Veterans Day speaker is longest-held enlisted POW in U.S. history

Robinson, longest-held enlisted POW in U.S. history, to speak at MC Nov. 12

Nov. 5, 2018 

 Bill RobinsonThe Maryville College Student Veteran Association (SVA) will host retired U.S. Air Force Capt. William A. “Bill” Robinson as part of the College’s Veterans Day observations planned for Mon., Nov. 12.

Robinson, a veteran of the Vietnam War and the longest-held enlisted prisoner of war in American history, will be the keynote speaker at a 3:30 p.m. program held in the Lambert Recital Hall of the Clayton Center for the Arts.

His talk is free and open to the public.

A native of Roanoke Rapids, N.C., Robinson was serving with the Air Force’s Air Rescue and Recovery Unit in the fall of 1965 when the HH43B helicopter he was aboard was shot down by enemy fire in Ha Tinh Province, North Vietnam. He and his crew survived the crash but were soon captured on the ground. Robinson spent the next seven and a half years as a prisoner of war in several camps in North Vietnam, including a brief stint at the “Hanoi Hilton,” where the late U.S. Senator John McCain spent more than five years.

Upon Robinson’s release and return to the United States in 1973, President Richard Nixon awarded him and two other enlisted men a direct commission to lieutenant in the United States Air Force. He was the first enlisted man to receive the Air Force Cross, which is second in prestige only to the Medal of Honor. He earned a Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, POW Medal and two Purple Hearts, as well as 17 other awards and decorations.

Robinson’s story – his life before, during and after captivity – is the subject of a recently published book by Dr. Glenn Robins titled The Longest Rescue: The Life and Legacy of Vietnam POW William A. Robinson.

On Nov. 12, Robinson will have copies of this book for sale and signing in the atrium of Bartlett Hall Atrium from 1 until 3 p.m. Hardback books are $30; paperbacks are $20. Payment may be made in cash or check.

Paula Buckingham ’19, a Maryville College senior and president of the College’s SVA, said members of her organization are very pleased Robinson accepted their invitation to join them on Veterans Day and share his story.

“Captain Robinson is a military veteran whose reputation of duty and devotion to this country is to be admired and emulated. He has committed his post-retirement years to telling the POW story so that we will never forget,” she said. “We hope that attendees will learn to appreciate the freedoms that we enjoy in this country and realize that freedom is not free but comes at great cost through the service and sacrifice of patriots like Captain Robinson and so many others.”

MC observes Veterans Day

The Maryville College SVA, in collaboration with the College’s Veterans Success Committee, has planned other activities for Nov. 12 that are intended to educate, share and connect veterans with the greater campus community.

A campus community reception will be held in the atrium of Bartlett Hall. From 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., students, faculty and staff can stop by to participate in an interactive activity that will allow them to show their appreciation of veterans on campus. Refreshments will be available.

During the campus community reception, members of the SVA will have for sale bags of raw pecan halves from the South Georgia Pecan Company. This fundraiser for student veteran programs is being held in memory of Adam Peppers ’17, a former Maryville College SVA president from Georgia who died earlier this year. The price is $15 per one-pound bag.

From 1 p.m. until 3 p.m., people are invited to tour of the Military Student Center in Bartlett Hall, Room 204, and meet the MC military-connected community.


Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2018 semester is 1,146.