James Robinson Risner

American General, POW (1925-2013)

James Robinson "Robbie" Risner (January 16, 1925 – October 22, 2013) was a Brigadier General, fighter pilot in the United States Air Force, and a senior leader among U.S. prisoners of war during the Vietnam War.

James Robinson Risner

He became a flying ace in the Korean War and commanded a squadron of F-105 Thunderchiefs in the first missions of Operation Rolling Thunder during the Vietnam War, and was a double recipient of the Air Force Cross, the second highest military decoration for valor that can be awarded to a member of the United States Air Force, awarded the first for valor in aerial combat and the second for gallantry as a prisoner of war of the North Vietnamese for more than seven years. He was the first living recipient of the medal.

Risner flew a combined 163 combat missions, was shot down twice, and was credited with destroying eight MiG-15s. He retired as a brigadier general in 1976.


  • Guys were doing everything in order to get on the flight schedule, in order to be on a combat mission. It wasn't the type of thing that people were pretending to be sick or something. It was just the other way, people would fly while they were sick, or anyway, just to get on the schedule, to go up and participate in something that we believed in very strongly. The freedom of a nation that were our friends, the freedom of a nation that couldn't determine that freedom by themselves. And so, I believed very strongly in what I was doing over there, it was simply to protect an emerging nation from the clutches of militant Communism.
  • So, to my astonishment, we lived, or I lived, and many of the senior officers shared my plight, for the most time...there was no one in my cell. I was alone. And I prayed silently. But I put it up to God in such a way there could be no mistake, couldn't have been a coincidence, not even one in a billion. You see: I did this on more than one occasion.
  • I lived in abject misery for the rest of the time I was a prisoner, knowing that I had not upheld the standards that I expected of everyone else. Certainly it did one thing. It made me a lot more compassionate to other PW's who might be called upon or forced to give more than name, rank, serial number and date of birth.
  • During the whole period of time we were in prison we heard of protests. Of course, the Vietnamese exposed us to four hours minimum of propaganda a day because we had slave speakers in every cell. There was no way to get away from that. So, they dreamed up all kinds of wild tales. If 200 people marched on Washington, they made it 200,000. We learned how to deal with the numbers. Of course, every protest, every anti-war speech made by a person such as McGovern, Jane Fonda, Galbraith, all of those only encouraged the Vietnamese, prolonged the war, worsened our condition and cost the lives of more Americans on the battlefield.
  • Of all the indignities we were forced to undergo, I guess I resented meeting the foreign delegations more than any other. There was something so basically inhuman about appearing before the delegations and being asked how your food was and having to say it was excellent when it was not. Or to questions of your treatment, to lie in front of the cameras and say it was great, when they had literally tortured the stuffings out of you to make you appear.