William Johnston Hovde was born to Ole and Lou Hovde in Crookston, Minnesota. He grew up there, graduating from Central High School in 1935. He attended the University of North Dakota during 1936–38, receiving a freshman scholarship award. Obviously serious about a military career, he enlisted in the National Guard and joined the ROTC program at the university. Upon receiving his appointment to West Point, William attended the Silverman Preparatory School in New York City.
In July 1939, he was happily sworn in as a cadet. He was popular and affectionately known as “Billy.” Naturally athletic and well coordinated, he excelled in a variety of sports — he was an outstanding boxer and an intramural star. Writing in the class Howitzer, his roommate accurately forecast the future success of Billy as an Amy Air Corps and USAF officer and pilot.
“His wit, personal magnetism, and rare culture captivated all who knew him; we are certain that with his courage, determination, and natural ability he will be one of the Air Corps’ finest pilots and most capable officers.”
It was a dream come true when Billy received his pilot’s wings in December 1942. “I always wanted to fly,” he said. Soon after graduation from West Point on 19 January 1943, Billy began fighter pilot training at Spence Field, Georgia. In April, he was ordered to Philadelphia as flight leader in a fighter operational training unit. Three months later, in July, he joined with the 355th Fighter Group of the Eighth Air Force, England, flying scores of combat missions as a flight leader.
A particularly noteworthy mission was early in 1944.
“The ‘gallantry in action, determination and devotion to duty’ displayed by William J. Hovde, 26-year-old Mustang pilot from Crookston, Minnesota, during a bomber escort mission has earned him the Silver Star . . . leading a flight of four Mustangs . . . deep into Germany on March 18 . . . when 15 Focke-Wulf 190s launched an attack against the bomber force, . . . Captain Hovde, with disregard for the numerical superiority of the enemy . . . led his flight in a vigorous assault, destroying an FW 190. When enemy fighters attacked while he was reforming his flight . . . Captain Hovde engaged and destroyed one FW 190 . . . two enemy fighters attacked his aircraft. Exhibiting exceptional courage and superior combat skill, he turned into the attacking fighters and followed one . . . heavily damaging him, before being forced to break off the chase because of an exhausted supply of ammunition.”