Page 118 - Cityview Magazine - July/August 2017
P. 118

For propaganda purposes, the North Vietnamese issued many postage stamps depicting the capture of William A. Robinson. This stamp is from Robinson’s personal collection.
propaganda, which had made its way into the Vietnamese history books. “But the producers were able to contact some of the other prisoners, and they confirmed my story,” Robinson says. “She was claiming what she was told to claim, but she softened up a little bit. They almost called it off because the stories didn’t match.”
Soon after, the prisoners were
handed over to the North Vietnamese Army. The abuse that POWs suffered is well documented. For Robinson, it was seven-and-a-half years of intermittent torture and near starvation, an
ordeal that tested the resolve, faith,
and character of all the POWs. They
had their arms bound behind them so severely their shoulders were nearly dislocated, and their elbows were hyper- extended; it caused excruciating pain for hours on end. They were beaten, they were forced to kneel for hours on narrow strips of metal until the bone of their kneecaps were exposed, and they suffered many other tortures. Robinson was held at a number of prison camps, including the “Hanoi Hilton,” the
“Zoo,” and the “Briar Patch.” “I didn’t choose to be there, but I could have been a collaborator and been home in a couple of weeks,” Robinson says. “But my choice was to serve my country with honor. And so, it cost me seven-and-a-
After the North Vietnamese POWs were released following the Paris Peace Accords in 1973, the POWS were feted at many celebrations across the country. Here William A. Robinson has just been presented with the Key to the City of Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, his hometown. (Photo courtesy of William A. Robinson)
half years of my life. [John] McCain was offered a free trip home; I was too. We all turned it down, except for a few.”
The POWs, often held in isolation or in small groups, used a tapping code and other means to communicate. Through these means, they kept themselves abreast of the arrival of new prisoners, of the treatment received during interrogation and torture sessions, and of news of the outside world. These furtive communications also allowed them to maintain a chain of command. After several years, POW officers decided to award battlefield commissions to Robinson, Neil Black,
and Art Cormier, the three enlisted men held together with a group of officers at that time. The “in-cell Officer Candidate School” lasted months; every officer wanted to participate in the training, and, Robinson says, “They wanted the candidate training to be as complete
as possible. We were in this big pot of soup together. And I think that each and every one of them wanted to make sure that I, Black, and Cormier knew that there was no dividing line between us, that we were all Americans, and that
we would all smell the same when we got home.” Robinson was now a second lieutenant.

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