Operation Desert Storm was a milestone — the first major conflict America fought in the 20th century without producing a fighter ace. The top-scoring pilots during the conflict were Thomas Dietz and Bob Hehemann, Air Force F-15C Eagle pilots with three kills each, according to a list maintained by Robin Lee. There was, however, one very highly-decorated pilot forged during this conflict.
William F. Andrews was a captain in the United States Air Force during Operation Desert Storm. Flying the General Dynamics F-16C Fighting Falcon, Andrews would prove to be a true badass fighter pilot, earning numerous medals for valor. One of those awards happens to be one of just two Air Force Crosses awarded during Desert Storm.
Colonel William F. Andrews. (USAF photo)
On Jan. 23, 1991, Andrews led a strike against a Scud assembly plant in Fallujah. Despite heavy enemy ground fire, which included at least six surface-to-air missiles, the strike inflicted heavy damage on the target, making it harder for Saddam Hussein's regime to fire Scuds at Israel and Saudi Arabia. For his actions, Andrews received the Distinguished Flying Cross with a Combat Distinguishing Device.
One month later, on Feb. 24, Andrews was leading a flight of F-16s on a mission when they were diverted to aid some Green Berets deep behind enemy lines. Operational Detachment Alpha 525's hide site had been discovered by local children. Silencing the kids was not an option, so, the commander of that detachment, Chief Warrant Officer Richard Balwanz, made the call to evacuate.
Almost immediately after making the call, Balwanz's team found itself in a firefight. Thankfully, air support was just moments away. Andrews pressed his attack, dropping bombs as enemy forces came within 200 yards of Balwanz and his men. He received his second award of the Distinguished Flying Cross for saving eight Green Berets.
Operational Detachment Alpha - 525, led by Chief Warrant Officer Richard Balwanz. Andrews received his second Distinguished Flying Cross for providing close-air support that enabled the unit's safe return. (US Army photo)
Three days after that, Andrews was hit while attacking enemy armor. He ejected from his stricken F-16 and broke a leg upon landing. Despite being under fire and out in the open, Andrews provided warnings that saved his wingman and an A-10 pilot from being hit by enemy surface-to-air missiles. He was quickly captured by Saddam's thugs, but would still attempt an escape despite his broken leg. He received the Air Force Cross for his actions.
After Desert Storm, Andrews continued to serve for another 19 years, seeing combat action in the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom. Unfortunately, Andrew was soon faced with a different kind of battle. He died of brain cancer on June 8, 2015, but his valorous acts will always be remembered.