Kenneth N. Walker - A Brief History
Click For EnlargementHad he been a successful entrepreneur, Kenneth Newton Walker would have been called a “self-made” man. And in a way, he was. He helped to build a young, fragile institution into a world-class organization which, for the first time, harnessed a new technology that, like the technology of today, continued to evolve in both content and potential even as it was being applied.

Early Life
He was raised by his mother, Emma Overturf Walker. Married in Denver, Emma and Wallace Walker moved to Cerrillos, New Mexico where Kenneth was born. They separated soon after, and Emma and her son returned to Denver where they would remain until Kenneth entered the Air Service.

Even as a young man, Ken Walker was focused, and whatever his diversions, they did not get in the way of his objectives. After completing his secondary education and college-level courses in business administration, he entered a management training program with the Gardner-Denver Company. At the onset of the First World War, Walker abandoned his business career and enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps on December 15, 1917.

While stationed at Post Field, OK, he met and married Marguerite Potter, a recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma, in September 1922. They had two sons, Kenneth N. Walker, Jr. in 1927 and Douglas Potter Walker, born in 1933. The Walkers divorced in 1934. A second marriage lasted only a few years and produced a son, John Walker.

Peacetime Career in U. S. Army Air Corps
Walker’s career can be divided into three periods. The first period covers his enlistment through the late 1920s, where he completed his flying courses, commanded bombardment squadrons and served in a variety of posts in the Far East and U.S.

The second period takes him from the late 1920s through the mid-1930s. His assignment in December 1928 to the Air Force Tactical School (ACTS), first as a student and then an instructor, would bring him into one of the Air Corps’ centers of creative thinking. He became an instructor at ACTS in 1929, and joined a group of hard-driving, innovative thinkers who successfully argued that airpower would become an offensive force, able to obtain national policy objectives through strategic bombardment. For his single-minded devotion to its primacy, Walker was referred to as the “high priest” of strategic bombing.

The Air Force Tactical School 1929-1934
“Some sixty years ago, the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) moved to Maxwell from Langley [Field, Virginia]. Here, men like Hal George, Ken Walker, and Muir Fairchild laid the theoretical and doctrinal foundations for an independent Air Force.”* ….“One of the major players in the formulation of doctrine at the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) between the wars was Kenneth Walker, who served as a bombardment instructor during the crucial years from 1929 to 1934. Walker was the epitome of the strategic thinkers at the school, and it was his famous statement in lecture that set the tone for these beliefs: "The well-organized, well-planned, and well-flown air force attack will constitute an offensive that cannot be stopped."

Click For EnlargementLangley Field, Virginia - October, 1925
Commanding Officer of the 11th Bombardment Squadron at Langley Field, 1st Lt. Ken Walker (front row, third from left), poses with squadron officers, including his close friend, Lt. William K. Andrews (front row, far left) , who flew with the Lafayette Escadrille in WWI.

The third, and final phase, takes Walker from the late-1930s through the first week of 1942. He entered the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in 1933. After graduation he became Commanding Officer of the 9th Bombardment Squadron at Hamilton Field, California and later assumed command of the 18th Pursuit Group in Hawaii. Then Lt. Col. Walker returned to Washington in January 1941 to serve on the staff of the Chief of Air Corps as Assistant Chief, Plans Division. During August of that year, with only three other officers - former colleagues from ACTS - Walker would help author the now-famous Air War Plan (AWPD-1) which described requirements for wartime victory in the air.

The Air War Plan (AWPD-1) - August, 1941
“...on 9 July 1941...President Roosevelt sent a letter to the Secretaries of War and Navy stating that he wanted planning for a possible war...To write the Air Annex, (Gen. ‘Hap’) Arnold immediately formed his own plans division made up of former Tactical School faculty. The division was headed by Lt. Col. Harold Lee George and was rounded out by just three other officers, Lt. Col. Kenneth Walker, Major Haywood Hansell and Major Laurence Kuter. What was to emerge, in just nine days, was surely one of the most improbable master plans every carried out. It was AWPD-1….a document that should have been written by dozens of experts over a period of months, but even if it had been, it’s hard to imagine that it would have been much better than what four young men produced in nine days under miserable conditions.”

5th Bomber Command in New Guinea, World War II
The following year, now a Brigadier General, Kenneth Walker reached Australia in July 1942. His first assignment was to command the Allied Air Forces in North-Eastern Australia in addition to the fledgling Fifth Bomber Command, formed in September 1942.

Click For EnlargementThough it represents barely one per-cent of his total career, those last months in 1942 were to make Kenneth Walker both a hero and casualty of WWII. He had built his career and reputation on a strategic bombing theory based on an industrialized enemy. The Southwest Pacific had no industrial centers, the targets were harbors, ships and a vast jungle, yet Walker’s work on the Air War Plan included elements that would have direct relevance to this new command. He had been assigned prime responsibility for preparing the sections covering four key topics: bombing operations against Germany, escort fighters for the bombers, bombardment in the strategic defense of Asia and aircraft control of the seas.

Prior to the development of the Air War Plan, Walker seemed to have anticipated the nature of the air war that would soon consume the Pacific Theatre. In 1938 Walker left for the states for Hawaii, where he was assigned to both bombardment and pursuit groups, including command of the 18th Pursuit Group. While with the 5th Bombardment Group, he developed a training directive with a prophetic objective: “the development and crystallization of the tactics and techniques necessary to insure the effective reconnaissance of sea areas, interception and destruction of a hostile fleet or elements there of.”

His frequent presence on combat missions against Japanese targets was the source of conflict with his old friend and commanding officer, George Kenney. Walker’s decision to accompany his units on combat missions had two clear objectives. One was rooted in the belief that a commander must be willing to share in the risks he asks of the men in his command. The other objective was to personally understand the impact of the bombing tactics in use, and the need to build on that understanding to improve and refine those tactics as a matter of great urgency.

Click For EnlargementMIA on Mission to Rabaul
It was in that spirit that he was lost on January 5, 1943, during a daylight raid on Japanese shipping at Rabaul, New Britain. On March 11, 1943, Gen. Walker was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. To this day, the B-17F "San Antonio Rose" he was flying in has never been found, or the remains of its crew.


Click For EnlargementWalker Hall Maxwell AFB, Alabama
College for Aerospace Doctrine, Research and Education The Air Univeristy

Walker Air Force Base Rosewell, New Mexico
Strategic Air Command, Launch site for Atlas F Missiles
Home of the 509th Bomb Wing and the 33rd Fighter Group
Commissioned 1948 - Decommissioned in 1967

Arlington National Cemetery
Brigadier General Walker Memorial Marker, (Section MC-36M)

Tablet of the Missing
Manila American Cemetery, Philippines

Return to MIA Kenneth Walker Main Page

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