'Shortfinger' to be featured speaker at Oklahoma History Center

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Schwertfeger, a Vietnam War combat pilot and POW, climbs into a T-38A Talon training jet at Vance Air Force Base for a ride Feb. 14, marking the 47th anniversary of the beginning of his 407 days as a prisoner during the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force photo / Airman 1st Class Taylor Crul)

ENID, Okla. — Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Bill Schwertfeger will be a speaker and honoree at a Vietnam War veterans commemoration event, 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. March 29, hosted by Oklahoma History Center and Oklahoma Historical Society.

The recognition celebration is open to the public at no charge and will include music by the 145th Army Band. The ceremony will take place in Devon Great Hall at Oklahoma History Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive in Oklahoma City.

An Enid native, Schwertfeger, known among fellow aviators as "Shortfinger," is a veteran fighter pilot from the Vietnam War, former prisoner of war and a regular speaker and visitor to Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training class events at Vance Air Force Base.

Schwertfeger served as an F-4 pilot in the 433rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at the Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base from April 1971 to February 16, 1972. On that day, his aircraft was hit by two surface-to-air missiles and he was forced to eject over North Vietnam. He was taken prisoner and spent 407 days in captivity.

Schwertfeger was released during Operation Homecoming on March 28, 1973, and was briefly hospitalized at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, to recover from his injuries. His Air Force career continued with assignments flying the F-15 Strike Eagle fighter jet and as an instructor at the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. He retired from active duty as a lieutenant colonel in 1988, having earned three Silver Stars. After retiring from the Air Force, he flew for American Airlines and logged more than 10,000 hours flying a Boeing 727.

Also slated to present at the March 29 event is Harvey Pratt, a native Oklahoman, Vietnam veteran and career law enforcement officer.

Pratt began his career in law enforcement by joining Midwest City Police Department. He later joined Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation as a narcotics officer and retired as director of the Information Division.

Pratt also served as a forensic artist, completed thousands of witness description drawings and was involved in the search for high profile murderers such as the Green River Killer, Ted Bundy, Henry Lucas and Ottis Toole, according to a press release.

After more than 50 years in law enforcement, Pratt recently retired as the forensic artist for OSBI. He was named by Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian as the winning designer for the new National Native American Veterans Memorial to be located on the grounds of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., slated to open Veterans Day 2020.

Attendees at the March 29 Vietnam War veterans celebration will be able to tour the exhibit “Welcome Home: Oklahomans and the War in Vietnam.” The exhibit, located in the E. L. and Thelma Gaylord Special Exhibit Gallery, opened in November 2017 and will remain open until November 2019.

For more information about Oklahoma Historical Society, please visit www.okhistory.org.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at jamesrneal.com. He can be reached at jneal@enidnews.com.

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