By Staff Sgt. Robert Cloys
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Schriever concluded POW/MIA week Friday with a 24-hour vigil run, remembrance ceremony and words from retired Air Force Col. Paul “P.K.” Robinson, a former prisoner of war from the Vietnam Conflict.
In the 1970s, Robinson flew as an F-4E pilot out of Korat RTAB, Thailand, in Southeast Asia. The Galion, Ohio, native had flown 266 combat missions during his tour in the early 1960s and completed another 120 combat missions while stationed at Korat, including 36 over North Vietnam.
On July 1, 1972, while flying a mission north of Hanoi, Robinson was shot down by two surface-to-air missiles and captured by North Vietnamese militia. For nine months, he was incarcerated in various prison camps in the Hanoi area.
Robinson’s attitude as he told his story to 50th Space Wing members was not what many had expected though. It was filled with humor and humility.
Throughout his story, Robinson referred to the prisons he stayed in by names like the “Heartbreak Hotel” or the “Hanoi Hilton” and describing his experience of being shot down as quickly going from an “expert pilot to an amateur parachutist.”
“You have to have a sense of humor,” said Robinson. “There were stories of guys coming back from being tortured in prison and coming back making jokes and saying, ‘are they going to do this every day?’”
Humor, a positive outlook and a belief in their mission were things Robison believes are part of the reason he can look back on the situation the way he does.
“With all of today’s resiliency training, it’s just optimism,” said Robinson. “My goal was at one year, I was going to break out. I started doing exercises right away.”
Fortunately, he didn’t have to make an escape attempt. On March 28, 1973, Robinson, along with many others was released during Operation Homecoming.
For service members coming home from combat situations today, Robinson said there isn’t one thing that he can point to that will fix all the problems they face, but there are a few key things they can keep in mind.
“It’s about family, friends and faith,” said Robinson. “Family, is someone who loves you unconditionally and can smack your hand when you do something wrong. They are very important in building resiliency. When something goes wrong you need family.”
Resiliency is also built on the friends you surround yourself with, said Robinson. Surrounding yourself with friends with negative attitudes only hurts you. But, having someone who can go through a tough situation with you and get right back up after you’ve both been knocked down helps substantially.
“Having faith along with those family and friends, that’s key, I think,” he said.
Col. Bill Liquori, 50 SW commander, offered his sincere thanks to conclude the ceremony.
“Thank you for your service and sacrifice,” he said. “Thank you for being able to share with all of us. It helps us as we move on in our careers to remember what went on before us. Rest assured, we will not forget.”