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First Name: Kenneth

Last Name: Walker

Birthplace: Los Cerrilos, NM, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: U.S. Army Air Forces (1941 - 1947)

Home of Record: Denver, CO
Middle Name: Newton

Date of Birth: 17 July 1898

Date of Death: 05 January 1943 (Presumed)

Rank: Brigadier General

Years Served: 1917-1943
Kenneth Newton Walker

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Kenneth Newton Walker

Brigadier General, U.S. Army Air Forces

Medal of Honor Recipient

World War II

Brigadier General Kenneth Newton Walker (17 July 1898 - 5 January 1943) was a U.S. Army Air Forces officer and aviator who was posthumously awarded the U.S. military's highest award for valor, the Medal of Honor, for his heroic actions during World War II.

Kenneth Newton Walker was born in Los Cerrillos, NM, on 17 July 1898 to Wallace and Emma (née Overturf) Walker. His father left when Kenneth was young, and Emma raised him as a single mother. The family moved to Denver, CO, where Kenneth attended the Maria Mitchell School from 1905 to 1908; the Columbian School in Omaha, NE, from 1908 to 1912; and Central High School in Kansas City, MO. In 1913 he enrolled in the Omaha High School of Commerce, from which he graduated in June 1915. From January to June 1917 he attended the YMCA Night School in Denver, CO. Upon graduation, he commenced a course in business administration at La Salle Extension University.

Military Service

Walker enlisted in the U.S. Army in Denver, on 15 December 1917 and undertook flying training at the University of California's School of Military Aeronautics and at the pilot training base at Mather Field near Sacramento, CA. He received his Aircrew Badge in November 1918 and was commissioned as a temporary Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Service on 2 November 1918. He attended the Flying Instructor's School at Brooks Field in San Antonio, TX, and became an instructor at the flight training center at Barron Field in Everman, TX. In March 1919, he was posted to Fort Sill as an instructor at the Air Service Flying School. During 1918, the School for Aerial Observers and the Air Service Flying School were built at nearby Post Field. He remained there for four years as a pilot, instructor, supply officer, and post adjutant. Walker became one of many officers holding wartime commissions to receive a commission in the Regular Army as a First Lieutenant on 1 July 1920, but he was reduced in rank to Second Lieutenant on 15 December 1922, another common occurrence when the wartime army was demobilized in the aftermath of World War I. Already a command pilot, he qualified as a combat observer in 1922.

While stationed at Post Field, Walker met Marguerite Potter, a sociology graduate of the University of Oklahoma at the Norman campus. The two were married in September 1922. For a honeymoon, they took a troop transport ship on 12 December 1922 to the Philippines, where Walker became Commander of the Air Intelligence Section at Camp Nichols. In April 1923, he became property officer of the Philippine Air Depot. At other times, he served as supply officer, adjutant, and depot inspector.

In 1924, he was assigned to the 28th Bombardment Squadron. He was again promoted to First Lieutenant on 24 July 1924. Jokes circulated about his being the most senior First Lieutenant in the Air Corps.

Walker and Marguerite eventually had two sons, Kenneth Jr., born in February 1927, and Douglas, born in January 1933. The marriage ended in divorce in 1934. Kenneth Walker remarried and had a son, John, from his second marriage, but it too ended in divorce, shortly after John's birth.

Walker returned to the U.S. in February 1925 and became a member of the Air Service Board at Langley Field. He stayed at Langley until 1928, serving as adjutant of the 59th Service Squadron, commander of the 11th Bombardment Squadron, and operations officer of the 2nd Bomb Group. He graduated from the Air Corps Tactical School at Langley Field in June 1929. He then served as an instructor under Captain Robert Olds in the Bombardment Section of the Air Corps Tactical School until July 1933, both at Langley and at Maxwell Field, where the school relocated in 1931. Their influence was such that, during their tenure, bombardment achieved primacy over pursuit in the development of Air Corps doctrine.

