USAFA Pulled Poster of Fallen Ace Robbie Risner’s Plane
General Mark Welsh, US Air Force Chief of Staff, announced that retired BGen James Robinson “Robbie” Risner passed away this week.
In a cruel twist of timing, the poster pulled down by USAFA last week (because it offensively said “so help me God”) was of BGen Risner’s F-100F, the “Spirit of St Louis II” — in which he crossed the Atlantic as Charles Lindbergh did, but in only 6 hours. (The aircraft remains on static display in front of the USAFA Prep School.)
BGen Risner is probably most famous for his time as a POW in Vietnam’s infamous Hanoi Hilton — where he roomed with other well-known men like Col Bud Day and LtCdr John McCain. BGen Risner, then a LtCol, was the ranking POW and the leader of the men in the prison — and it turns out he might have had an opinion on that “God and honor” thing going on at USAFA [emphasis added]:
When asked what kept him going throughout his imprisonment, Risner said in a 2004 interview on CNN Larry King Live that his survival was due to exercise and his “faith in God and love of country.”
“General Risner was a very religious man and a very devoted American warrior,” said retired Col. George “Bud” Day about his friend and fellow prisoner of war…“He was a courageous, talented pilot and a marvelous commander. He endured a lot of mistreatment at the (Hanoi) camp and he stood up to it very well. He continued to be an inspiration to everyone.”
General Welsh recalled another story [emphasis added]:
One day in 1971, Risner and several colleagues organized a church service, a forbidden act, which led to more punishment. As their captors led Risner away, Col. “Bud” Day and the more than 40 other POWs in the room began singing “The Star Spangled Banner” to show their support. Hearing the defiant singing, Risner walked away with his back straight, head held high, full of pride.
This event was later called the “church riot.” That is the moment about which BGen Risner later said
I felt like I was nine feet tall and could go bear hunting with a switch.
It turns out the group of 47 men also sang “God Bless America” as BGen Risner was led away — and they did so again in 2001 at the dedication of his statue.
Risner’s 9-foot tall statue, (“life size,” according to Col Day, who died this past July) was commissioned by H. Ross Perot and is placed prominently on the USAFA terrazzo where the 4,000-strong cadet wing walks by every day. Though BGen Risner was not a USAFA graduate, the hope was he would inspire new generations of Air Force pilots.
The bottom of BGen Risner’s statue, pictured above, has the following quote:
Who will go? Send me! – Isaiah 6:8