James Robinson “Robbie” Risner, a retired Air Force brigadier general who was a fighter ace in Korea and prisoner of war in Vietnam, died Tuesday at his home in Virginia, his wife said. He was 88.
Risner lived in Oklahoma City for much of his life when he was not serving active duty with the Air Force, said his wife, Dot Risner.
After Robbie Risner retired, they lived in Texas for many years, and Robbie Risner returned to Oklahoma often to speak about being a POW and his other war experiences.
Risner began his career toward the end of World War II and later joined the Oklahoma Air National Guard. He was called to active duty in 1951 with the 185th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
Flying the F-86 Sabre, Risner scored his first enemy kill in August 1952. Over the next five months, he became an ace, shooting down a total of eight MiG-15s.
Retired Maj. Gen. Stanley F. Newman, of Oklahoma City, served with Risner in the 185th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
“My dear old friend and flying buddy back in the halcyon P-51 days of the old 185th Fighter Squadron, has come to the end of his glorious and distinguished trail,” Newman said. “He and I were like brothers back then, and I was honored to be his close friend.”
Risner stayed in the Air Force after the war and was called to combat duty again in Vietnam in 1964. There, as a lieutenant colonel, he led the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron, flying F-105D Thunderchief fighter-bombers.
Risner led multiple bombing raids against targets in North Vietnam, earning an Air Force Cross, the second-highest award for valor given to members of the Air Force.
His portrait appeared on the cover of the April 23, 1965, issue of Time Magazine.
During a mission on Sept. 16, 1965, Risner was forced to eject from his Thunderchief over enemy territory and was captured.
He spent the next seven years and nearly five months as a prisoner of war in the infamous Hanoi Hilton and Heartbreak Hotel prison camps. While a POW, he helped organize resistance in the camps.
He also endured torture, including beatings and lengthy periods of solitary confinement.
Risner earned a second Air Force Cross for his actions as a POW, making him one of only four people to win the award more than once.
After his release from Vietnam, Risner wrote a book, “The Passing of the Night: My Seven Years as a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese.”
Risner retired from the Air Force in 1976 as a brigadier general. A 9-foot-tall bronze statue of him stands in the Air Gardens at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and another statue measuring 61/2 feet tall is permanently displayed at the academy where winners of an award named in his honor are inscribed.
Newman said Risner was one of only three living veterans of the 185th Tactical Fighter Squadron.
“May Robbie fly away on eagles' wings to touch the face of God and rest in peace.”