Enlisting in the United States Air Force during March 1952 was an easy decision for Robinson as he would be following in his older brother’s footsteps. Robinson attempted to enlist in the United States Navy’s Underwater Demolition Training Program (a precursor of the present-day SEALS) but couldn't get a billet fast enough to get out of the South Bronx. Robinson remembers the Whitehall Street Recruitment Center and particularly sitting on the ice-cold marble seats waiting his turn to join in the mass confusion that seemed to swirl all around.
While in USAF bootcamp, Robinson managed to retain some "civilian" clothes and after purchasing some basic fishing gear at the BX, he would trot down to the lake whenever he could. Taking risks was not new to Robinson, even at Sampson, nor has it ever diminished even to this day. As for Sampson AFB proper, the weather in this part of New York State was pretty cold and even though Robinson was in excellent physical shape, he managed to catch pneumonia as did many of his new-found buddies. Hospitalized for a week to ten days, Robinson had to change flights. Although memories have faded, Robinson doesn't remember which flight he graduated with nor does he have any documents or photos going back that far, he does remember shaving for the first time, his first cigarette, sleeping on the top bunk, sleeping standing up waiting to get into the mess hall in the morning, and apple butter; which was much more palatable than buttermilk. Robinson's barracks (second deck) was an old Navy barracks and the fable about a Number 5 butt can freezing overnight is real. Worst time in the barracks was washing the one-piece fatigues on the latrine/shower room floor using a bar of G. I. soap and a brush.
June 1952: The flight graduated, and Robinson left Sampson AFB by train via Chicago, to Lowry AFB, Denver, Colorado. The Heavy Bomber Gunnery Electronic Fundamentals Course was taught at Lowry #1 and there were so many students due to SAC’s need for bomber gunners that the courses were taught in three shifts. Robinson drew “B’ Shift which suited him fine as he could have time to work out at the gym.
December 1952: Robinson was suddenly alerted that he was being pipelined transferred to Fairchild AFB, Spokane, Washington. His sports and martial arts background (almost unheard of at the time) came up on a records search and Robinson found himself part of General Curtis E. LeMay’s cadre for the Strategic Air Command’s training of B-36 and B-52 aircrews and air police in escape and evasion combative measures. The same combatives course was taught to members of the AFROTC. Classes were held at the historic Fort George Wright located not far from Fairchild AFB.
December 1955: Robinson left Spokane on the MATS troop ship, The USS General "Andy " Anderson, out of Fort Mason, CA, for Yokohama Bay, Japan, via Honolulu, Hawaii. After arriving in Japan, Robinson spent a few days at Tachikawa AFB and then flew on a noisy C-119 "Flying Box Car", to Chitose AFB, Hokkaido, Japan, and then on to Camp Crawford, Sapporo, Japan; a former US Army 1st Calvary post. He was the NCOIC for the Installation Special Services Division.
In 1957 Robinson transferred to Fuchu AS’s Green Park, Tokyo, Japan. Green Park had at one time during WWII manufactured the majority of Japan’s aircraft engines. These engines were delivered underground through tunnels that ran from GP to Tachikawa Imperial Air Force Base. As the NCOIC, Special Services, Robinson also taught Kodokan Judo and Self-Defense classes to U.S. military and family members.
In January 1959, Robinson PCS'd to the Security Services Detachment on South Post Fort Myer, VA. Soon after arriving, he assumed that HQ SAC found out he was back in the continental United States (CONUS) and somehow had slipped through the personnel reassignment cracks.
In July 1959, Robinson received “Follow-On” PCS orders to McConnell AFB, Wichita, KS and back to teaching combatives and airbase defense tactics, but this time B-47 combat aircrews and security police respectively.
In June 1961, a shortage of instructors at Barksdale AFB resulted in another PCS. Robinson, a trouble shooter for SAC's combatives program, really enjoyed his short stay at Barksdale, especially the mess hall’s seafood menu on Fridays.
