ROBINSON, WILLIAM ANDREW
|Name: William Andrew "Bill" Robinson
Rank/Branch: E5/US Air Force
Unit: DET 3, 38th ARS
Date of Birth: 28 August 1943
Home City of Record: Robersonville NC
Date of Loss: 20 September 1965
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 180500N 1054400E (WF775009)
Status (in 1973): Released POW
Other Personnel in Incident: Duane W. Martin, POW/MIA;
Thomas J. Curtis;
Arthur N. Black (returned POWs)
REMARKS: 730212 RELSD BY DRV
SYNOPSIS: On September 20, 1965, 1Lt. Duane W. Martin, copilot; Capt. Thomas
J. Curtis, pilot; SSgt. William A. Robinson, flight engineer; and Airman
Arthur N. Black, pararescue; comprised the crew and passengers of an HH43B
"Huskie" helicopter operating about 10 miles from the border of Laos in Ha
Tinh Province, North Vietnam.
The Huskie is typically a crash rescue helicopter, and although it was
considered to be inadequate for Southeast Asia duty, the Air Force had no
other options at the time. The increase in combat called for an ever
increasing need for rescue services. Some of the Huskies were shored up with
heavy armor plate to protect the crews, and outfitted with long cables to
facilitate rescue in the high rain forest. During the period Martin, Curtis,
Robinson and Black were on their mission in Ha Tinh Province, most of the
rescue crews were dispatched out of Nakhon Phanom, Thailand and Bien Hoa,
South Vietnam, both being stop-gap installations until the primary rescue
agency, 3rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group was formed at Tan Son Nhut in
Public records do not indicate the precise nature of the mission undertaken on
September 20, 1965, but the HH43B went down near the city of Tan An, and all
four personnel aboard the aircraft were captured. It is not clear if the four
were captured by North Vietnamese or Pathet Lao troops or a combination of the
two. Duane W. Martin was taken to a camp controlled by Pathet Lao. Curtis,
Robinson and Black were released in 1973 by the North Vietnamese, and were in
the Hanoi prison system as early as 1967.
Duane Martin found himself held by the Pathet Lao with other Americans. Some
of them had been held for more than two years. (Note: This would indicate that
there were Americans in this camp who had been captured in 1964. The only
American officially listed as captured in Laos in 1964 is Navy Lt. Charles F.
Klushann, who was captured in June 1964 and escaped in August 1964. Source for
the "two years" information is Mersky & Polmer's "The Naval Air War in
Vietnam", and this source does not identify any Americans by name who had been
held "for more than two years". Civilian Eugene DeBruin, an acknowledged Laos
POW, had been captured in the fall of 1963. Dengler has stated that a
red-bearded DeBruin was held in one of the camps in which he was held. All
previous Laos loss incidents occurred in 1961 and 1962.)
One American who joined the group in February 1966 was U.S. Navy pilot Lt.
Dieter Dengler. Lt. Dengler had launched on February 1, 1966 from the aircraft
carrier USS RANGER in an A1H Skyraider as part of an interdiction mission near
the border of Laos. Ground fire severely damaged his aircraft, and he was
forced to crash land in Laos. Although he had successfully evaded capture
through that night, he was finally caught by Pathet Lao troops, who tortured
him as they force-marched him through several villages.
Throughout the fall of 1965 and into spring and summer of 1966, the group of
Americans suffered regular beatings, torture, harassment, hunger and illness
in the hands of their captors. According to an "American Opinion" special
report entitled "The Code" (June 1973), Dengler witnessed his captors behead
an American Navy pilot and execute six wounded Marines. (Note: no other source
information available at time of writing reveals the names of these seven
On June 29, 1965, after hearing the prisoners were to be killed, Martin and
Dengler and unnamed others (Eugene DeBruin was apparently part of this group,
but was recaptured, and according to information received by his family, was
alive at least until January 1968, when he was taken away with other prisoners
by North Vietnamese regular army troops.) decided to make their escape in a
hail of gunfire in which six communist guards were killed. Dengler was
seriously ill with jaundice, and Martin was sick with malaria. Dengler and
Martin and the others made their way through the dense jungle surviving on
fruits, berries, and some rice they had managed to save during their
They floated down river on a raft they had constructed, eventually coming to
an abandoned village where the men found some corn. After a night's rest,
Dengler and Martin made their way downstream to another village. This
settlement was occupied, however, and the two Americans were suddenly attacked
by a villager with a machete. Dengler managed to escape back into the jungle,
but Martin was fatally wounded by the assailant. It had been 18 days since
Dengler made his way alone, and on the 22 day, with his strength almost gone,
he was able to form an SOS with some rocks, and waited, exausted to be rescued
or die. Luck was with him, for by late morning, an Air Force A1E spotted the
signal and directed a helicopter to pick up Dengler. He weighed 98 pounds.
When he had launched from his aircraft carrier 5 months earlier, he had
weighed 157 pounds.
Curtis, Robinson and Black were released from Hanoi on February 12, 1973, over
seven years from the time of their capture. Lt. Duane Martin's fate remains
uncertain. If, as reported, he was killed during the escape attempt, no effort
has been made by the Lao to return his body.
Martin is one of nearly 600 Americans who remain prisoner, missing or
otherwise unaccounted for in Laos. Although the U.S. maintained only a handful
of these men in POW status, over 100 were known to have survived their loss
incident. The Pathet Lao stated during the war that they held "tens of tens"
of American prisoners, but they would be released only from Laos (meaning that
the U.S. must negotiate directly with the Pathet Lao).
The Pathet Lao were not part of the agreements that ended American involvement
in Southeast Asia, and no negotiations have been conducted with them since for
the prisoners they held.
Reports continue to come in related to missing Americans in Southeast Asia. It
does not seem likely that Martin is among the hundreds thought by many
authorities to be still alive, but what would he think of the abandonment of
his fellow Americans. Are we doing enough to bring these men home?
William and his wife Ora Mae reside in Tennessee.
02/05/2010Interesting Video/Article on Vietnam POW William "Bill"Robinson:
The story is from a Knoxville TN station, WBIR TV-10.
New POW exhibit opens at Enlisted Heritage Hall
Posted 2/22/2013 Updated 2/22/2013 by Becca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs
2/22/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, GUNTER ANNEX, Ala. -- Forty years since America welcomed home 591 Vietnam War prisoners under the Operation Homecoming mission, Gunter's Enlisted Heritage Research Institute honored their sacrifice and those still missing Feb. 15 with the unveiling of a new exhibit focusing on one enlisted man's story of freedom.
Nearly five hundred guests were present, including several former POWs, at the unveiling ceremony that began with a historical account of retired Capt. William "Bill" Robinson's heroism as a POW at the Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy and concluded next door inside the EHRI with the exhibit presentation and reception.
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