Heroes of the 4th FW: POWs

  • Published
  • By Dr. Roy Heidicker
  • 4th Fighter Wing historian
Several of the people featured in the Heroes of the 4th Fighter Wing series of articles gave their lives in the defense of our nation. Over the years, many members of the 4th Fighter Wing have given their lives or suffered injury in the cause of freedom. But there is another type of casualty that far too many of our warriors have endured. 

Being a prisoner of war is a particularly bitter fate for Americans who enjoy the blessings of freedom. This is the story of two of our POWs - one from World War II, the other from the Vietnam War.

Andrew Lacy

Andrew C. Lacy was born to immigrant parents in Elyria, Ohio, April 30, 1921. Like so many of "the greatest generation," he answered the call to service and began pilot training prior to Pearl Harbor. In the spring of 1942, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. In September 1944, 2nd Lt. Andrew Lacy was assigned to the 334th Fighter Squadron of the 4th Fighter Group. 

Lieutenant Lacy flew his first combat mission Sept. 27, 1944. At that time, a tour of duty for pilots in the European theater of operation was 250 combat hours. He was looking forward to completing his duty and returning home to his new bride. In January 1945, Lieutenant Lacy became a flight leader of four fighters and was promoted to first lieutenant. He volunteered for every mission in order to finish his tour of duty as quickly as possible. 

On Feb. 21, 1945, Lieutenant Lacy flew his P-51 Mustang while providing an escort for a bombing mission to Nuremburg, Germany. After escorting the bombers, he was free to seek targets of opportunity. After spotting a freight train, he led his flight to lower altitude to attack the train. He dropped his external fuel tanks on top of the train so the other fighters could fire on the tanks to set them ablaze. As he pulled up, he felt a loud thump under his aircraft. With his aircraft badly damaged, Lieutenant Lacy parachuted into Germany. 

Lieutenant Lacy landed hard and sprained both ankles. German home guard troops quickly rounded him up and turned him over to a prisoner collection point. 

He was startled to learn that the Germans were well acquainted with the 4th Fighter Group and its famous leader. They were anxiously looking forward to making a prisoner of Col. Don Blakeslee, which they were never able to do. 

At this point in the war, the Allies had achieved air supremacy over Europe. As a prisoner of war, Lieutenant Lacy suffered from inadequate food and shelter, but it was the Allied air power that almost killed him on several occasions. On March 2, 1945, he was being transported via railroad boxcar to a POW camp. The train was attacked by American P-51s. Many prisoners were killed - including the one right next to him. 

On April 4, 1945, as the Third Reich was collapsing, Lieutenant Lacy and his fellow prisoners were being marched south to avoid advancing Allied armies. The column was bombed by two P-47 fighters. Two more fighters started to join the attack when they realized the column was Allied prisoners and pulled up. From that day forward, the column was monitored daily by P-51 Mustangs, protecting the column of POWs from any Allied aircraft that might mistake them for the enemy. 

On April 29, 1945, an American tank from Gen. George S. Patton's 14th Armored Division crashed into Lieutenant Lacy's camp and liberated the prisoners. Lieutenant Lacy had survived being shot down, being a prisoner of war, and being the inadvertent target of Allied air power. 

In 1949, he joined the Air National Guard and over the course of a very successful career rose to the rank of colonel. Today this great hero of the 4th Fighter Wing lives in Enon, Ohio.

Robbie Risner

Robinson "Robbie" Risner was born in Mammoth Spring, Ark. January 16, 1925. He flew P-38s and P-39s in Panama for the 30th Fighter Squadron during World War II. In the Korean War, Capt. Risner flew for the 336th Fighter Squadron of the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing. 

Capt. Risner's most famous mission occurred on October 27, 1952, when flak struck the fuel tank of his wingman, Lieutenant Joe Logan. Unwilling to abandon his wingman to the enemy, he attempted an unprecedented, untried and extremely dangerous maneuver. He inserted the nose of his F-86 into the exhaust of Lieutenant Logan's plane and pushed him sixty miles to friendly territory. Logan bailed out but unfortunately drowned when he became tangled in his parachute lines. 

Captain Risner shot down eight MiGs in Korea, making him an ace. In 1964 Lt. Col. Risner took command of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan, flying F-105s. While on duty with the unit at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base in 1965, he was shot down over North Vietnam and rescued. On September 16, 1965, he was shot down and captured. 

For more than seven years, Colonel Risner was the senior ranking officer among the prisoners in Hanoi. His courage and dedication to his men brought many of them through the ordeal of their brutal captivity. He organized church services for his men, which was forbidden. As he was being led away for punishment, the other prisoners began singing the Star Spangled Banner. When he was asked how he felt when the men began singing, he replied, "I felt like I was nine feet tall and could go bear hunting with a switch." 

Colonel Risner was freed February 12, 1973, returned to the United States, and flew F-4 Phantoms. He later commanded the 832nd Air Division flying F-111s. Brig. Gen. Risner retired from the Air Force on July 31, 1976. 

On November 16, 2001, a nine-foot bronze statue of Robinson "Robbie" Risner was unveiled at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. The statue is a tribute to Risner's seven-plus years as a POW in Vietnam and is nine feet tall in reference to Risner's response to the support of his fellow prisoners.

Andy Lacy and Robbie Risner - patriots, Americans, former POWs and two of the greatest heroes of the 4th Fighter Wing.