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First Name: William

Last Name: Lawley

Birthplace: Leeds, AL, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Home of Record: Birmingham, AL
Middle Name: Robert

Date of Birth: 23 August 1920

Date of Death: 29 May 1999

Rank: Colonel

Years Served:
William Robert Lawley, Jr.

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


William Robert Lawley, Jr.
Colonel, U.S. Army Air Forces
Medal of Honor Recipient
World War II

Colonel William Robert Lawley, Jr. (23 August 1920 - 29 May 1999) was a U.S. Army Air Forces / U.S. Air Force officer and pilot who was a recipient of the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions during World War II.

William Robert Lawley, Jr. was born on 23 August 1920 in Leeds, AL. He joined the U.S. Army Air Forces from Birmingham, AL. On 20 February 1944, he was a First Lieutenant serving as a pilot in the 364th Bomber Squadron, 305th Bomb Group. During a bombing mission over Nazi-controlled Europe that day, his B-17 Flying Fortress came under attack by enemy fighter aircraft. With his plane severely damaged and on fire, he ordered his crew to parachute to safety. Finding that two crewmen were too badly injured to bail out, Lawley chose to remain in the aircraft and, despite his own serious wounds, attempt to pilot it into friendly territory. Although weakened from loss of blood and shock, he was able to make a successful crash landing in England. Lawley recovered from his wounds and was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, U.S. Army Air Corps, 364th Bomber Squadron, 305th Bomber Group.

Place and date: Over Europe, 20 February 1944.

Citation: 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 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 1st Lt. 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, 1 of the waist gunners informed the pilot that 2 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 1st Lt. 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. 1st Lt. 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 1 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, 1st Lt. Lawley rendered outstanding distinguished and valorous service to our Nation.

Lawley reached the rank of Colonel before leaving the Air Force.

Death and Burial

Colonel William Robert Lawley, Jr. died on 29 May 1999 at age 78. He is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Montgomery, AL.

Honoree ID: 1493   Created by: MHOH




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