In July 1961, due to the retirement of the NCOIC of the aircrew training and physical conditioning unit in Bergstrom AFB, Austin, Texas, Robinson was once again notified that he had “Follow-On” orders to Bergstrom AFB. Bergstrom was a rewarding assignment because Robinson ended up wearing several hats. Suffice to say, aside from his NCOIC duties, he became a general’s aide to BGen Clarence T. "Curly" Edwinson, and during President L. B. Johnson’s term, he had special projects assigned for hands-on upgrading the physical conditioning and stamina of several of the President’s key personnel, including Air Force One personnel, in preparation for the President's world-tour. Robinson often quips that he will someday sit down and write his memoirs especially about his adventures in Austin, Texas.
From July 1961- September 1966, Robinson served both the Strategic Air Command and then the Tactical Air Command when the mission changed from heavy nuclear equipped bombers to F-4 fighter jet aircraft. Robinson's on-base Judo and Karate/Kempo martial arts club was the largest military martial arts club in the United States.
In September 1966, he was reassigned to HQ SAC, Offutt AFB, NE, with the mission responsibility to re-energize the combative programs as well as the sport Judo program. However, as the aircrew combatives program began to dwindle down due to training time priorities and funding because of the USAF's mission in Southeast Asia, Robinson found himself again reassigned back to Bergstrom during February 1967.
Not having a Southeast Asia tour on record and no longer under the priority assignment control of SAC, in February 1968, Robinson was alerted for the first of many South East Asia overseas tours between the years 1968 - 1976. Robinson arrived at Tan Son Knut AFB, Saigon, South Vietnam, on February 15, 1968 with "Follow-On" orders to Takhli, Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAF), Thailand.
From 1 November - 31 December 1968, Robinson was responsible for the program development, planning, and implementation of a multi-national airbase defense, simulated anti-insurgency, hand-to-hand wartime combatives program. This program taught over 600 U.S. Air Force Security Police and RTAF Security Brigade Force personnel.
Leaving Thailand in February 1969, Robinson found himself at Camp Brady, Hakata Annex, Tri-service Security, Itazuke AFB, Fukuoka, Japan.
On the evening of April 7, 1970, the weather was extremely windy with heavy rain and lightning strikes across the peninsula between the Sea of Japan and the Bay of Hakata. As the Senior Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of Special Services, 6348th Air Base Squadron, Hakata Annex, Japan, and in view of the severity of the weather that evening, Robinson visibly inspected his Morale Welfare and Recreation facilities as he made his way home to his on-base quarters.
After inspecting the marina facility, he drove along the road parallel to Hakata Bay and noticed a crowd of Japanese nationals standing near the edge of the seawall fronting the bay. There were no Americans present. Many onlookers were obviously distraught as they nervously pointed out into the dark waters. Concerned that an emergency had occurred, Robinson stopped and inquired as to what the commotion was about. He was told that a small wooden boat had submerged approximately 200 yards from the sea ramp. He was also informed that someone was struggling to hold on to the seaweed netting and thin bamboo pole framing. Soon, it was determined by an onlooker that the struggling person may be a child. Unfortunately, the onlookers did not have the resources at hand to engage in a rescue.
Without hesitation, instruction, or regards to his own personal safety, Robinson raced back to the marina where he secured a small dingy, two short oars, and two life jackets, one for himself and one for, in this case, the alleged child. With some difficulty, he managed to load everything into his privately owned vehicle.
Unfortunately, when Robinson returned to the seawall ramp, he was informed that there may be at least two children struggling in the water. With the weather increasingly becoming more violent and the appearance of the children floundering among the tattered seaweed netting, there was no time to spare to return to the marina for more life jackets.
In retrospect, it should be noted that Robinson’s physicality was limited as he had suffered substantial neck and shoulder injuries during his previous assignment in Southeast Asia as a special duty assigned USAF security police air base defense senior instructor. He provided simulated hand-to-hand combative measures field training over a three-month period for over 500 USAF and Royal Thai security forces personnel. This 3 month PCA to the 355th Security Police Squadron was completed just prior to Robinson’s PCS to the 6348th Air Base Squadron, Hakata Annex, Japan.
