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Details of service
William Lawley graduated from high school in his hometown in 1938, enlisted in August 1942, for flying training, and got his wings and commission at Altus, Oklahoma, in April 1943. He went to Europe that November as a B-17 pilot with the 364th Bomb Squadron.
1st Lt. Lawley was on his 10th mission over Germany when the incident occurred wherein he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Flying a new B-17G (42-38109) with the 364th Bombardment Squadron (Heavy), 305th Bombardment Group, 8th Air Force, 1st Air Division, stationed at RAF Chelveston, Northamptonshire, England (USAAF Station 105). He flew 4 more missions over Germany.
He returned to the United States in September 1944, serving as a public relations officer at Hendricks Field, Florida. Promoted to captain in January 1945, he completed the public relations course at Craig Field, Alabama and the Air Tactical School at Tyndall AFB, Florida, serving during part of this time as aide to Gen. Muir S. Fairchild at Maxwell Field Alabama. He then went to HQ USAF in Washington as administrative assistant to Maj. Gen. David M. Schlatter in a special weapons assignment, with promotion to major in August 1949.
Major Lawley, in February 1950, held special assignments to the CG of ARDC, completing the Navy Language School at Fort Myer, Virginia, and the Strategic Intelligence School in Washington, D.C.. He then went to Brazil, with promotion to lieutenant colonel, as Assistant Air Attache. He served until 1954. Coming home, he attended the Air Command and Staff School at Air University, Maxwell AFB, Alabama, and on graduation was assigned as commander of the 55th Air Refueling~ Squadron at Forbes AFB, Kansas. He stayed at Forbes as Aircrew Maintenance Staff Officer for the 21st Air Division, as Deputy Base Commander, and as Deputy Vice Commander of the 815th Combat Support Group.
He was promoted to colonel March 27, 1959. In January 1963, he became Assistant Phase Chief. Director of Curricular, at the Air War College at Maxwell AFB.
He died from illness in 1999.
His MOH citation:
Awarded for actions during World War II
The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant (Air Corps) William Robert Lawley, Jr., United States Army Air Forces, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action above and beyond the call of duty, 20 February 1944, while serving as pilot of a B-17 aircraft in the 364th Bombardment Squadron, 305th Bombardment Group (H), Eighth Air Force, on a heavy bombardment mission over enemy-occupied continental Europe. Coming off the target he was attacked by approximately 20 enemy fighters, shot out of formation, and his plane severely crippled. Eight crewmembers were wounded, the copilot was killed by a 20-mm shell. One engine was on fire, the controls shot away, and First Lieutenant Lawley seriously and painfully wounded about the face. Forcing the copilot's body off the controls, he brought the plane out of a steep dive, flying with his left hand only. Blood covered the instruments and windshield and visibility was impossible. With a full bomb load the plane was difficult to maneuver and bombs could not be released because the racks were frozen. After the order to bail out had been given, one of the waist gunners informed the pilot that two crewmembers were so severely wounded that it would be impossible for them to bail out. With the fire in the engine spreading, the danger of an explosion was imminent. Because of the helpless condition of his wounded crewmembers First Lieutenant Lawley elected to remain with the ship and bring them to safety if it was humanly possible, giving the other crewmembers the option of bailing out. Enemy fighters again attacked but by using masterful evasive action he managed to lose them. One engine again caught on fire and was extinguished by skillful flying. First Lieutenant Lawley remained at his post, refusing first aid until he collapsed from sheer exhaustion caused by loss of blood, shock, and the energy he had expended in keeping control of his plane. He was revived by the bombardier and again took over the controls. Coming over the English coast one engine ran out of gasoline and had to be feathered. Another engine started to burn and continued to do so until a successful crash landing was made on a small fighter base. Through his heroism and exceptional flying skill, First Lieutenant Lawley rendered outstanding distinguished and valorous service to our Nation.
General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 64, August 8, 1944
Action Date: February 20, 1944
Service: Army Air Forces
Rank: First Lieutenant
Company: 364th Bombardment Squadron
Regiment: 305th Bombardment Group (H)
Division: 8th Air Force