The son of a Medal of Honor re­cip­i­ent listed as miss­ing in World War II is push­ing for a re­newed search ef­fort.

Search of is­land in 2012 failed to un­cover plane

Las Vegas Review-Journal (Sunday) - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris Carola

AL­BANY, N.Y. — Nearly 75 years af­ter Brig. Gen. Ken­neth Walker dis­ap­peared dur­ing a bomb­ing mis­sion over a re­mote Pa­cific is­land, his son is push­ing for re­newed in­ter­est in find­ing the crash site of the high­est-rank­ing re­cip­i­ent of the Medal of Honor still listed as miss­ing from World War II.

Walker was awarded the mil­i­tary’s high­est dec­o­ra­tion posthu­mously for re­peat­edly ac­com­pa­ny­ing his units on dan­ger­ous bomb­ing mis­sions, in­clud­ing his last, when he went down with 10 other men in an Army Air Forces B-17 over the is­land of New Bri­tain in Jan­uary 1943. Two sur­vived by bail­ing out and later died in cap­tiv­ity. Walker and the eight oth­ers re­main listed as miss­ing in ac­tion.

Walker’s son, Dou­glas Walker, a re­tired New York ad man-turned-po­lit­i­cal con­sul­tant, met with Pen­tagon of­fi­cials ear­lier this year to pro­vide in­for­ma­tion from a team of in­de­pen­dent ex­perts that he hopes will prompt U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials to au­tho­rize a new search for the downed bomber.

“The cause is to bring back everybody,” Walker, of New Canaan, Connecticut, told The As­so­ci­ated Press on Thurs­day. “While my fa­ther’s ca­reer helps heighten the pro­file of this case, he’s no more im­por­tant than any­body else on that plane.”

Fri­day, at Yale Univer­sity in New Haven, Sen. Richard Blu­men­thal, D-Conn., pre­sented the younger Walker with a copy of a res­o­lu­tion he plans to in­tro­duce in Congress hon­or­ing the air­men’s sac­ri­fice.

“We must honor their mem­ory through con­tin­u­ing this search to ful­fill our na­tion’s prom­ise to fi­nally bring these heroes home,” Blu­men­thal said in a state­ment.

In the sum­mer of 1941, while war raged in Europe but be­fore the U.S. en­tered the con­flict, Ken­neth Walker was one of four Army Air Forces of­fi­cers tasked with for­mu­lat­ing a plan to at­tack Ja­pan and Ger­many from the air. The plan they wrote in nine days, known as the Air War Plan, was considered a key com­po­nent in the even­tual Al­lied vic­tory.

Sent to the Pa­cific to lead a bomber com­mand af­ter the Ja­panese at­tack on Pearl Har­bor, the 44-year-old Walker was known for go­ing along dur­ing bomb­ing mis­sions, some­thing few gen­er­als did. It earned him the re­spect of the bomber crews but proved to be his down­fall.

Dur­ing a mis­sion over New Bri­tain on Jan. 5, 1943, he was fly­ing as an ob­server aboard a B-17 nick­named the San An­to­nio Rose when it was at­tacked by en­emy fighters.

Other bomber crews re­ported last see­ing the plane with one of its en­gines burn­ing and Ja­panese fighters in pur­suit. The B-17’s co-pi­lot and an­other of­fi­cer serv­ing as an ob­server parachuted from the plane and landed in the jun­gle. They were cap­tured, in­ter­ro­gated and later ex­e­cuted or died in a pris­oner of war camp.

War­time searches for the plane’s wreck­age turned up noth­ing. All 11 mem­bers of the crew of­fi­cially were de­clared dead in De­cem­ber 1945. None of their re­mains have been found.

Dou­glas Walker said he has been try­ing for more than 25 years to get the U.S. mil­i­tary to search for the crash site. In 2012, the Pen­tagon agency that ac­counts for the na­tion’s war dead killed on for­eign soil sent in­ves­ti­ga­tors into the east­ern sec­tion of New Bri­tain, a jun­gle-cov­ered, moun­tain­ous is­land that’s part of Pa­pua New Guinea.

But Walker says an in­de­pen­dent team of WWII ex­perts con­tends the crash site ac­tu­ally is in the rugged moun­tains miles from the area the U.S. team can­vassed.

Walker said he pre­sented that in­for­ma­tion last year to Pen­tagon of­fi­cials, who ex­pressed in­ter­est in the find­ings. But he said that by the time a fol­low-up meet­ing with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the De­fense POW/MIA Ac­count­ing Agency was held last sum­mer, that in­ter­est had waned.

DPAA didn’t re­spond Thurs­day to a re­quest for com­ment on the San An­to­nio Rose case. But in re­sponse to in­quiries made by the AP ear­lier this year, the agency said the in­de­pen­dent team’s the­ory on the crash site’s pos­si­ble lo­ca­tion “is plau­si­ble.”

“More in­ves­ti­ga­tion is re­quired in order to lo­cate” the plane, a DPAA of­fi­cial said in a June email.

Sara Win­ters’ Aunt Eloise was mar­ried to Lt. Col. Jack Bleas­dale, one of the two men who bailed out. Win­ters, of Del Rio, Texas, praised Dou­glas Walker’s ef­forts on be­half of the sur­viv­ing rel­a­tives of the miss­ing air­men.

“I just have such re­spect for him and the work he’s done,” she said.

Walker was 13 days shy of his 10th birth­day when his fa­ther’s plane dis­ap­peared. His brother, now 90, lives in Toronto. Dou­glas said if the Pen­tagon won’t ac­tively look for the San An­to­nio Rose, he might con­sider or­ga­niz­ing a pri­vate search ef­fort.

“I don’t want to give up,” he said. “I’m 84, and I think at some point we have to find some way to make it hap­pen.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press

In this un­dated photo pro­vided by the U.S. Air Force, Brig. Gen. Ken­neth N. Walker, gen­eral of a bomber com­mand in the Pa­cific, poses for a photo in front of his tent of­fice. He dis­ap­peared dur­ing a bomb­ing mis­sion over a Pa­cific is­land in 1943.

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