Tuesday, December 29, 2009
LIEUT. JOHN ARTHUR WALKER, MAHANOY CITY HERO
1ST INFANTRY DIVISION PATCH
I Recieved this great story from Mr. George Knight. A fabulous story of another Schuylkill County World War 2 hero.
Just found your blog. Thoroughly enjoyed reading the entries. As you mentioned that you would like stories, thought I might share another one from Schuylkill County. My wife's father John Arthur Walker was born in Mahanoy City in 1913. His father William L. Walker was coal miner and a Spanish American War vet; his grandfather, Daniel Walker was a Civil War vet and a miner who story has in had a run-in with the Molly Maguires, although we have been unable to find much historical detail. William and Daniel are buried in the German Protestant cemetery above Mahanoy City. John Walker's aunt, Edith DeFrehn was a long-time resident of Mahanoy City, who operated a Flower Shop on East Center Street.
Back to John A. Walker. He enlisted in Philadelphia in January of 1942. Sailed with his division (Big Red One) to England aboard the Queen Mary in July of that year and prepared for the amphibious assault in Oran (Operation Torch). After winning the Bronze Star in November during the North Africa invasion, he was given a battlefield commission and became the S2 (intelligence officer) for the 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. Lots of action throughout North Africa, including Kasserine Pass and the battle of El Guetar (made famous in the movie, "Patton"). The 16th regiment became very famous during the war, Eisenhower calling this unit his "Praetorian Guard" who goes along with him and gives him luck.
His unit invaded Sicily and while there John Walker was the subject of a piece by famous war correspondent Don Whitehead. It appeared in papers across the U.S. and on the front page of the Court and County news of the Pottsville Republican, July 22, 1943. After Sicily his unit went back to England, and he spent most of his time in a large manor house in Beaminster planning his unit's D-Day assault.
The 1st Infantry Division was the only combat-experienced unit to land on D-Day. John Walker and his 3rd Battalion (companies I and L) were part of the first wave to land on the eastern end (Fox Green) of Omaha Beach. Many casualties, as you know. By the way, most of the surviving pictures shot of action on D-Day were of the 3rd Battalion, as Capra, the famous Life photographer landed with the 3rd Battalion on Omaha. John won the Silver Star for heroism that day. One of his friends, a Lt. in the 3rd Battalion, won the medal of honor that day and is buried in the American cemetery - Jimmie Montieth.
The rest of the war was spent moving through France, Belgium, Germany and Czechoslovakia where his battalion was a part of the St Lo "Breakout," and the Battle of the Bulge. The 3rd Battalion liberated a Nazi labor camp at Falkenau. If you want to see an interesting movie clip, go to You tube and search for "Samuel Fuller - Falkenau the Impossible." There you will find four, 10-minute narratives by Samuel Fuller describing the horrible scenes at Falkenau that he shot with his 8 mm camera. Fuller was a rifleman in the 3rd Battalion Fuller and later became famous as a movie director. He made the film, "The Big Red One" starring Lee Marvin. My father in law is seen briefly in one of the four segments Fuller shot at Falkenau. It is a fascinating story.
TAG PHOTO TO ENLARGE
As the intelligence officer, John Walker had access to many data sources, and he was an excellent writer. We are fortunate to have a number of his essays including a letter he wrote to "Jim" - a friend of his in Mahanoy City - although we don't know who that "Jim" is. In the letter he described the preparations right up to the landing on D-Day.
John was one of the lucky ones to survive the entire war with only small wounds from shrapnel on three occasions. He returned to Mahanoy City in September of 1945 then enrolled at the U of Penn, eventually receiving his degree in Medicine and becoming an oral surgeon. He died of Luekemia in Florida in 1966.
Keep up the nice work!
I have attached a picture relating to the John Walker story. He is the man in the middle. He is flanked on his right by Major Eston White, Lancaster, PA. Eston graduated from Gettysburg College and he was assigned to the 16th Regimental Staff. The gentleman on John's left is Lt. Col Charles Horner, CO of the 3rd Battalion. All three of these men landed on Omaha Beach the morning of June 6th, 1944.
Also, I am attaching the text of a hand-written note that we found among John Walker's books, pictures and medals after he died. It was written after D-Day while in France, sometime in the summer or fall of 1944.
By John Walker
The agony in the cry of the wounded and the fear in their face as they watched the tide come in on their all too narrow beach and their muttered prayer that someone would come and take them away before the tide carried them out to sea and certain death by drowning.
The questioning look on the pale faces of the dying as they wondered about death drawing near—whether it was necessary that they die and if it would help stop all the hell and hate that was still raging around them and the choked back sob in their throat as they looked about them—saw the bright sunshine and the ocean that separated them from their homes and loved ones and safety and realized it was not for them—that soon they would cease to be a part of the struggling group still fighting to establish a blood drenched beachhead and the dead with all the hopelessness of the world expressed in their half closed stiffening outstretched hands that seemed to be reaching for a grip on this enemy held strip of land mirrored in their staring unseeing eyes.
The broken shattered hulks of burned out assault boats with their unfeeling burned human cargo, the bits of machines blown apart, the burning of vehicles, the exploding of the burning ammunition, the whine of still more incoming shells with their nerve shattering crash and the zing of the rifle and machine gun bullet, the shouted orders, the whispered oaths, the drifting smoke and the almost overpowering stench of war odors all mingled together to make the Normandy Beachhead.
It is impossible to describe all the individual acts of heroism on this hero filled beach. Every man still able to move about was doing his job and as much of anyone else’s job as he could with complete disregard of his own safety, moving about as though he thought he lived a charmed life and that all the enemy fire coming his way was intended for someone else and when finally he too was added to the list of casualties someone else would figuratively roll up his sleeves and try to work and fight a little harder.
Finally when night came and everyone felt that at last there was to be a let up and tired bodies and minds could relax and organize for a continuance of the hell of war that was certain to come with the next day. They had this dream of momentary peace shattered by attacking planes, the sharp staccato crack of anti-aircraft fire and finally the whistle of falling bombs followed by the ear-splitting, shattering explosions that seemed to shake all of the beach as though it was suffering from some great internal upheaval and it all lighted by the fire of a burning ship that told its own story of pain and death.
At home people made great sacrifices too—Some of the bars, saloons, and taverns closed for the day.
Maybe the reason for the last sentence had something to do with John's life in Mahanoy City. His father, William, was a foreman in one of the mines or coleries. In 1918, John's two older sisters, Muriel (8) and Dorothy (12) both died during the Spanish Flu Pandemic. William never recovered from their death. He stopped working and started drinking, and the support for the family shifted to John's mother, Lizzie, his older brother William, Jr., and his older brother, George (later to serve as Sec of Labor for the State of Pennsylvania).
This pattern continued for the rest of Willam Sr's life. According to John's wife, Betty Walker, John said on more than one occasion, someone would come to the Walker house at night saying that William Sr. was in one of the many bars in Mahanoy City and needed help to get home. So John and his brothers, including younger brother Bob, would "go to town, finish his fights, pay his bill and bring William home."
All the best,