By Elizabeth Keys
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Former Vietnam POW and retired United States Air Force Lt. Col. William R. Schwertfeger will speak at the Payne County Veterans Memorial at Boomer Lake on Monday.
The Military Officers Association of American is hosting the Stillwater Veterans Day Observance as an area tribute to military service from noon to 1 p.m. in front of the memorial on the east side of the park. Retired Col. Ken Bartels will welcome the community to the program and the Oklahoma State University Army and Air Force ROTC cadets will present the flags with Rev. Leah Hrachovec from the First Presbyterian Church giving the invocation. All veterans in attendance will be recognized. Stillwater High School’s Pioneer Chorale, under the direction of Dana Ayers, will sing several patriotic songs throughout the program.
Retired United States Air Force Col. Richard Shawley is helping coordinate the event. Shawley said Schwertfeger’s remarks will begin about 12:35 p.m.
Schwertfeger was born in Enid and grew up in Medford, graduating from Oklahoma State University in 1967. He earned a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force through the OSU ROTC program. He entered active duty and completed pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid. His first and second combat assignments were in the 433rd Tactical Squadron at Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. His assignments supported operations in Vietnam.
On Feb. 16, 1972, Schwertfeger 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 airplane. He ejected from the aircraft 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 prisoners of war in the “Hanoi Hilton.”
During his military service, Schwertfeger earned three Silver Stars, four Distinguished Flying Crosses, Bronze Star Medal for Valor, two Purple Hearts and three Meritorious Service Medals, in addition to 34 Air Medals, Force Commendation Medal and the Prisoner of War Medal. In recognition of his military career, he was inducted into the Oklahoma Military Hall of Fame.