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The Longest Rescue

The Life and Legacy of Vietnam POW William A. Robinson

Glenn Robins. foreword by Colonel Bud Day

Publication Year: 2013

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.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-v


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pp. vi-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

...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...

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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...

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1, Unfortunate Sons

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pp. 9-40

...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 demand to appear on television before the end of the late-night news and “the final deadline...

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2. Separate Paths to Hell

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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...

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3. After Ho

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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...

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4. Coming Home

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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...

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5. Forget and Move On

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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...

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6. An Iconic Image

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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...

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7. Legacies

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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...

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pp. 233-234

...I first met Bill Robinson at the Andersonville National Historic Site in March 2007. I was there to help with the Luminary Event, the placing of 13,000 candles on the old Civil War prison grounds to commemorate the death of U.S. soldiers who died in captivity while held at Andersonville Prison. Robinson was there...


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pp. 235-250


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pp. 251-268

Suggested Readings

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pp. 269-270


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pp. 271-276

E-ISBN-13: 9780813143248
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813143231

Page Count: 296
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 867740689
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Longest Rescue

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Subject Headings

  • Robinson, William A., 1943-.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Prisoners and prisons, North Vietnamese.
  • Prisoners of war -- United States -- Biography.
  • Prisoners of war -- Vietnam -- Biography.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Aerial operations, American.
  • United States. Air Force. Air Rescue Service -- Biography.
  • Airmen -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States. Air Force -- Non-commissioned officers -- Biography.
  • Robinson, William A., 1943- -- Travels -- Vietnam.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975 -- Veterans -- Biography.
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