Horse riders

The Cowan Christmas Parade traditionally draws on the area’s equestrian offerings with festive horse riders in abundance.

The Cowan Christmas Parade has a long-standing tradition of being the symbolic kickoff of the Christmas season in Franklin County, and this year is no exception with the keynote event getting underway Saturday at 1 p.m. 

The 57th annual Cowan Christmas Parade will carry “An All-American Christmas” theme and will be headed by Lenoir City’s William A. Robinson, a Vietnam War veteran who is the longest-serving prisoner of war in the nation’s history.

Robinson’s experience is featured in a book titled “The Longest Rescue: The Life and Legacy of Vietnam POW William A. Robinson.”

While serving as a crew chief aboard a U.S. Air Force rescue helicopter, Airman 1st Class Robinson was shot down and captured in the Ha Tinh Province in North Vietnam.

After a brief stint at the "Hanoi Hilton," Robinson endured 2,703 days in multiple North Vietnamese prison camps, including the notorious Briarpatch and various compounds at Cu Loc, known by the inmates as the Zoo. No enlisted man in American military history has been held as a prisoner of war longer than Robinson. For more than seven years, he faced daily privations and endured the full range of North Vietnam's torture program.

The Cowan Christmas Parade is always the first Saturday in December and begins at 1 p.m.

Staging and line-up will be at South Middle School and Davis Street. The official parade route will start at the former Cookie’s Market and continue through town, ending at Cowan Elementary.

Following “An All-American Christmas” theme, this year’s focus is to honor all veterans and service men and women who have been on the frontlines and made personal sacrifices for the nation.

Service personnel from Cowan and Franklin County will be considered this year’s grand marshals, led by Robinson, special honorary grand marshal.

Robinson was born in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force after graduating high school in 1961. After several assignments within the United States and a yearlong tour in Korea, Airman 1st Class Robinson was transferred to Thailand to serve with an air rescue and recovery unit in the spring of 1965.

In North Vietnam on Sept. 20, 1965, flying aboard an HH43B helicopter during a rescue mission to save a downed F-105 pilot, Robinson and his crew were shot down by enemy fire.

He and his crew survived the crash but were soon captured by enemy forces on the ground.

After his release and return to the United States in 1973, he was one of three enlisted men to receive a direct commission to lieutenant in the Air Force by the president of the United States, in recognition of his conduct while being held as a prisoner of war.

In addition, he was the first enlisted man to receive the Air Force Cross, a medal for valor, second only to the Medal of Honor, our nation’s highest military award. His Air Force Cross is on display at the Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall, a museum located on Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.

Robinson earned a Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, POW Medal and two Purple Hearts along with 17 other awards and decorations. He is also honored at the Eglin Air Force Base Museum in the Vietnam Prisoner of War Display.

Robinson, along with Neal Black, is listed in a book titled "Honor Bound, American Prisoners of War in Southeast Asia," as the longest-held enlisted POWs in American history. A biography of his life has been released, "The Longest Rescue," written by Dr. Glenn Robins and is available on Amazon.com.

After serving in Vietnam, Capt. Robinson completed aircraft maintenance training and was assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing, Eglin Air Force Base as an aircraft maintenance officer.

He retired from the Air Force in 1984 after serving his country honorably for 23 years. His service includes 12 years of enlisted service and 11 years as a commissioned officer.

Robinson now resides in Lenoir City with his wife, Ora Mae.

The Christmas in Cowan Committee and the City of Cowan are requesting parade-goers follow safety precautions necessary to protect them and their families and still be able to enjoy the parade.