Gunfighters remember fallen hero
By Staff Reports, 366th Fighter Wing Public Affairs / Published June 12, 2015
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho --
Retired Col. William F. Andrews passed away from brain cancer on June 8. He was 56.
Andrews was most known for his prisoner of war experience after he was shot down in his F-16 Falcon over hostile territory during Desert Storm in 1991.
Andrews served three separate tours at Mountain Home Air Force Base culminating with his final assignment here as 366th Operations Group Commander from 2000 to 2002 during Operation Enduring Freedom. He served as the 366th Expeditionary Operations Group, later 366th Expeditionary Wing Commander, leading the wing's contingent of F-16CJ Fighting Falcons from Southwest Asia in the opening days of OEF.
His two previous assignments here included commanding the 389th Fighter Squadron from 1997 to 1999 with a deployment to Southwest Asia in support of Operation Southern Watch in 1998 and flying as an EF-111 pilot with the 390th Electronic Combat Squadron of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing from 1985 to 1989.
He was one of the most decorated airmen of Desert Storm receiving the Air Force Cross for heroism as a captain after he was shot down on Feb. 27, 1991.
Andrews relayed his experience to a standing-room-only crowd during a Heritage of Freedom event at Hanscom Air Force Base, Massachusetts in 2009.
He said his mission was to provide close air support to special operations personnel under heavy fire deep inside enemy territory and began considering the risks. Everything had been going great for the first month and a half of the air campaign, despite a couple of close calls. But this time he began to wonder: "Is my number going to come up today?"
"When you start to feel a little bit of apprehension like that, it only takes the realization that there are Americans in harm's way, and [that] it's up to us whether they make it back or not," he said.
That mission, which required extreme precision due to the proximity of hostile forces to the entrapped U.S. forces, succeeded, and Andrews returned safely.
Just a few days later, however, on a similar mission, he was not as fortunate.
"[There was] a big explosion in the rear of my plane," he said. "It was like I was sitting at a stop sign and someone rear-ended me. ... I knew that in the next couple of seconds I had to get my hands from being pinned against the canopy down to the ejection handle."
He managed to do so and ejected safely. Unfortunately, he was parachuting straight into an infantry division of the Republican Guard.
He surrendered upon landing to "get them to stop shooting." Then he saw an enemy surface-to-air missile fly by and his wingman flying overhead. Andrews instinctively reached for his survival radio and directed his wingman to break away from the missile and clear the area. His angered captors proceeded to open fire again, with AK-47 rounds passing all around him, though none struck.
He fueled the fire of Iraqi intelligence collectors next, refusing to provide any of the information they sought.
"They kept telling me no one would know," he said. "But I'd know." This was the ultimate test of integrity, and he didn't want to fail. His refusal to cooperate eventually led to him being "roughed up," he said, sparing the vivid details of his encounters.
Fortunately, his captivity lasted just eight days, since he was shot down on what turned out to be the second-to-last day of the war. The U.S. made immediate release of all POWs a non-negotiable tenet of the peace agreement, and he was turned over to the Red Cross soon after.
Andrews would return to the region in 1996, where he patrolled the skies during Operations Southern and Northern Watch, and yet again late in 2001, when the air war in Afghanistan commenced.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Stacey and her family during this difficult time. Bill "BA" Andrews epitomized the Gunfighter legacy and what it means to be an Airman over a long and distinguished career," said Col. Dave Iverson, 366th Fighter Wing commander. "He is a permanent part of our wing history and will not be forgotten."
(66th Air Base Wing Public Affairs and 366th Fighter Wing Historian contributed to this article)