From Washington (HT to Bill Sloat):
Friends, family members, political leaders, former prisoners of war and service members paid their respects as an Air Force Ace was interred at Arlington National Cemetery Jan. 23.
Brig. Gen. Robinson “Robbie” Risner, a Korean War fighter ace and Vietnam prisoner of war, died Oct. 22, 2013 at Bridgewater Retirement Community in Bridgewater, Va., at the age of 88.
“America has lost one of its greatest heroes,” said Ross Perot, a close friend of Risner, during the service at the Memorial Chapel on Fort Myer, Va.
Though Risner’s life on earth has ended, his flying legacy lives on, Perot said, speaking about how Risner passed on his aviation wings for both Perot’s son and grandson to wear.
“Robbie approved that my son Ross could pin Robbie’s wings on my grandson,” said Perot. “Can you imagine what that meant?”
Perot went on to share anecdotes from throughout Risner’s celebrated career, describing him as an “Oklahoma cowboy” who was hero and a friend, whose “love of God and love of country what was got him through seven and a half years as a prisoner of war.”
But for many other POWs, they credited their survival to Risner’s leadership.
“When the POWs came home from Vietnam, time and time again, I’d hear them say ‘if it hadn’t been for Robbie Risner, I wouldn’t have made it,’” Perot said, sharing a particular moment that defined Risner’s character.
While imprisoned in Vietnam, Risner gathered fellow POWs for a church service — something that was strictly prohibited. While the troops were singing the song “Onward Christian Soldiers,” guards rushed in, taking Risner and two other leaders to what Perot referred to as “the box,” a place of solitary confinement.
When this occurred, “more than 40 POWs stood proudly, some of whom are here today, and sang a strictly forbidden song, the Star Spangled Banner,” Perot recalls. “How’s that for guts?”
Upon Risner’s return from the POW camp, Perot asked him, “‘Robbie, what was going on in your mind as they dragged you back to the box?’ He looked me in the eye. His eyes were twinkling. He said ‘Perot, with those guys singing the Star Spangled Banner, I was nine feet tall. I could have gone bear hunting with a stick!’” …
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