William Bryan was born in 1921 in Flint, Michigan. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program on March 27, 1942, and was commissioned in the U.S. Army Air Forces and awarded his pilot wings on February 6, 1943. During World War II, Bryan flew P-51 Mustangs with the 504th Fighter Squadron of the 339th Fighter Group in Europe, where he was credited with shooting down 7.5 enemy aircraft in aerial combat plus one more while strafing an airfield. After the war, Bryan served at Headquarters Tactical Air Command and then as an advisor to Air National Guard fighter squadrons in Minnesota and South Dakota before being assigned as operations and training officer for an Air Force Reserve wing at Scott AFB, Illinois. In August 1950, Bryan began flying combat missions in the F-51 Mustang with the 18th Fighter Bomber Wing during the Korean War, serving in theater until April 1951. He served as a staff officer with TAC from 1951 to 1959, attending Armed Forces Staff College from January to June 1955. He served as chief of Air Offense Division at Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe from August 1959 to August 1962 and then entered the National War College, graduating in July 1963. Bryan's next assignment was as commandant of the Air Force Fighter Weapons School and then Vice Commander of the 4520th Combat Crew Training Wing at Nellis AFB, Nevada, from July 1963 to January 1965. He became commander of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, in January 1965, and was then assigned as commander of the 831st Air Division at George AFB, California from January 1966 to November 1967. Gen Bryan became deputy chief of staff at the U.S. Military Assistance Command in the Republic of Vietnam in November 1967 and served until June 1969, when he was assigned as chief of staff for Headquarters Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, Virginia. In December 1970 Gen Bryan became commander of Nineteenth Air Force at Seymour Johnson AFB, and then became deputy chief of staff for operations and intelligence at Allied Forces Central Europe in July 1972. He retired from the Air Force in this position on June 1, 1974. General Bryan wears Command Pilot Wings and accumulated over 5,000 flying hours and flew 235 combat missions in World War II and Korea. Bill Bryan died on April 6, 2008, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
His Distinguished Service Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to William E. Bryan, Major, U.S. Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as Pilot with the 12th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 19th Fighter Bomb Group, FIFTH Air Force, in action against enemy forces in the Republic of Korea during the period 1 through 21 February 1951. Displaying superb leadership, dauntless courage, and exceptional aeronautical skill, Major Bryan led his squadron of F-51 fighter aircraft on attacks against enemy transportation facilities and materiel. With total disregard for his personal safety, and ignoring the perils of enemy antiaircraft, automatic weapons, and small-arms fire, Major Bryan repeatedly flew over hazardous mountain terrain at low speed and minimum altitude in search of camouflaged enemy vehicles and supplies. During this period, Major Bryan personally succeeded in detecting 82 vehicles which had been cleverly camouflaged by the enemy. Before destroying those targets, he led his flight in low level passes over the areas pointing out the camouflage techniques, and completely disregarded the damage frequently inflicted upon his own aircraft by enemy fire. As a direct result of this valuable instruction in camouflage detection, Major Bryan's squadron was able to locate 466 enemy vehicles of which 389 were totally destroyed and the remainder severely damaged.