Lt. Col. John Thornton Walker
Personal pilot for Gen. Mark Clark
While searching for Liaison Pilot information online recently, and L-5 pilots in specific, I came across information about Lt. Col. Walker, who served in the Italian Theater with General Mark Clark. Lt. Col. Walker served served with high-ranking officials from the US and Allied forces in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations for three years. The next paragraph is a brief synopsis of Walker’s story – as provided by a member of the family. It has been slightly edited (with permission).
John Thornton Walker was born on 24 Aug., 1912 near Rochester , Illinois and lived there until he was 8 years old. In 1920 his family moved to Springfield , IL. He graduated from Springfield High School in 1931 and became a Cub reporter with the Illinois State Journal based in Springfield. In the early 1930’s he took flight lessons and eventually owned his own Piper Cub. He became the aviation editor for the newspaper and he was also the publicity director for the Illinois State Dept. of Agriculture. Most folks in Springfield called him Thornton or just “T” and General Clark (during WW2) called him Jack. John married Geraldine Hudson of Washington, Indiana on March 29th, 1934. His wife Geraldine was also a pilot and flew locally with John in the Springfield area. Mr. Walker joined the Illinois Army National Guard (Mechanized Cavalry Squadron) and went through all of the Enlisted Ranks (E-1 thru E-7) before he became a 2nd Lt.. His unit was called to active duty in 1940 and they served at Camp Livingston , La. through 1940 and 1941. He then was transferred to the Air Corps and trained at Fort Sill, Ok. for 8 weeks and then after a short tour at Alexandria AB, La. (where his daughter Connie Ann was born in March, 1942) was shipped to England and then to North Africa. There, in late 1942, he became General Mark Clark’s personal pilot. He flew combat operations with General Clark in North Africa, Sicily and Italy flying mostly L-4 and L-5 aircraft. Besides General Clark, Col. Walker flew many dignitaries over the Anzio, Salerno, Monte Cassino, Rome and other battle fronts including Sec. of War Stimson, General George C. Marshall, General Hap Arnold, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sec. of Navy
Forrestal and General Jacob Devers. He won many Decorations including the Silver Star, Legion of Merit and Air Medal’s. He is mentioned is several books about WW2 including General Clark’s “Calculated Risk” (Gen. Clark tells of several of their escapades & crashes) and Margaret-Bourke-White’s “Purple Heart Valley.” In at tragic accident, Lt. Col. Walker was killed on 19 Feb. 1945 while beginning a short leave to fly home to visit his wife and daughter. The English transport aircraft in which he was a passenger crashed on takeoff from the Rome airfield. There were no survivors. Speculation at the time was that the aircraft was overweight and out of balance. Lt. Col. Walker was buried in Italy in a ceremony presided over by General Clark. His remains were later brought home and are buried in Geraldine’s hometown of Washington, Indiana . On 29 May, 1951 in a ceremony presided over by General Mark Clark, “Walker Air Strip” at Fort Monroe, Virginia was dedicated to the memory of Lt. Col. John Thornton Walker. Geraldine and Connie Ann were in attendance.
While Lt. Col. Walker’s story may not have been typical of the experience of most Lbird pilots, it highlights the usefulness of these aircraft. They were beneficial from the lowliest private needed medical assistance to highest level commanders. He transported Gen. Clark numerous times and places during the US Army’s march through Italy and survived several crash landings – including once, when he was flying an L-4 and was chased home by German Bf-109 fighters. He ended up “landing” in a tree – but was able to climb down and walk away.
Lbirds.com is pleased to honor the memory and service of Lt. Col. Walker by offering a version of our L-5 model that you can build and display in the markings of one of his aircraft – “Rome Express” in our store (Pending re-upload). This was one of several aircraft he used during the war carrying Gen. Clark and others, and the aircraft carried the inscription Maj. J. T. Walker on the aircraft side.
Back in 2007 I made contact with Major Walker’s nephew Richard. His mother was Walker’s sister. He graciously shared almost everything that Walker had sent home to his family while flying overseas for the 5th Army, plus what the Army returned posthumously. This collection includes a photo of General Mark Clark placing a wreath on his grave. Major John Walker went by the nickname “Jack”, by the way, which is how Clark usually referred him.
There are a lot of photographs in the Walker collection that have been beneficial to my research. Many are photos that are quite common in the public domain on websites such as Fold3, including those displayed here, but some photos given me by Jack Walker’s nephew are one-of-a-kind snapshots that have only been seen by a few people. It is a great privilege to say that I will be allowed to publish them in my book, whenever I manage to get it finished.
By the way, the 5th Army could not get any L-5’s until late May 1944, after the landings at Anzio, and only then by a combination of luck and chicanery. Back in Tunisia in 1943, due to searing heat and high terrain of the Atlas Mountains that often grounded their L-4’s, General Clark requested a few of the better performing L-5’s via Eisenhower. The War Department in Washington flatly refused (I have a copy of that telegram), so Maj. Walker flew L-4’s all through the North African, Sicilian, and early Italian campaigns instead. Like most other Generals, Clark far preferred flying in an L-5.