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Q&A: William "Robbie" Robertson, Peoria native and now-retired Air Force general

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Hannah Alani
A Veterans Day memorial drew a large crowd on Thursday, Nov. 11 in Downtown Peoria.

Dozens gathered in downtown Peoria on Thursday for a parade and memorial service in honor of Veterans Day.

Local vets also celebrated the retirement of Air Force General William “Robbie” Robertson. A Peoria native and the grandson of famed father of the Bradley University athletics program A.J. Robertson, William Robertson served the armed forces for 41 years. He was a member of Peoria's 182nd Airlift Wing of the Illinois Air National Guard. He officially retired at midnight Thursday.

Following Thursday's memorial, WCBU's Hannah Alani interviewed Robertson about his career and what Peorians can do to support veterans.

The following is a transcription of an interview that aired during "All Things Peoria" on Thursday, November 11. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

William "Robbie" Robertson: Speaking to the veterans on my last day of service is really special. Because there's a lot of guys that have given even though I've given 41 years, there's a lot of guys who've given a lot more than I ever did. And some gave the supreme sacrifice that could not be here. So truly an honor to speak to all these men and women that have served.

Hannah Alani: There were so many people here today, and I noticed there were so many different branches of the military represented. Is that typical at events like this, you see people from all across the military … ages, branches, showing up?

William “Robbie” Robertson: Well, veterans, veterans have a common bond. When you come out for ceremonies like this, there's none of the inner-service rivalry going on – which is actually kind of a friendly thing – but when we all get together, we can all share stories and talk about common things that have happened to us throughout the service. And it's just, it's just a great bond. And it's always there till the day you die.

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William "Robbie" Robertson / COURTESY
Peoria native William "Robbie" Robertson (bottom-left corner) with fellow Air Force recruits in Texas in 1980.

Hannah Alani: How many times did you go out of the country in your career?

William “Robbie” Robertson: I can't even count, so many times. I've been all over the world. And it's just been a real privilege to go represent my country, my Air Force, and my state. Especially our state partners, Poland. Go into Poland a lot, and watching them come out of a socialist, communist type government into a free, freedom loving people, which they were all the time, they were just suppressed. But it was a great, it was a great thing to be serving alongside those people and watch them grow into what they are today.

Hannah Alani: I lived in Chicago for three years. I know how many Poles there are in the state of Illinois!

William “Robbie” Robertson: It's a great program, the state partnership program … states from around the country are aligned with different countries. Illinois, just so happens to be aligned with Poland, and we have one of the oldest relationships with them as state partners. I've been going over there since the very beginning of it. When I showed back up in Poland, I'd meet guys that I've known for 20, 25 years. We got things done, you know, we helped them convert to F-16s and C-130s. And it's been a wonderful, wonderful relationship.

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William "Robbie" Robertson / COURTESY
Peoria native William "Robbie" Robertson enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in his early 20s. After a 41-year career, he retired on Veterans Day, 2021.

Hannah Alani: Do you have a favorite food that you would eat in Poland, when you were over there?

William “Robbie” Robertson: Well, I think you can get them in Chicago. They're called pierogis. (Laugh.) I laugh when I say that, because it's kind of somewhat of a common dish around, you know, around the Midwest Polish areas. But, uh, when you have them for real in Warsaw, or wherever you're at, they're wonderful.

Hannah Alani: My Polish family loves pierogis. … What's your favorite airplane, in general, like in the history of planes, and what is your favorite plane to fly?

William “Robbie” Robertson: My favorite airplane in the history of planes would be the P-51 Mustang from World War II, which my father was a armorer on, P-51s, in the 182nd, way back when the unit first opened, about a couple years after it opened. … High performing aircraft, probably changed the course of the war. But that was my favorite one. And I think my most favorite one to fly was probably the F-16. It was kind of, you know, sexy airplane, fast, could do a lot of things. But all the other planes had a lot of good characteristics. You know, the C-130 would take you anywhere in the world and get you back safe and sound. And it would take a beating. And I flew that in the war in Iraq. And that was, you know, it was a great airplane to fly over there. And it was an honor to be over there and get our guys on and off the battlefield with that airplane.

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William "Robbie" Robertson / COURTESY
Peoria native William "Robbie" Robertson enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in his early 20s. After a 41-year career, he retired on Veterans Day, 2021.

Hannah Alani: So my mom’s side of the family is Polish, my dad's side is actually Iraqi, and we have family over in Iraq. So thank you for your service over there, too.

William “Robbie” Robertson: I had a real great experience with the Iraqi people that were again, willing and wanting to be free. Really wonderful people. Like the Poles, you know, freedom loving people are wonderful people. I've had the pleasure of working with an Iraqi man who actually worked with me at Illinois Emergency Management, who was one of the smartest guys I've ever met in my life.

Hannah Alani: You know, we'll have a lot of WCBU listeners from across the Peoria area listening to this. Is there anything that you'd really like to say to our community?

William “Robbie” Robertson: Well, first of all, I'd like to say thank you to everybody in the community for the support. Not only to my family, but to all the men and women of the people that I was able to command and serve with throughout my time here in the 182nd and 12 Air Force. The community support is so vital to a military member, especially a Guardsmen or Reservist that goes away, leaves his regular job and comes back, and has to reintegrate back into the community.

…Every individual may experience the same event, but they feel very differently sometimes, about it, when they come back. And they may need help readjusting to it. Some people re-acclimate very well. And then some live with some problems that come up every once in a while and affect them in their daily work and things. And I would just ask people to work with our veterans whenever they can. Be patient with them. … Try to work with them and get them back into the community. They're, you know, they deserve that. Continue to support your veterans. Continue to support that 1% of the population that serves this country and protects it.

Hannah Alani: You know, I have one more question for you. This is on behalf of my fiancé, and probably many people listening to this. A lot of people deal with very crippling plane anxiety. Do you have any words of words of wisdom? Do you ever deal with plane anxiety?

William “Robbie” Robertson: It's, it's safer than driving a car. (Laughs.) If you look at the percentages of accidents and things like that, it's a much safer way to travel. And we build things for safety and airplanes are a great way to travel. … American pilots, and I'm talking about across the system, best trained pilots in the world. And then if you go to our military guys, for what they do, they are top notch, the best in the world. And those are the kind of guys you want it to control. The guys and gals.

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Hannah Alani
A Veterans Day memorial drew a large crowd on Thursday, Nov. 11 in Downtown Peoria.
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