dedicated veteran continues to speak to groups of young airmen even today about his experience.
For me, it was a wonderful discovery to know that this individual not only survived his ordeal as a POW, but continues to thrive and inspire others. Even more important it reminds me, that no matter the sacrifice, we should honor all veterans for their service to our country.
Happy Veterans Day!
Niles Bauer is a resident of Whitefish.