Colonel William H. Talley was born 26 November 1932 and raised in Sayre, Oklahoma. He is a 1954 graduate of Oklahoma A&M College (now Oklahoma State University) in Stillwater, Oklahoma. He earned his commission into the U.S. Air Force through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps in 1955. Talley was awarded his pilot wings in 1956. After completing Advanced Fighter Training and Reconnaissance School, he was assigned to the 29th, 20th, and 17th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadrons (TRS) at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina. In May 1959, he deployed with the 17th TRS to France.
Talley completed F-105 Thunderchief Combat Crew Training and Wild Weasel Training before being deployed to Southeast Asia in January 1969. Talley flew 151 combat missions as an F-105 pilot with the 44th Tactical Fighter Squadron out of Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand.
While deployed on temporary duty with the 17th Wild Weasel Squadron, 388th Tactical Fighter Wing in Southeast Asia, he flew 31 combat missions. He received a Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor for actions while flying his F-105G Wild Weasel on 21 April 1972 in support of F-4 air strikes against a strategic target. Suppressing hostile enemy surface-to-air missile sites and radar controlled antiaircraft artillery batteries, he enabled the F-4s to destroy their targets and egress safely. Then on 11 May 1972, while on another Wild Weasel mission in support of Operation Linebacker, Talley and his Electronics Warfare Officer were shot down by a MIG near Hanoi. They were captured and taken as Prisoners of War to the "Hanoi Hilton" prison camp. Talley spent 322 days in harsh captivity and was released during Operation Homecoming on 28 March 1973. Talley's decorations include the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Cross Medals with Valor, Bronze Star Medal with Valor, and the Purple Heart Medal. He retired in December 1981.