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, Okla., in April 1943. He went to Europe that November as a B-17 pilot with the 364th Bomb Squadron. On Feb. 20, 1944, he earned the nation's highest award for gallantry at the risk of his life during a bombing mission over occupied Europe. Coming off the target, he was attacked by approximately 20 enemy fighters, shot out of formation and his plane severely crippled. Eight crew members were wounded, the co-pilot was killed. one engine was on fire, the controls shot away, and then Lieutenant Lawley seriously and painfully wounded about the face.
The Medal of Honor citation read, in part: "...Forcing the copilot's body off the controls, he brought the airplane out of a steep dive, flying with his left hand only. After the order to bail out had been given, one of the waist gunners informed Lieutenant Lawley that two crew members 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 crew members, Lieutenant Lawley elected to remain with the ship and bring them to safety if it was humanly possible, giving the other crew members 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. 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."
Lawley flew 14 combat missions until June 1944 as a first lieutenant. He returned to the United States in September 1944, serving as a public relations officer at Hendricks Field, Fla. Promoted to captain in January 1945, he completed the public relations course at Craig Field, Ala. and the Air Tactical School at Tyndall AFB, Fla., serving during part of this time as aide to Gen. Muir S. Fairchild at Maxwell Field Ala. 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, Va., and the Strategic Intelligence School in Washington, D.C. He then went to Brazil, with promotion to lieutenant colonel, as Asst. Air Attache. He served until 1954. Coming home, he attended the Air Command and Staff School at Air University, Maxwell AFB, Ala., and on graduation was assigned as commander of the 55th Air Refueling Squadron at Forbes AFB, Kan. 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.
See the full citation at the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website.