He graduated from the Air Corps Tactical School and served as an instructor there. He supported the creation of a separate air organization, not subordinate to other military branches. He was a forceful advocate of the efficacy of strategic bombardment, publishing articles on the subject, and becoming part of a clique known as the "Bomber Mafia" that argued the primacy of bombardment over other forms of military aviation. He advanced the notion that fighters could not prevent a bombing attack, and participated in the Air Corps Tactical School's development of the doctrine of industrial web theory, which called for precision attacks against carefully selected critical industrial targets. Shortly before the U.S. entered World War II, Walker was one of four officers in the Air War Plans Division, which was tasked with developing a production requirements plan for the war in the air. Together, they created the AWPD-1 plan, a blueprint for the imminent air war against Germany that called for the creation of an enormous air force to win the war through strategic bombardment.

One of Walker's tasks was to rewrite the bombardment text. In an article entitled "Driving Home the Bombardment Attack," which was published in the Coast Artillery Journal in October 1930, Walker argued that fighters could not prevent a bombing attack and that "the most efficacious method of stopping a bombardment attack would appear to be an offensive against the bombardment airdrome." The Air Corps Tactical School developed a doctrine that became known as industrial web theory, which called for precision attacks against carefully selected critical industrial targets. In November 1934, Walker and five other Air Corps Tactical School instructors were invited to testify on the military aspects of aviation before the Howell Commission on Federal Aviation. Walker and his colleagues presented arguments to support a separate air organization, not subordinate to other military branches. At the time he was a student at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, KS, from which he graduated in June 1935.

Walker published another professional article, entitled "Bombardment Aviation: Bulwark of National Defense." "Whenever we speak in terms of 'air force' we are thinking of bombardment aviation," he wrote, dismissing other forms of aviation. This was orthodox at the Air Corps Tactical School, which taught that "every dollar which goes into the building of auxiliary aviation and special types, which types are not essential for the efficient functioning of the striking force can only occur at the expense of that air force's offensive power." Walker's major thesis was that "a determined air attack, once launched, is most difficult, if not impossible to stop when directed against land objectives." At the conclusion of his article, he called for the creation of an air force "as a force with a distinct mission, of importance co-equal to that of the Army and the Navy."

Walker was promoted to Captain on 1 August 1935 and was temporary Major from 20 October 1935 to 16 June 1936. He became temporary Major again on 4 October 1938, the rank becoming permanent on 1 July 1940. After graduating from the Command and General Staff School he went to Hamilton Field, where he served as Intelligence and Operations Officer at the 7th Bomb Group and commander of the 9th Bombardment Squadron. In 1938 Walker commenced a three-year posting to Hawaii, where he became operations officer for the 5th Bomb Group at Luke Field, executive officer at Hickam Field, and finally Commander of the 18th Pursuit Group at Wheeler Field. Commanding a pursuit group involved a considerable change of pace for a man whose career thus far had been spent in bombers. His adjutant, First Lieutenant Bruce K. Holloway felt that Walker never demonstrated the "emotional exhilaration toward flying a high performance machine that is so typical of fighter pilots." Nor did he warm to the Curtiss P-36 Hawk fighter, especially after a near-fatal accident.

World War II

Air War Plans Division

In January 1941, Walker returned to the U.S. for duty as Assistant Chief of the Air War Plans Division at the Office of the Chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps in Washington, DC. At this time, Brigadier General Carl Andrew Spaatz was head of Plans and two of his assistants were now-Lieutenant Colonels Olds and Muir S. Fairchild, colleagues of Walker's from the Air Corps Tactical School. Walker was promoted to temporary Lieutenant Colonel on 15 July 1941. In the June 1941 reorganization, Spaatz became Chief of Staff to the Commanding General, U.S. Army Air Forces, Major General Henry H. Arnold. Arnold appointed Colonel Harold L. George to head the Air War Plans Division. Walker joined George's planning team as the fourth member, along with Majors Haywood S. Hansell and Laurence S. Kuter. All were former instructors at the Air Corps Tactical School and members of the so-called "Bomber Mafia."

The Air War Plans Division was tasked with developing a production requirements plan for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who wanted an answer by 10 September 1941. Together they created AWPD-1 plan, a blueprint for the imminent air war against Germany, in just nine days in August 1941. The plan was based upon the number of bombers that were estimated to be required to knock out Germany's key industries, which were identified as electric power, transportation, and petroleum. Opposition from the German Air Force was expected; this was be neutralized by bombing the aircraft factories and sources of the light metals that they depended on. The targets were collated, together with the estimated tonnage of bombs required to destroy them.

