Retired June 1, 1983.
Lieutenant General William R. Nelson is commander of 12th Air Force, with headquarters at Bergstrom Air Force Base, Texas.
General Nelson was born in 1926, in Lebanon, Ind. He graduated from Indiana University in 1949 with a bachelor of science degree in production management and, through the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program, a commission as a second lieutenant. The general received a master's degree in business administration from The George Washington University, Washington D.C., in 1969.
Upon graduation from Indiana University, he entered active military duty and attended pilot training at Williams Air Force Base, Ariz. In September 1950 he was assigned to the 525th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, 86th Fighter-Bomber Group, in Germany, where he flew P-47 Thunderbolts, F-84 Thunderjets and F-86 Sabrejets.
When General Nelson returned to the United States in September 1953, he became an instructor pilot with Air Training Command at James Connally Air Force Base, Texas. In September 1955 he was assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., as a staff pilot and maintenance officer. He transferred to Kingsley Field, Ore., in July 1959 as maintenance control officer for the 408th Fighter Group.
General Nelson transferred to Headquarters Pacific Air Forces at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, in September 1961 and served in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff, Materiel. In January 1964 he become commander of the 18th Organizational Maintenance Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Okinawa.
In July 1966 General Nelson transferred to Headquarters Tactical Air Command at Langley Air Force Base, Va. While there he served as chief of the Fighter Division for the director of maintenance engineering. He next attended F-4 pilot training at MacDill Air Force Base, Fla., and in June 1970 went to the Republic of Vietnam as deputy commander for operations of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing at Da Nang Air Base. During this tour of duty, General Nelson flew 160 combat missions in F-4 Phantoms.
Following his return to the United States in July 1971, he was assigned to the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where he completed transition training in the A-7D Corsair II and served as the wing director of materiel. In March 1972 General Nelson assumed duties as vice commander and later commander of the 474th Tactical Fighter Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. He flew 39 combat missions in F-111s when the wing deployed to Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, from September 1972 to March 1973.
Returning to Tactical Air Command headquarters in August 1973, General Nelson served as assistant deputy chief of staff, logistics, and in February 1974 became deputy chief of staff, logistics. He was named director of maintenance, engineering and supply in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, Systems and Logistics, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C., in September 1975. In October 1977 he was reassigned within the deputate as director, logistics plans and programs.
In July 1978 General Nelson became vice commander of 16th Air Force, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, with headquarters at Torrejon Air Base, Spain. There, he exercised responsibility for U.S. forces located in Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey. He assumed his present command in January 1980.
The general is a command pilot with more than 7,000 flying hours. His military decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal with 13 oak leaf clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, and Air Force Outstanding Unit Award ribbon with "V" device and five oak leaf clusters.
He was promoted to lieutenant general Feb. 4, 1980, with the same date of rank.