Walt Draeger was born on September 28, 1933, in Cottage Grove, Wisconsin. After a year at the Virginia Military Institute he attended the University of Wisconsin, graduating with a bachelor's degree in February 1956. Walt was commissioned a 2d Lt in the U.S. Air Force through the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Wisconsin on January 28, 1956, and went on active duty beginning May 2, 1956. Lt Draeger next completed pilot training and was awarded his pilot wings at Laredo AFB, Texas, on June 29, 1957, and then attended All-Weather Interceptor and F-86D Sabre transition training before serving with the 440th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Erding AB, West Germany, from February to August 1958. He left active duty on August 24, 1958, and served in the Air Force Reserve until being recalled to active duty on July 28, 1962. Capt Draeger then served with the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing at MacDill AFB, Florida; completed C-130 Hercules Combat Crew Training with the 4442nd Combat Crew Training Squadron at Sewart AFB, Tennessee; served with C-130 Detachment 1 at Howard AFB, Panama Canal Zone; and then completed A-1 Skyraider training with Naval Training Squadron VT-30 at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, between July 1962 and November 1964. He then served as an A-1 pilot with Detachment 10 of the 1131st Air Force Special Activities Squadron, flying with the 516th Fighter Squadron (South Vietnamese Air Force) in South Vietnam from November 1964 until he was killed in action on April 4, 1965. His remains have never been returned to the United States.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pride in presenting the Air Force Cross (Posthumously) to Captain Walter Frank Draeger, Jr., United States Air Force (Reserve), for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as Pilot of an A-1 Skyraider in action on 4 April 1965, over North Vietnam. On that date, Captain Draeger volunteered to fly as a Fighter-Advisor with the Vietnamese Air Force into an area of known heavily concentrated anti-aircraft artillery. He participated in a highly successful bombing mission of a vital Viet Cong target, contributing materially to its destruction. On the return flight from the primary target, Captain Draeger's flight leader was shot down by hostile ground fire. Captain Draeger immediately called or search and rescue assistance. Although completely alone and within range of the hostile ground fire, he orbited the area of his downed flight leader until the unarmed search and rescue aircraft arrived in the vicinity. Upon arrival in the area, over which Captain Draeger was flying protective cover, the unarmed rescue aircraft requested fire suppression assistance. Captain Draeger commenced a firing pass to allow the rescue aircraft to safely enter the area. With complete disregard for his own personal safety, he made the strafing run into the hostile fire. Ignoring the air bursts from shore batteries, Captain Draeger pressed his attack and, in so doing, sacrificed his own life. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Captain Draeger reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.