50 years later, longest-enlisted POW talks about how he survived (William Robinson)

2023 marks 50 years since Vietnam prisoners of war were freed.

Among them is the longest-held enlisted prisoner, Captain Bill Robinson, who now lives in Lenoir City. Despite spending more than seven years in captivity, he is grateful.

He was just 22 years old and was a flight mechanic on a rescue helicopter. His team was on a mission to rescue a downed crew when his aircraft was hit by ground fire and crashed. All four members of the crew survived, but their hardest battle would still be ahead.

“It’s just one of the things that you know, you’re almost still in shock. You just fell 90 feet and survived and you just got shot at and survived and you got out of a crashed airplane and walked away,” he said eventually Vietnamese surrounded them and took them into custody.

“I was taken out and lined up in front of a freshly dug grave. I was told to kneel down in front of or right behind it and my hands were tied together … my feet were tied together and I could see a crowd gathered. I could see the shadows of two guards standing behind me pointing their weapons out and at that point, I thought my life was over,” said Robinson. The Vietnamese spared his life, he said at that point on he believed he would eventually get home.

Robinson spent most of his time at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton.” “It was a little small cell, I could stretch my arms and either direction and touch the walls. I had a wooden bed board, designed for Vietnamese about 16 inches wide and about four and a half feet long with a bucket at the end of the bed,” he said.

“You know, we ate a lot of grass. They call it a vegetable but around here we call it grass… the average weight loss was anywhere from 40 to 60 pounds,” he said.

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