The plan called for a bomber force of 98 medium, heavy and very heavy bomber groups, totaling 6,834 aircraft. Sixteen fighter groups would defend the bombers' bases. Should this bomber force prove insufficient to defeat Germany without a major land offensive, provision was made for a tactical air force of 13 light bomber groups, two photo reconnaissance groups, five fighter groups, 108 observation squadrons and 19 transport groups. In retrospect, this part of the plan represented a considerable underestimate. The plan required 2,164,916 personnel, including 103,482 pilots. For the moment though, the U.S. had, as General Arnold put it, "plans but not planes." Due to poor security, verbatim extracts of AWPD-1 were published in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers on 4 December.

The war in Europe had cast grave doubt on the Air Corps' doctrine that fighters could not shoot down bombers and the bomber will always get through. In the Battle of Britain the British Royal Air Force had demonstrated that it could shoot down bombers, while its own bomber force had suffered such heavy losses over Germany that it had abandoned daylight bombing in favor of night raids. Nonetheless, the planners held firm in their belief that, since American bombers were better armed and armored than their British or German counterparts, the bombers would get through, even in daylight, and that enemy fighter strength could be destroyed on the ground by bombing airbases and factories. "Each of us," Kuter wrote years later, "scoffed at the idea that fighters would be needed to protect bombers, to enable bombers to reach their objective. In preparing AWPD-l, we stayed in that rut." In April 1942, Walker, who was promoted to Colonel on 1 February 1942, was assigned to Operations Division of the War Department General Staff.

Papuan Campaign

Walker was promoted to brigadier general on 17 June 1942 and transferred to the Southwest Pacific Area. He flew to Australia in the company of Brigadier General Ennis Whitehead. The Commander of Allied Air Forces there, Lieutenant General George Brett, aware that he would soon be replaced, sent the two newcomers on an inspection trip. Walker learned a great deal. He joined three combat missions over New Guinea, experiencing for himself the difficulties that his aircrews faced. He also experienced an air raid in Port Moresby. For this, Walker was awarded the Silver Star.

After Major General George Kenney arrived in the theater, Walker was appointed Commanding General, V Bomber Command, Fifth Air Force on 3 September 1942, with his headquarters in Townsville. At this time, Port Moresby was subject to frequent Japanese air raids, so the bombers were generally based in the Townsville area and staged through Port Moresby in order to minimize their chance of loss or damage on the ground. In mid-September 1942, at the height of the Kokoda Track campaign, Kenney sent Walker to Port Moresby for a few weeks to direct the advanced echelon, in order to give Whitehead a rest and Walker more experience. Walker attempted to lift morale by improving the men's living conditions. He made a point of small gestures of fellowship, such as standing in line with the men at meal times. But what endeared him most to his men was his willingness to share the dangers as well as their hardships, by flying a mission a week on average. In October, MacArthur gave Kenney a dressing down for flying over the Owen Stanley Range. In turn, Kenney ordered Walker, Donald Wilson and Whitehead not to fly any more missions. For a variety of reasons, all four of them eventually defied their orders.

The Southwest Pacific was not a promising theater of war for the strategic bomber. The bombers of the day did not have the range to reach Japan from Australia, and there were no typical strategic targets in the theater other than a few oil refineries. Thus, "The air mission was to interdict Japan's sea supply lanes and enable the ground forces to conduct an island-hopping strategy." This set up a doctrinal clash between Kenney, an attack aviator, and Walker, the bomber advocate. The long-standing Air Corps tactic for attacking shipping called for large formations of high-altitude bombers. With sufficient mass, so the theory went, bombers could bracket any ship with walls of bombs, and do so from above the effective range of the ship's anti-aircraft fire. However the theoretical mass required was two orders of magnitude greater than what was available in the Southwest Pacific. A dozen or so bombers was the most that could be put together, due to the small numbers of aircraft in the theater and the difficulties of keeping them serviceable. The results were therefore generally ineffective, and operations incurred heavy casualties.

