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Walker, Kenneth Newton (1898-1943)


Photograph of Kenneth N. Walker

U.S. Air Force. Via arlingtoncemetary.net

Kenneth Walker was born in rural New Mexico, an only child abandoned by his father. One of Walker's sons later wrote of him that "My father was raised by his mother in a hardscrabble environment, and perhaps much of his personality was shaped by ... the need to protect his mother and take on anyone who posed a threat" (Gamble 2010). Walker completed flight training just as the First World War was winding down, and thereafter rose through the ranks at the glacial pace characteristic of the years between the world wars. However, in August 1941, he was part of the crash effort to develop an Air Force war plan, AWPD-1, in the event that the United States joined the war against the Axis.

Walker was an old acquaintance of Kenney, who had a high opinion of Walker's "brains, leadership, loyalty and [willingness] to work" (quoted in Gamble 2010). When Kenney assumed command of the Allied air forces in the Southwest Pacific, he picked Walker to command 5 Bomber Command. This did not work out well: Walker was a strong advocate of strategic bombing from high altitude formations, for which he had worked out many of the tactics, while Kenney was interested in low-level tactical bombing. Seemingly minor disputes over tactics, such as the best fuse settings for bombs used against shipping, marked a growing rift between the two men. Kenney came to regard Walker as "stubborn, oversensitive, and a prima donna" and worried that he was "keyed up all the time" (quoted in Gamble 2010).

Walker was a brave, aggressive commander, who raised morale by mingling with his men and by accompanying many of the missions over Rabaul. However, Kenney ordered him to stop going on the missions, both because this was inconsistent with Kenney's concept of Walker's role, and because Walker was privy to high-level intelligence that might be compromised if he was shot down over Japanese-controlled territory. Walker defied these orders on 5 January 1943, leading a daylight raid over Rabaul in which his aircraft was last seen damaged and heading into the clouds with several Japanese fighters on its tail. The aircraft and its crew were never seen again. Had Walker made it back to base, he would likely have been severely disciplined; instead, he received a posthumous Medal of Honor.

Service record

1898

Born in New Mexico
1917-12-15     

Enlists. Flight training, Mather Field, California
1918-11
Second lieutenant     
Completes flight school. Flight instructor, Brooks and Barron Fields, Texas
1922-12
First lieutenant
Commander, Air Intelligence Section, Philippines
1925-2     
      
Air Service Board, Langley Field
1925

Commander, 11 Bomb Squadron
1927

2 Bombardment Group
1928

Air Corps Tactical School
1929-6

Instructor, Air Corps Tactical School
1933

Command and General Staff School
1933-8
Captain

1933-10
Major

1935

11 Bombardment Squadron
1935

7 Bombardment Group
1936

Commander, 9 Bombardment Squadron
1938

Commander, 18 Pursuit Group, Hawaii
1941-1

Assistant chief, Plans Division, Office of the Chief of the Air Corps
1941-6
Lieutenant colonel     

1942-3
Colonel

1942-4

Operations Division, War Department
1942-7       
Brigadier general     
Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific
1942-9

Commander, 5 Bomber Command
1943-1-5

Killed in action

References

ArlingtonCemetary.net (accessed 2013-4-17)

Gamble (2010)

Generals.dk (accessed 2013-4-16)

Tillman (2010)



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