With great difficulty and with no assistance, Robinson extracted the boat, oars, and two life jackets from his vehicle. Shoeless, he then dragged the craft down the ramp and single-handedly managed to launch the small boat. Battling gusting wind and rain as well as enduring excruciating physical pain, he finally made it to the damaged boat and the two children. He estimated their ages to be between 9 – 11 years old. Their hands were bleeding from hanging onto the thin netting and bamboo poles, they appeared weak and tired, and their eyes swollen nearly shut from the wind driven salt water.
Not only did Robinson have limited physical capability, insufficient numbers of life jackets, and increasingly turbulent weather, but what became an alarming concern was the addition of blood in the water. That unquestionably created further danger by luring sharks into the immediate area, a potentially major tragedy in the making.
Fortunately for the children, Robinson, driven with his combat survival background and military escape and evasion specialty skills, managed to maneuver his small craft close enough to the children to quickly haul them both into the boat and out of the murky shark infested water. Their severely damaged wooden boat then completely disappeared beneath the surface. After quickly securing a life jacket on each of the two children, Robinson now had no life preserver for himself, thereby voluntarily placing his own life clearly in immediate danger.
During the long perilous trip back to the safety of the ramp, his boat nearly capsized several times due to the strong winds and battering waves. The boat was also taking on heavy sea spray and rain. Robinson’s entire rescue efforts took nearly two hours.
After everyone was safely on land, it was at this time Robinson noticed just how badly injured both his feet were, cut from dragging the boat down the ramp into the water, and then, back up the former Japanese WWII seaplane launching ramp. Apparently underwater, the ramp was inundated with scattered sharp objects including barnacles, broken shells, and other harmful debris.
The local Japanese Fire Department had already arrived and covered both boys with blankets and quickly left the scene. With assistance now from several onlookers, Robinson reloaded the boat, oars, and life jackets back into his POV. Bare footed, he drove back to the marina storage building, stored the equipment and then proceeded home to medicate his feet.
Later that evening, Robinson was contacted by Lt. Col. Gordon S. Brown, Vice Commander, 348th Combat Support Group, Itazuke AFB. Lt. Colonel Brown congratulated him for his heroic rescue stating, “Robby, I want to congratulate you on your act of outstanding heroism tonight. I am submitting you for the AIRMAN’S MEDAL”.
A week or two had passed when Robinson was informed by the 6348th Air Base Squadron Adjutant (Major – 04), that Robinson would be decorated for lifesaving by Major General Gordon Graham, Commanding General, 5th Air Force.
In December 1970, Robinson was reassigned to Hickam AFB, Honolulu, Hawaii picking up a 74190 control AFSC as a Superintendent, Recreational Services. Not bad for an E-6!
Just as Robinson was really getting into the job, during June 1971, here comes an assignment to U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Base, Southern, Thailand. In 1972, Robinson PCS'd to Brooks AFB, San Antonio, Texas until February 1974, when he again found himself back on PCS orders for Takhli RTAFB, Southeast Asia, Thailand. This was a base closing assignment and as the gates closed at Takhli for the second time, Robinson was reassigned north to the remote town of Lampang; Ko Kha Air Station, a hush-hush communications mission. Again, he wore several hats including replacing the command civic action officer who had taken ill and hospitalized at Tripler Hospital in Hawaii. On 29 May 1976, Robinson closed the MWR and civic action mission at Ko Kha AS and headed for U-Tapao RTNB for his final PCS to Castle AFB (SAC), Atwater, CA.
During this period, Robinson realized the bitter truth that he wasn’t getting any younger (41), rank seemed to evade most of SAC instructor types, his body was beat up and moreover, he was way behind in his education goals. Robinson completed his college CLEP successfully during his short stay at Offutt and that was worth 30 college credits. Other college credits came from military tech schools and other courses which added up to 17 more college transfer credits, which saved him three full semesters.
Robinson submitted his retirement papers midway into 1976 and on December 31, 1976, flew out of Travis AFB, CA, on New Year’s Eve, on his way back to Honolulu, Hawaii to begin a new chapter.
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