Walker objected to Kenney's suggestion that the bombers conduct attacks from low level with bombs armed with instantaneous fuses. Kenney ordered Walker to try the instantaneous fuses for a couple of months, so that data could be gained about their effectiveness. However, a few weeks later Kenney discovered that Walker had discontinued the use of the instantaneous fuses. In November, Kenney arranged for a demonstration attack on the SS Pruth, a ship that had sunk off Port Moresby in 1924 which was often used for target practice. After the attack Walker and Kenney took a boat out to the wreck to inspect the damage. As expected, none of the four bombs dropped had hit the stationary wreck; but the instantaneous fuses had detonated the bombs when they struck the water, and bomb fragments had torn holes in the sides of the ship. Walker reluctantly conceded the point. "Ken was okay," Kenney later recalled. "He was stubborn, over-sensitive, and a prima donna, but he worked like a dog all the time. His gang liked him a lot but he tended to get a staff of 'yes-men'. He did not like to delegate authority. I was afraid that Ken was not durable enough to last very long under the high tension of this show."

In December, Kenney learned that Whitehead had been on board a B-25 in which a Japanese anti-aircraft gun had blown a hole in the wing "big enough for him to jump through without touching the sides," and that Walker had flown on a B-17 that had clipped a tree and lost part of a wing. Kenney then repeated his earlier order, explaining the reasons behind it:

"I told him that from then on I wanted him to run his command from his headquarters. In the airplane he was just extra baggage. He was probably not as good in any job on the plane as the man already assigned to it. In fact, in case of trouble, he was in the way. On the other hand, he was the best bombardment commander I had and I wanted to keep him so that the planning and direction would be good and his outfit would take minimum losses in the performance of their missions. One of the big reasons for keeping him home was that I would hate to have him taken prisoner by the Japs. They would have known that a general was bound to have access to a lot of information and there was no limit to the lengths they would go to extract that knowledge from him. We had plenty of evidence that the Nips had tortured their prisoners until they either died or talked. After the prisoners talked they were beheaded, anyhow, but most of them had broken under the strain. I told Walker that frankly I didn't believe he could take it without telling everything he knew, so I was not going to let him go on any more combat missions."

On 9 January 1943, MacArthur issued a communiqué praising the forces under his command for the victory that had been achieved at Buna and announcing the award of the Distinguished Service Cross to twelve officers, including Walker.

Battle of Wau

On 3 January 1943, Kenney received intelligence from Allied Ultra codebreakers that the Japanese were about to attempt a reinforcement run from their main base at Rabaul to Lae, on the mainland of New Guinea, so he ordered Walker to carry out a full-scale dawn attack on the harbor's shipping before it could depart. Walker demurred. His bombers would have difficulty making their rendezvous if they had to leave Port Moresby in the dark. He recommended a noon attack instead. Kenney acknowledged Walker's concerns but was insistent; he preferred bombers out of formation to bombers shot down by the enemy fighters that were certain to intercept a daylight attack. In spite of this, Walker ordered the attack to be made at noon on 5 January.

Bad weather over northern Australia prevented participation by the bombers there. This left Walker with only those based at Port Moresby; six B-17s and six B-24s. This force was far too small for the tactics that he wanted to use. He flew in the lead plane, B-17 #41-24458 nicknamed "San Antonio Rose I" from the 64th Bombardment Squadron, 43rd Bombardment Group, which was piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Jack W. Bleasdale, the group's executive officer. Other officers on board included Major Allen Lindberg, the 64th Bombardment Squadron's commander; Captain Benton H. Daniel, the co-pilot; 1st Lieutenant John W. Hanson, the navigator; and 2nd Lieutenant Robert L. Hand, the bombardier. Major David Hassemer, the briefing officer for the mission, objected to Walker being in the same plane as the deputy group commander and a squadron commanding officer, but was overruled.

They encountered heavy flak and continuous fighter attacks. Owing to the delay, the ten-ship convoy that they were sent to attack had departed two hours before, but there were still plenty of targets. Forty 500-pound and twenty-four 1,000-pound bombs were dropped from 8,500 feet. The mission claimed hits on nine ships, totaling 50,000 tons. After the war, JANAC confirmed the sinking of only one Japanese merchant ship, the 5,833-ton Keifuku Maru. Two other ships were damaged, as was the destroyer Tachikaze. Two B-17s were shot down, including Walker's.

