Obituary: Robinson Risner, celebrated and decorated pilot who spent 7½ years as POW

  • Updated: November 3, 2013 - 9:36 PM

Retired Brig. Gen. Robinson Risner, 88, one of the nation’s most celebrated and decorated fighter pilots in the Korean and Vietnam wars, has died.

Risner died Oct. 22 at his home of three years in Bridgewater, Va., from complications of a stroke he had suffered two days earlier, his wife, Dorothy Risner, said.

Risner received the Air Force Cross in April 1965 for leading airstrikes in North Vietnam, and later that month he was featured on the cover of Time magazine. But Risner would spend 7½ years in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison after being shot down in September 1965 during a mission. Because of the Time story, Risner would become one of the highest-profile American prisoners of the Vietnam War.

His widow and friends remembered the man they knew as Robbie as a larger-than-life figure, but also a gentle, strong man who didn’t let accolades go to his head.

“He was honored to be honored, but it didn’t change his life,” Dorothy Risner said. “He was what he was, and that was good.” Because people wanted to hear about it, Risner traveled all over to talk about his POW experience, but he didn’t dwell on the subject in personal conversations, particularly in his later years, his wife said.

“He talked about [his time as a prisoner] in front of thousands of people,” she said. “He got all of that kind of out of his system. I think it was good therapy.” Risner’s memoir, “The Passing of the Night: My Seven Years as a Prisoner of the North Vietnamese,” was published in 1974.

As a lieutenant colonel when he was taken captive, Risner was, for a time, the highest-ranking U.S. officer held prisoner. Because of his position, and because his captors recognized him from the magazine cover, he faced particularly harsh treatment — he was kept shackled for weeks at a time and spent more than three years in a dark solitary cell.

“He said what kept him going was God and country,” Dorothy Risner said.

 

Ike Skelton, 81, a Missouri Democrat who became known during his 34 years in the U.S. House as one of the military’s most forceful advocates on Capitol Hill, died Oct. 28 at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington, Va.

A former county prosecutor and state senator in Missouri, Skelton was elected to the House in 1976 and quickly became known for his expertise, ardor and sensitivity in matters related to the military. As a young man, he had hoped to attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., but was stricken by polio, largely lost the use of his arms and was ineligible for military service.

In the House, Skelton joined the Armed Services Committee in 1981 and became chairman after the Democratic takeover of the chamber in 2006. Four years later, Skelton lost his seat to Vicky Hartzler, a Republican who was backed by the Tea Party movement and who continues to represent the sprawling district in western Missouri.

Skelton’s seniority gave him considerable influence in Washington at a time of deep controversy over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While consistently emphasizing his support for the troops, he emerged as a prominent critic of President George W. Bush and his administration’s prosecution of its military campaigns.

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  • FILE - In this Dec. 18, 2005 file photo, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., ranking democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, speaks during a news conference in Washington. Skelton, who built a reputation as a military expert and social conservative during 34 years representing western and central Missouri in the U.S. House, died Monday, Oct. 28, 2013 in Virginia. He was 81. (AP Photo/Lauren Victoria Burke, File)

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