The annual POW/MIA Recognition Day Ceremony in Sweetwater will be held at 5 p.m. at the downtown gazebo on Friday.
The event is part of a national observance of prisoners of war (POW) and those missing in action (MIA) from the nation’s armed forces. The local event is organized by the American Legion Post in Sweetwater with an assist from The Advocate & Democrat.
This year’s guest speaker will be William A. (Bill) Robinson, formerly of Madisonville. Robinson is still the longest-serving POW in American history.
Robinson was born in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, and enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1961 after graduating from high school. After several assignments within the United States, and a year tour in Korea, Airman First Class Robinson was transferred to Thailand to serve with an Air Rescue and Recovery Unit in the spring of 1965.
In North Vietnam on Sept. 20, 1965, flying aboard an HH43B helicopter during a rescue mission to save a downed F-105 pilot, A1C(E4) Robinson and his crew were shot down by enemy fire. He and his crew survived the crash but were soon captured by enemy forces on the ground.
He spent the next seven-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war (POW) in North Vietnam. After his release and return to the United States in 1973, he was one of three enlisted men to receive a direct commission to lieutenant in the United States Air Force by the president, in recognition of his conduct while being held as a POW.
In addition, he was the first enlisted man to receive the Air Force Cross, a medal of valor, second only to the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award. His Air Force Cross is currently on display at the Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall, a museum located on Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.
He earned a Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, POW medal, two Purple Hearts, along with 17 other awards and decorations. He is also honored at the Eglin Air Force Base Museum in the Vietnam Prisoner of War display. He, along with Neal Black, is listed in the book, “Honor Bound, American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia,” as the longest-held, enlisted POWs in American history. A biography of his life has been released, “The Longest Rescue,” written by Dr. Glenn Robins.
After serving in Vietnam, Capt. Robinson completed aircraft maintenance training and was assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing Eglin Air Force Base as an aircraft maintenance officer.
He retired from the Air Force in 1984, after serving his country honorably for 23 years.
His service includes 12 years enlisted service and 11 years as a commissioned officer. Robinson now resides in Lenoir City with his wife Ora Mae.