Bill Franke was born in 1926 in Brooklyn, New York. He entered the Navy V-12 Program at Louisiana Polytechnic Institute in Ruston, Louisiana, in January 1944, and served with the Navy ROTC Unit at Rice Institute in Houston, Texas, from November 1945 to February 1946, entering the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in March 1946. He received an honorable discharge from the Aviation Cadet Program on December 6, 1946, but reentered the program on August 27, 1948, receiving his commission as an Ensign in the Navy on the same day. Ens Franke completed the Aviation Cadet Program and was designated a Naval Aviator at NAS Pensacola, Florida, on March 30, 1950, and then served as an F4U-4 Corsair and F9F-5 Panther pilot with VF-73 at NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island, from April 1950 to August 1953. LtJg Franke next completed U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at NATC Patuxent River, Maryland, in January 1954, followed by service as a Project Test Pilot at Pax River from January to June 1954. Lt Franke served as an Instructor with the Test Pilot School at Pax River from June 1954 to October 1956, and then served as an F3H-2M Demon pilot with VF-61 at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, from November 1956 to April 1959. His next assignment was as a Training and Tactics Officer with Commander Operational Test and Evaluation Force at NAS Norfolk, Virginia, from May 1959 to July 1960, followed by Naval War College at NS Newport, Rhode Island, from August 1960 to June 1961. LCDR Franke then returned to the Test Pilot School at NATC Patuxent River, serving as an Instructor and Project Test Pilot from July 1961 to July 1963. He attended F-4 Phantom II Replacement Air Group training with VF-121 at NAS Miramar, California, from July to November 1963, and then served as Executive Officer of VF-21 at NAS Miramar from December 1963 to November 1964. CDR Franke was Commander of VF-21 from November 1964 until he was forced to eject over North Vietnam and was taken as a Prisoner of War on August 24, 1965. After spending 2,730 days in captivity, Capt Franke was released during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. He was briefly hospitalized to recover from his injuries at the Naval Hospital in San Diego, California, and then served on the Staff of the Commander, Fighter Airborne Early Warning Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet, from October 1973 to February 1974, during which time he also completed refresher pilot training. His next assignment was as Commanding Officer of VX-4 at NAS Point Mugu, California, from March 1974 to July 1976, followed by service as Chief of Staff for the Commander, Fighter Airborne Early Warning Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet, in San Diego from July 1976 until his retirement from the Navy on August 1, 1977.
His Legion of Merit w/Valor Citation reads:
For exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service as a Prisoner of War in North Vietnam from August 1965 to February 1973. By his diligent efforts, exceptional leadership, devotion and loyalty to the United States, and under the most adverse of conditions, he resisted all attempts by the North Vietnamese to use him in causes detrimental to the United States. While in daily contact with the North Vietnamese guards and officers, he performed duties in staff positions, maintaining good order and discipline among the prisoners. Under constant harassment from their captors, and due to the frustrations of the prisoners during their long internment, many difficult situations arose, requiring perseverance, endurance and ingenuity. Using his extraordinary courage, resourcefulness, and sound judgement, he reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces.
The Combat Distinguishing Device is authorized.