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Vietnam War veteran reflects on the mentality that got him through war, compares to the time of COVID-19

In these uncertain times, one East Tennessee veteran recalls his days as a prisoner of war.

TENNESSEE, USA — At one point in his life, Bill Robinson went seven-and-a-half years without seeing the sun.

“Every time I was moved outside of a room, I was blindfolded so I didn’t get to see the sun,” recalled the longest-serving enlisted prisoner of war in American history.

Robinson, an Airman First Class at the time, was 22 years old when his rescue helicopter was shot down in Vietnam. 

At age 76, he reflected on current stay-at-home order and words that have become so familiar during the coronavirus pandemic, social distancing.

“We are a strong nation and we’re strong people. I know this is a setback, but we have to get away from saying what we can’t do,” said Robinson on a video call from his home study.

His years in captivity included a long stay at the infamous Hanoi Hilton, torture, and lots of unknowns. Robinson's family didn’t even know he was for sure alive until three-and-a-half years after he was captured.

"I always say it was four faiths that played an important role in my survival," said Robinson. "Faith in myself that I had the tools to get the job done. Faith in each other that we would stand together shoulder to shoulder or wall to wall and return with honor. Faith in our country that it would not abandon us under difficult circumstances. But most of all, faith in our God that he would see us through."

He credits another mindset for helping him manage his captivity and confinement, mentally reducing his situation to a three-day stay:

Day 1. Yesterday I was shot down

Day 2. Today is today. And I need to preserve my mind and body to the best of my ability.

Day 3. Tomorrow, I’m going home.

He spent eight Christmases as a prisoner of war until he was finally released on Feb. 12, 1973. He would continue serving in the military, earning a battlefield commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in April 1973 for his valorous and honorable behavior during captivity.

But today, the retired Air Force Captain is fond of saying that every morning feels like Christmas morning.

“I spend more time counting my blessings than my misfortunes,” said Robinson.

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