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Courage and Conviction

October 1990, Vol. 73, No. 10
By John L. Frisbee, Contributing Editor

Courage and Conviction

The skirmishes and battles that led to an independent Air Force were fought in Washington as well as in the field. Ken Walker was a hero in both arenas.

Kenneth Walker was a man of strongly held beliefs for which he was willing to risk his career or forfeit his life. His years as a military aviator were concerned with bombers and the Air Force doctrine of strategic air warfare that dominated World War II.

Walker earned his wings in November 1918. In the next decade, he served with and commanded bomber squadrons in this country and the Philippines before attending the Air Corps Tactical School in 1928-29. The Tactical School was the intellectual center of the Air Corps in those days. Walker was kept on as an instructor in bombardment.

He and other airpower pioneers–among them Donald Wilson, Harold George, Haywood “Possum” Hansell, and Laurence Kuter–developed analytical systems for determining the key elements that sustained an industrial society and that were vulnerable to bombing. They concluded that a new era of warfare, in which an industrial country could be defeated primarily by strategic bombing, lay just over the horizon. It followed that a nation’s air arm should be independent and co-equal with ground and sea forces. These ideas were heresy in the eyes of the War Department General Staff, which did not burn heretics but could make life unpleasant for them.

In 1934, Walker and four other Tactical School pioneers were invited to testify before the President’s Commission on Federal Aviation (the Howell Commission) on the military aspects of aviation. The War Department tried by both direct and devious means to prevent their appearance in Washington, but the five officers decided to go at their own expense, though it probably would mean the end of their careers. World developments determined otherwise. All five became general officers, and their concept of airpower was proven correct.

On the eve of World War II, Walker, by then a lieutenant colonel, was assigned to the War Plans Division of the Army Air Forces staff.

Under the direction of George, Hansell, Kuter, and Walker formed the task force that wrote AWPD-1, the plan for organizing, equipping, deploying, and employing the AAF to defeat Germany and Japan should we become involved in the war that was engulfing Europe and the Far East. It was a monumental achievement, completed in less than a month. Then Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the US was, in fact, at war.

Walker had missed World War I. He did not intend to sit out World War II in Washington. Six months after Pearl Harbor, he was promoted to brigadier general and went to the Pacific, where Gen. George Kenney made him commander of the Fifth Air Force Bomber Command. Walker had precious little to work with in the fall of 1942–some 30 operational B-17s and about a hundred light and medium bombers.

Walker championed leadership by example as ardently as he was devoted to bombardment. He believed he should share the dangers of combat with his crews. Perhaps more important to him, Walker judged that he could not help develop tactics for that theater without personal experience in combat.

Early on, he was awarded the Silver Star He went several times to Rabaul, the hottest target in the theater. He came back from one mission with six feet of wing missing and from others with battle damage. Kenney worried about his bomber commander, who was privy to much highly classified information, flying over enemy-held territory In December, he ordered Walker to fly no more combat missions.

On Jan. 5, 1943, contrary to Kenney’s order, Walker led 12 heavy bombers in a daylight attack on shipping in the harbor at Rabaul. The formation was intercepted by enemy fighters but put its bombs on target. One bomber was shot down. Walker’s plane was last seen leaving the target with one engine burning and enemy fighters on its tail. A search failed to find any wreckage or survivors.

On the recommendations of Generals MacArthur and Kenney, Brig. Gen. Kenneth Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. President Roosevelt presented the medal to Walker’s son in a White House ceremony on March 25, 1943. The Air Force had lost one of its most brilliant officers, who lived with the conviction that bombardment had changed the nature of warfare and that a “well-planned and well-conducted bombardment attack … cannot be stopped.”

General Roams Over Plane While His Boys Raid Japs

“General Roams Over Plane While His Boys Raid Japs”
by Associated Press (AP) September 21, 1942

     A young American general aims at flying with his boys against the Japanese at least once a week and shows he means business by going on 11 raids in less than two months. He is Brig. Gen. K. N. Walker, 43 years old, of Washington, D.C., whose wife and two sons aged 14 and 9, live in the United States Capitol.

Boys All Like Him 

     “The boys in the south of Australia think the world of him,” said the general’s aid and pilot Capt. Fred P. Dollenberg of Philadelphia. “They figure things aren’t so bad if a general’s willing to go along and get shot at.”

Carrying a bottle of oxygen, General Walker moves about a plane as it flies on its mission at a high altitude, Captain Dollenberg said.

“He climbs through the bomb bay and watches the rear gunner or the side gunners blast at Zeroes and when we are over the target he watches the bombardier as he gets set to drop his bombs,” he went on.

“Wandering all over a plane like that isn’t healthy but the general figures he can’t tell the boys how to go out and get shot at unless he’s willing to get shot at too.”

General Walker, one of the youngest generals in the United States Army Air Forces, was in the War Plans Division in Washington before coming to Australia about three months ago.

The latest raid in which he took part was one against Rabaul, New Britain, deep in Japanese-occupied territory, last Friday night. Fires were started which were visible 50 miles away.

The general rode in a Flying Fortress on that trip.  September 12 he was over Buna, New Guinea in what was probably the heaviest raid of the Southwest Pacific area.  On that occasion, Flying Fortresses, medium and attack bombers and fighters destroyed at least 27 Japanese planes and probably more on the ground.

One Mission A Week

     “The general doesn’t talk much about the raids,” Dollenberg said, “But he figures he can’t direct flights from the ground and tell the boys what they are doing wrong.

“So he goes along and directs a flight from the air.  If a plane gets out of formation he shouts his orders over the radio to get the hell back in line.

“The general figures on going on at leas one mission a week.  In less than two months he been up with almost every squadron.”