In a lifetime distinguished by courage, dedication, and leadership, Roscoe Robinson, Jr., became the first African-American to achieve the rank of four-star general in the United States Army.
Born in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri, Robinson graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1951, and soon thereafter earned a Bronze Star for his service as a rifle company commander in the Korean War.
General Robinson’s connection to Pittsburgh came during the early years of what would become a remarkable 35-year career in the military. After a two-year tour with the 82nd Airborne Division (which, later, in 1976, he’d become the first African-American commander of that elite unit), he was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and earned the Master of International Affairs degree in 1964. Later, in 1982, the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs honored General Robinson with the Distinguished Alumnus Award.
“Always do the best job that you can at whatever you do” was his philosophy in life and one that he lived up to, as evidenced by his accomplishments on and off the battlefield. He served in the 7th Infantry Division in Korea and commanded the 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam. His major commands included the U.S. Army Garrision, Okinawa (the Ryukus), the 82nd Airborne Division, and the U.S. Army Japan/IX Corps. After earning his fourth star, Robinson served as the U.S. Representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Military Committee in Europe. His commendations include the Bronze Star Medal for service in the Korean War, two Silver Stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross, eleven Air Medals, and the Legion of Merit.
General Robinson’s military career started at West Point and his presence is felt there to this day. Shortly before his death in 1993, Robinson was recognized with the Distinguished Graduate Award presented by the academy’s Association of Graduates. The citation presented to him reads, in part:
Throughout a military career that took him to the pinnacle of his profession, he overcame diversity with courage and an enduring dedication to duty. As a senior representative of his country in complex and sensitive dealings with foreign powers, General Robinson set a standard of professional conduct and selfless concern for his fellow man that brought honor and acclaim to the United States and the organizations he represented.
In 2000, seven years after his death, the Thayer Auditorium at West Point—one of the academy’s most frequently used lecture facilities—was renamed in honor of General Robinson.