Jackson col

Brigadier General Kenneth Walker is pictured on the far right. Also pictured (left to right) are Australian Minister of the Army Frank Forde, General Douglas MacArthur, Australian General Thomas Blamey, Lt. General George Kenney, and Australian Lt. General Edmund Herring. Walker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom upon the recommendation of MacArthur.

An aide to General Kenneth Walker used these words to describe his actions while taking part in missions to observe his crews:

“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. 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 to get shot at unless he’s willing to get shot at, too.”

General Walker’s purpose was to improve the morale of his men by sharing in the dangers his crews faced and to see the issues they dealt with while on a mission.

General Kenneth Walker’s last mission would be January 5, 1943.

General George Kenney explained in his book General Kenney Reports: A Personal History of the Pacific War that he ordered Kenneth Walker to “put on a full-scale bomber attack on the shipping in Rabaul Harbor at dawn on the 5th” to prevent the enemy from reinforcing a position in New Guinea.

“Walker wanted to hit the Rabaul shipping around noon,” General Kenney explained. “He was worried about the bombers making their rendezvous if they left Port Moresby at night. I told him I still wanted a dawn attack.”

General Kenney said that enemy fighter planes would not be in the air at dawn, “but at noon they would not only shoot up our bombers but would ruin our bombing accuracy. I would rather have the bombers not in formation for a dawn attack than in formation for a show at noon which was certain to be intercepted.”

General Kenney then wrote, “Ken had not been sleeping well and was getting tired and jumpy. The strain and the tropics were wearing him down. I decided that at the end of this month, if a couple of weeks’ leave didn’t put him back in shape, I’d have to send him home.”

General Kenney described the mission. “Six B-17s and six B-24s struck the shipping in Rabaul Harbor at noon on the 5th.” He explained several enemy ships were hit.

Then he wrote, “Our bombers were intercepted by fifteen fighters, three of which were shot down. Two of our bombers were missing. One of them carried Brigadier General Kenneth Walker.”

General Kenney explained, “Ken, for some unknown reason, had suddenly changed the take-off time early in the morning without notifying me, and then went along on the mission, in spite of the fact that I had told him not to.”

Other bomber crew members reported General Walker’s B-17 was last seen with an engine on fire, losing altitude, headed for clouds to try to escape, and being pursued by two enemy fighter planes. General Kenney ordered Australian flying boats and reconnaissance planes to search for the two missing B-17s.

“I told General MacArthur that as soon as Walker showed up I was going to give him a reprimand and send him to Australia on leave for a couple of weeks,” General Kenney wrote.

“All right, George, but if he doesn’t come back, I’m going to send his name in to Washington recommending him for a Congressional Medal of Honor,” General Douglas MacArthur replied.

General Walker had been aboard the lead B-17 nicknamed San Antonio Rose I. The aircraft has never been found. According to some accounts, Brigadier General Kenneth N. Walker, son of Ripley County native Emma Overturf Walker, and cousin to Ripley and Decatur County Civil War Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Jacob Overturf, is the highest ranking American M.I.A. from World War II.

President Franklin Roosevelt presented the Medal of Honor posthumously to Kenneth Walker’s son, Kenneth Jr., during a ceremony at the White House on March 25, 1943. The citation reads:

“For conspicuous leadership above and beyond the call of duty involving personal valor and intrepidity at an extreme hazard to life. As commander of the 5th Bomber Command during the period from 5 September 1942, to 5 January 1943, Brigadier General Walker repeatedly accompanied his units on bombing missions deep into enemy-held territory. From the lessons personally gained under combat conditions, he developed a highly efficient technique of bombing when opposed by enemy fighter airplanes and by antiaircraft fire. On 5 January 1943, in the face of extremely heavy antiaircraft fire and determined opposition by enemy fighters, he led an effective daylight bombing attack against shipping in the harbor at Rabaul, New Britain, which resulted in direct hits on 9 enemy vessels. During this action his airplane was disabled and forced down by the attack of an overwhelming number of enemy fighters.”

This is the last of a series of columns by Decatur County resident Phillip Jackson. The entire series is available at www.greensburgdailynews.com. Just use the search function near the top right of the homepage and look for “Jackson.”

Trending Video

Recommended for you