Fred Wesche flew the 5 January mission over Rabaul. He later recalled:

"On January 5th of 1943, I was on one of what most of us thought was a suicide mission. ... The Japanese were getting ready to mount a large expeditionary force to relieve their garrisons on New Guinea, and Brigadier General Walker, who was the commanding general of the V Bomber Command there, was flying in the lead ship, and I was flying on his wing. When it was announced that it was going to be done in broad daylight at noontime, as a matter-of-fact, at low altitude, something like 5000 feet over the most heavily defended target in the Pacific almost ... most of us went away shaking our heads. Many of us believed we wouldn't come back from it. Anyway, we went over the target and all of us got attacked. I was shot up. Nobody was injured, fortunately, but the airplane was kind of banged up a little bit. We had to break formation over the target to bomb individually and then we were supposed to form up immediately after crossing the target., but no sooner had we dropped our bombs that my tail gunner says, "Hey, there's somebody in trouble behind us" So we made a turn and looked back and here was an airplane, one of our airplanes, going down, smoking and on fire, not necessarily fire, but smoke anyway, and headed down obviously for a cloud bank with a whole cloud of fighters on top of him. There must have been 15 or 20 fighters. Of course they gang up on a cripple, you know, polish that one off with no trouble, but he disappeared into a cloud bank and we never saw him again. It turns out it was the general. ... He actually had a pilot, but he was the overall air commander for the operation. He was conducting it from the astrodome, just behind the pilot's seat, where he could look out with a microphone and directing what should be done and so on. ... The results of the raid, I'm not sure what it was, whether it was successful or not, but it certainly was a most hair-raising experience you want to go through. I mean, suddenly, you look ahead of you and see about fifteen or twenty airplanes all shooting at you at the same time, you see... he won the Congressional Medal for that. The rest of us got the Air Medal, and, of course, he did all the planning and whatnot, too, even though many of us thought it was foolhardy, to tell you the truth."

Kenney was furious when he discovered that Walker had not only changed the takeoff time without notice, but had also defied his orders by accompanying the mission. He told General Douglas MacArthur that when Walker showed up he was going to give him a reprimand and send him back to Australia on leave for two weeks. "Alright George," MacArthur replied, "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." All available aircraft were sent to search for Walker, preventing attacks on the Japanese convoy as it headed for Lae. They managed to locate and rescue the crew of the other B-17 that had been shot down in the raid, but not Walker's.

MacArthur's recommendation therefore went ahead. The Adjutant General, Major General James A. Ulio, queried whether it was "considered above and beyond the call of duty for the commanding officer of a bomber command to accompany it on bombing missions against enemy held territory." Major General George Stratemeyer, the chief of the air staff, replied that it was. In March 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented Kenneth Walker Jr. with the Medal in a ceremony at the White House. It was one of 38 Medals of Honor awarded to flying personnel of the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II.

Medal of Honor

Citation: 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 for 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 the 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.


In January 1948, Roswell Army Air Field in Roswell, NM, was re-named Walker Air Force Base.

Walker Hall, and its Walker Air Power Room, at Maxwell Air Force Base, home of the Air Force Doctrine Development and Education Center, is also named after him.

The Walker Papers is an Air Force Fellows program that annually honors the top three research papers produced by Air Force Fellows with the Walker Series award. The Walker Series recognizes the contributions each Fellow has made to research supporting air and space power and its use in the implementation of U.S. strategic policy.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star Medal
Legion of Merit
Purple Heart
World War I Victory Medal
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal

Death and Memorial

Brigadier General Kenneth Newton Walker went missing on 5 January 1943. Neither his body nor the wreck of the aircraft itself was found. As of May 2011, it remains missing. Walker was therefore listed on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila, Manila City, Philippines, where servicemen missing in action or buried at sea in the Southwest Pacific are commemorated.

On 7 December 2001, a headstone marker was erected in Section MC-36M of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, VA, to give family members a place to gather in the United States.

Honoree ID: 1695   Created by: MHOH




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