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The Longest Rescue

The Longest Rescue: The Life and Legacy of Vietnam POW William A. Robinson

Foreword by Colonel Bud Day
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    The Longest Rescue
    Book Description:

    While serving as a crew chief aboard a U.S. Air Force Rescue helicopter, Airman First Class William A. Robinson was shot down and captured in Ha Tinh Province, North Vietnam, on September 20, 1965. After a brief stint at the "Hanoi Hilton," Robinson endured 2,703 days in multiple North Vietnamese prison camps, including the notorious Briarpatch and various compounds at Cu Loc, known by the inmates as the Zoo. No enlisted man in American military history has been held as a prisoner of war longer than Robinson. For seven and a half years, he faced daily privations and endured the full range of North Vietnam's torture program.

    In The Longest Rescue: The Life and Legacy of Vietnam POW William A. Robinson, Glenn Robins tells Robinson's story using an array of sources, including declassified U.S. military documents, translated Vietnamese documents, and interviews from the National Prisoner of War Museum. Unlike many other POW accounts, this comprehensive biography explores Robinson's life before and after his capture, particularly his estranged relationship with his father, enabling a better understanding of the difficult transition POWs face upon returning home and the toll exacted on their families. Robins's powerful narrative not only demonstrates how Robinson and his fellow prisoners embodied the dedication and sacrifice of America's enlisted men but also explores their place in history and memory.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4324-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Maps
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Colonel Bud Day

    This is a very big book about a very big man, with a big mind, and a huge, unshakable stoicism and innate common sense. These were exactly the qualities he called on to resist the brutal and inhumane conditions that he faced as a prisoner of war. As a reader, you will become a better person for having read this spectacular story and following Billy’s example. I was shot down over North Vietnam on 26 August 1967. I was shoot down number 138 of those Americans who actually made it into a prison camp. More than that number had already...

  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    “We sometimes fondly say that we classify ourselves as one of the longest rescues in history.” William Andrew (Bill) Robinson, a bearlike man, grinned and gently shook with laughter as he finished recounting the outline of his capture story during an interview at the National Prisoner of War Museum in Andersonville, Georgia. Robinson was not “rescued” in the literal military sense of the word—quite the contrary. He spent 2,703 days as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese. His use of the phrase refers to the incident that resulted in his capture. On 20 September 1965 Robinson and his fellow...

  6. 1 Unfortunate Sons
    (pp. 9-40)

    Late in the evening of 4 August 1964, President Lyndon Johnson appeared on television to inform the world of U.S. retaliatory strikes against North Vietnam in response to the Gulf of Tonkin incidents involving the U.S.S. Maddox and C. Turner Joy. “As I speak to you tonight,” the president announced, “air action is now in execution against gunboats and certain supporting facilities in North Vietnam which have been used in these hostile operations.” In concluding his brief remarks, the president stated, “Our response for the present will be limited and fitting.”¹ Unfortunately for those involved in the mission, Johnson’s irresponsible...

  7. 2 Separate Paths to Hell
    (pp. 41-92)

    After only one night in the first village, Robinson’s North Vietnamese captors moved him to a second location, a village that was a little bit larger than the first. He never developed a clear visual of the place because he arrived after dark, and his handlers kept him preoccupied by using him in a series of well-orchestrated propaganda displays over the next three days. Robinson was the star attraction in what many prisoners referred to as pep rallies. Typically, guards paraded prisoners out in front of a crowd, suggesting to the locals that the captured American pilots had been responsible...

  8. 3 After Ho
    (pp. 93-126)

    On 2 september 1969 Ho Chi Minh, who more than any other individual symbolized the North Vietnamese war of national liberation, died at the age of seventy-five after battling chronic health problems stemming from tuberculosis and malaria. The international community paid tribute to the revolutionary leader by sending more than 22,000 messages of condolence to the government in Hanoi. The state funeral was held on 8 September at Hanoi’s Ba Dinh Square, where twenty years earlier Ho had read the Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The demonstration of national mourning drew more than one hundred thousand...

  9. 4 Coming Home
    (pp. 127-158)

    The signing of the Paris Peace Accords on 27 January 1973 formalized and prescribed an exact timeline for the withdrawal of the U.S. Military from Vietnam. The agreement also set the conditions for the release of American Prisoners of war. On that same January day the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong representatives in Paris released the names of 577 American prisoners of war; of that number 555 were U.S. military personnel, including William Andrew Robinson. Repatriation planning, dating back to December 1969, had been coordinated under the code name Egress Recap. The antiseptic moniker was actually a part of the...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 5 Forget and Move On
    (pp. 159-184)

    In mid-April 1973 Robinson underwent a series of extensive medical procedures. The first dealt with a foot problem commonly known as hammertoe or claw toe, a contracture or bending of one or more joints in the second, third, fourth, or little toe, which causes the foot and toes to resemble a claw or hammer. The patient’s symptoms include pain when wearing shoes and inflamed or burning sensations in the affected areas. Over the years Robinson’s weight had placed a strain on his feet, but the seven and a half years of captivity without proper footwear and the prolonged periods of...

  12. 6 An Iconic Image
    (pp. 185-206)

    In October 1994 Bill Robinson unexpectedly received a letter from Le Manh Thich, a documentary film director at the Central Science Documentary Film Studio in Hanoi. Thich explained that “ever since the sounds of guns and bombs” had ceased in his country, he, as a filmmaker, had “met many people from both sides who fought in the war,” including “some former American soldiers who were visiting the battlefields again.” Thich then made a startling revelation:

    I had a chance to visit a small town in Ha Tinh on the central coast the other day. On September 20, 1965 when the...

  13. 7 Legacies
    (pp. 207-232)

    In the mid-1990s Robinson started to receive invitations to speak publicly about his experiences as a prisoner of war, including one from an old friend in central Georgia. One day while driving north along Interstate 75 from his home in DeFuniak Springs, Florida, to Hampton, Georgia, a quaint community some thirty miles south of Atlanta, Robinson noticed a highway sign for the Andersonville National Historic Site (ANHS). In 1970 the U.S. Congress had transferred the historic grounds of the Civil War prison Camp Sumter, commonly known as Andersonville, and the Andersonville National Cemetery from the Department of the Army to...

  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 233-234)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 235-252)
  16. Suggested Readings
    (pp. 253-254)
  17. Index
    (pp. 255-260)