By Ralphine Major
“It was a goal,” he said of the three words: “Home for Christmas.” The very thought of getting home in time for Christmas kept hope alive. Hope was important for someone thousands of miles from home. It was especially important for someone trying to survive in a foreign land fighting a war. But, it was critical for someone who faced grueling circumstances day after day, year after year, as a prisoner of war (POW). Such was the case for Bill Robinson.
Robinson, a veteran of the United States Air Force, served nine years in the Vietnam War from 1965 to 1973. The dates have more meaning when I realize they span my years from elementary school to college. I remember the day the war ended. Our pastor called and asked us to go to the church and ring the bell.
Bill Robinson spent eight Thanksgiving and eight Christmas holidays away from home in a country called North Vietnam. This POW survived 2,703 days in captivity, which translates into seven and a half long, torturous years—making him the longest-held enlisted member of the armed forces. Robinson’s “home” in Vietnam was a place prisoners dubbed the “Hanoi Hilton,” an old prison built by the French to house the Vietnamese. In an effort to keep prisoners in solitary confinement, Robinson said they were often moved to different camps in the Hanoi area. According to Robinson, the prisoners had names for the areas, such as “zoo,” or “zoo annex.”
The former POW and longest-held enlisted member of the armed forces served his country a total of twenty-three years. He shared the following quote from an unknown POW that must have special meaning to him: “Freedom has a taste to it that those who fight and nearly die for it that the protected will never know.” Recently, he had the opportunity to make the trip to South Vietnam with some other veterans.
Since the war, Robinson has been able to spend many Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays at home with his family in these great United States of America that he defended so courageously during his military career. This POW shared a treasured newspaper clipping of a special time after the war showing his grandmother and stepmother pinning second lieutenant bars on his uniform during a Washington ceremony.
Again this year, America’s longest-held enlisted POW will be “home for Christmas.” To this American hero and all the “Bill Robinsons” who have endured so much for all Americans, I wish you a blessed and “Merry Christmas.” The simple greeting now reminds me of the words shared by Don Hughes, also a veteran, Sunday School teacher, and family friend. “We love to say Merry Christmas at this time of year,” he said. “I like to write it in a different way, but it still sounds the same. The meaning is still about Christ—but it does take on a different twist,” Don added. A slight spelling change reads: “Mary Christmas!” Mary was the mother of Jesus. Another change spells “Marry Christmas!” To Marry Christ is the true relationship we need with our Lord and Savior!
However we say or spell it, have a very “Merry Christmas” and may Christ live in your heart this Christmas and always!