"Lieutenant Colonel William R. Schwertfeger was born in Enid, Oklahoma, 22 September 1945 and grew up near Medford, Oklahoma. He graduated Oklahoma State University 30 June 1967 and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force through the Air Force ROTC Program. He entered active duty 12 September 1967 and completed undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance U.S. Air Force Base, Oklahoma, in September 1968.
His first and second combat assignments were in the 433rd Tactical Squadron at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, August 1969–June 1970 and 1971. Both assignments supported operations in Vietnam. 18 February 1972 he and his Weapons Systems Officer were orbiting a potential enemy site when their F-4 aircraft was struck by a Russian SA2 missile crippling the F-4. He landed his plane in what he believed to be a fairly safe area however he landed in the middle of North Vietnamese Army soldiers moving forward for the launch into the 1972 Easter Offensive in South Vietnam. He and his Weapons System Officer surrendered and began their 407 days as a POW in the ""Hanoi Hilton.""
His medals include the three Silver Stars, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, Bronze Star Medal, two Purple Hearts, three Meritorious Service Medals, the Air Medal with the numeral 34, Air Force Commendation Medal and the Prisoner of War Medal.