I. The ‘Walker Case’
The loss on 5 January 1943 of B/G Kenneth N. Walker and the crew of B-17F No. 41-24458 (San Antonio Rose), is potentially of great importance symbolically and of solid practical significance for a new DoD approach to MIA recovery and identification. Both the man, the mission and the region of loss have historical importance in addition to all the attributes that motivate DoD’s commitment to MIA recovery.
Additionally, substantial private research efforts by individual researchers and historians have narrowed the target locale for search; and, may be a model for future cooperative efforts between official and unofficial recovery activities.
II. The Man
Kenneth N. Walker won a place in air power history as an advocate of strategic bombing at the Air Corps Tactical School in the 1930’s; he was part of a small group of officers who authored AWPD-1, The Air War Plan, the outline for an air offensive against Germany and Japan, immediately prior to WW2.
Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor after his loss not merely for the mission on which he was lost but for leading from the front, flying many combat missions as Commander 5th Bomber Command (primary striking force of Allied Air Forces, Southwest Pacific Theater); his loss is unique both as the highest-ranking officer lost in combat in WW2 but also as a MOH recipient.
III. The Mission
Walker was impelled to fly the 5 January 1943 mission because of the importance of its objective, breaking up a major Japanese reinforcement convoy bound for Lae, New Guinea at its source. The mission was partially successful and lessons learned during the mission and in subsequent operations against the convoy (5-10 January 1943) led directly to the later success in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.
IV. The Locale
Eastern New Britain was the scene of almost continuous air warfare from early 1942 until early 1944. Day and night operations were conducted along the approximate route Walker’s bomber took leaving the target. This means in addition to Walker and eight others (two crewmen are believed to have bailed out, became POWs but subsequently died in captivity) a search for the wreckage of San Antonio Rose may well result in the discovery of other downed aircraft and MIA recoveries.
The area of loss has been identified in the north facing slopes of the Kol Mountains, inland from Wide Bay in eastern New Britain Island, Papua New Guinea.
V. Walker/SAR Case and DPAA
Contacts with the U.S. Government began in 1989 to ask for a search for this plane’s crash. Finally, 27 years later, in June 2016 research, which had been developed by a group of volunteer researchers and historians, was presented to the government agency responsible for search and recovery of MIAs, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA). The research and conclusions, which identified the crash area in the Kol Mountains, was accepted by DPAA. Yet, since then no specific action has been taken to plan a search by DPAA for this plane and its crew, nor has DPAA indicated when a search might be conducted.
January 2023 will be the 80th anniversary of the loss of the B-17F San Antonio Rose and its crew. After 28 years of attempting to have the U.S. Government fulfill its promise to “leave no one behind” the San Antonio Rose and its crew are still waiting for that promise to be kept.