LOUISVILLE, Tenn. – Retired Air Force Capt. William A. Robinson told his service story as an ex-POW to Airman leadership school today as he did many times before.
The Vietnam veteran stood solo, with merely a three-ring binder of notes, in front of about 100 students and staff, Nov. 6, at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center, just short of Veterans Day. His audience was silent and captivated.
Captain Robinson spoke about his more than seven years imprisonment as a junior enlisted Airman at the infamous Hoa Lo, Hanoi prison after a helicopter crash in enemy territory.
He is considered the nation’s longest surviving enlisted POW. The book, “The Longest Rescue: The life and legacy of Vietnam POW William A. Robinson,” tells the story.
He spoke for more than 90 minutes. “It’s an honor to be here this afternoon,” Captain Robinson said to the Airmen assembled. “Thank you for what you do every day, for every American.”
Vietnam released Captain Robinson in 1973. He earned his commission and served 23 years before retiring in 1984.
Former TEC commandant and ex-POW in World War II, Chief Master Sgt. Paul H. Lankford met Robinson at the Smoky Mountain ex-POW Chapter meeting in 2005. Robinson said he was asked to consider sharing his story with the students.
Chief Lankford helped establish the enlisted professional military education center in 1968, which is now in his name. He was a Death March of Bataan survivor who also shared his service experiences with students.
Captain Robinson spoke in Chief Lankford’s absence and after his death in 2008. Thousands of service members heard their perspectives during EPME.