Long before he retired as a much-decorated brigadier general, Robinson Risner was one of the most celebrated pilots in the Air Force. He was an ace in the Korean War, shooting down eight Russian-built MiG-15s and received the Silver Star for a daring midair maneuver to steer a fellow pilot to safety.
More than a decade later during the Vietnam War, he led the first flight of Operation Rolling Thunder, a high-intensity aerial bombing of North Vietnam.
He received the Air Force Cross in April 1965 for leading airstrikes against a strategic bridge in North Vietnam. Later that month, "Robbie" Risner was featured on the cover of Time magazine.
In one of his 55 missions over Vietnam, he had to eject to safety in the Tonkin Gulf. In five missions in a single week, he once recalled, his plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire four times.
"Fear is a luxury one can't afford," he said in the Time story.
But on Sept. 16, 1965, Risner's luck ran out.
During a raid over North Vietnam, his F-105 Thunderchief was hit by groundfire. He was forced to bail out and was taken captive. Because of the Time cover story, he would become one of the highest profile U.S. prisoners of the Vietnam War.
He was held for more than seven years in Hoa Lo prison, mockingly called the Hanoi Hilton by U.S. captives, before his release in 1973.
Risner died Oct. 22 at his home in Bridgewater, Va. He was 88 and had complications from a recent stroke, his wife, Dorothy Risner, said.
James Robinson Risner was born Jan. 16, 1925, in Mammoth Spring, Ark., and grew up in Tulsa, Okla. He was known as "Robbie" throughout his life.
After Vietnam, Risner returned to the pilot's seat and commanded several fighter training programs before his retirement in 1976. In addition to his Air Force Crosses and Silver Stars, his decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal; three awards of the Distinguished Flying Cross; and two Bronze Star Medals.
His first marriage, to the former Kathleen Shaw, ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 36 years, the former Dorothy Miller Williams, of Bridgewater; six children; a sister; and 14 grandchildren.
After his military career, Risner lived for many years in Texas, where he was executive director of an anti-drug program. He often spoke at gatherings for veterans and Air Force pilots.