U.S. Army Air Corps, 19th Fighter Squadron – Master Sergeant
World War II (1940 – 1945)
Pearl Harbor Survivor
Carroll Walker, 91, of Greenbrae, California is the member of a very exclusive group: the survivors of Pearl Harbor. The numbers of this group are dwindling fast with less than 6,000 surviving members. Carroll Walker considers himself a member of the “greatest generation” and used the experiences learned during World War II to build a successful and lengthy career in the insurance industry.
Carroll Walker was born on August 29, 1920 in Herrin, Illinois. Walker was one of eleven siblings and was raised by a homemaker mother and engineer father employed by the Illinois Central Railroad. Walker spent his youth in Illinois and worked in a bakery upon graduation in 1940 from high school. Walker enlisted in the Army Air Corps in December 1940 and joined his brothers in service to their country. According to Walker, he “felt it was important to go”. With several brothers serving in the Philippines, the Walker family fully supported his decision to enlist. Walker was sent to Wheeler Field Air Force Base in Oahu for basic training. Walker felt the assignment was all right. Little did Walker know, this assignment would land him in the record books. By 1940, Wheeler Field had evolved into a primary base for Army Air Corps fighter planes such as the P-40 Warhawk and was responsible for the air defense of the Hawaiian Islands territory. Prior to 1940, Wheeler Field had been the site of numerous historic aviation events including: the 1st non-stop Mainland to Hawaii flight by Maitland and Hegenberger in 1927; the 1927 Great Dole Derby air race; the 1st trans-Pacific flight from the U.S. to Australia in 1928; and the 1st solo Hawaii to Mainland flight by Amelia Earhart in 1935.
While in basic training at Wheeler Field, Walker learned basic military procedures and exercises. He didn’t feel that he really did much although the training was taken seriously. Walker just “listened and got through it”. Walker also received special radar training. At the time, Walker had a 4th class specialist rating in radar. Upon completion of basic training, Walker was assigned to the 19th Fighter Squadron at Wheeler Field. Walker’s duties included overseeing and training 33 men. Walker and his men were responsible for servicing all airplanes, radar and radio equipment at Wheeler Field. Walker served at Wheeler field for 1 year prior to attack by the Japanese in 1941. Walker lived in the Scofield barracks, a 3 story building at Wheeler field. Walker felt the living conditions were all right. “We lived, we got along, it was okay”, said Walker. For entertainment, Walker enjoyed the library at Wheeler Field, played tennis and felt the food in the mess hall was okay.
On December 7, 1941, a date which President Franklin D. Roosevelt claimed “will live in infamy”; Carroll Walker was outside serving guard duty of the underground aviation gas depot. Although the base had been placed on alert for eight days, orders were issued on December 5th to remove all aircraft from the revetments and out of the air, and to be placed back in front of the hangars. According to Walker, this order came from General Short who was “concerned about sabotage from within, not an attack from without”. The planes were placed out in the open and the perfect target. Despite the earlier alerts, Walker and the rest of the personnel at Wheeler Field thought that the Japanese wouldn’t dare attack Hawaii and they expected an attack on the Philippines. About this time, Walker and his squadron were initially scheduled to go to Wake Island. Their P-40 was to be lifted on the carrier, USS Enterprise, at Pearl Harbor and lifted off at Wake Island. Due to an emergency, a Marine squadron was used instead. Luckily for Walker, he and his squadron were not aboard the Enterprise. Those unfortunate men headed for Wake Island were all killed or captured in the December attack.
At approximately 7:50 am on December 7, 1941, Walker saw a number of planes approaching Wheeler Field in loose formation. “This was not unusual, as Navy or Marine planes often made mock attacks on Sundays.” Walker was armed with a riot gun which wasn’t very effective against planes. Based on Walker’s account, 187 Japanese planes attacked with 43 directed at Wheeler Field, about seven minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbor. “I saw the bomb from the lead plane and I hit the deck”, claimed Walker. After the explosion, Walker took cover in a nearby banana grove and watched while most of the two hundred U.S. planes were destroyed on the ground. The two hour aerial raid by the Japanese destroyed or heavily damaged 21 ships and a total of 320 planes. After the first wave of the attack, Walker reported back to the Guard House where he helped load rifles. There was a line of at least 43 men loading ammunition into rifles to shoot at the planes. The rifles were little help against the Japanese planes. Walker manned a .50 caliber machine until 6 am the next morning in the pouring rain. He never gave up his efforts. From December 8 – 16, 1941, Walker coped with little sleep to help his fellow personnel at Wheeler Field. Wheeler Field was very chaotic at the time. Despite the perils experienced, Walker felt the morale was good. He was thankful not to have been injured. Walker’s close friend, however, was not so fortunate and perished in the attack. The casualties at Wheeler Field included 33 deaths and 75 wounded. Overall, 2,390 people were killed in the attack and 1,178 wounded. For the remainder of his service at Wheeler Field, Walker copied Japanese code and worked on radar. Walker received many advancements during this time along with several bronze stars for his bravery on December 7, 1941.
In 1944, Walker and his squadron were sent to the central and west Pacific. Walker served on eight islands and spent 47 months overseas. Walker and the 19th Fighter Squadron were later sent to Saipan to maintain control of Aslito Field. Earlier, in a very bloody battle, the Marines captured Saipan and took control of the airfield at Aslito. The airfield was important because the U.S. Army Air Corps needed a landing field closer to Japan in order to launch bombing raids with the new B-29 planes. Aslito Field in Saipan was close enough to threaten the Japanese and was the principal air base in the Marianas. While assigned in Saipan, Walker oversaw the command of 33 men. Their primary duties were to maintain the airfield, planes, radar equipment and all radios in the planes. At this time, Walker’s rank had elevated to Technical Sergeant. As a “tech sergeant”, Walker was considered a senior NCO, lead ground crewmen, held a 7-skill level and was qualified to perform complex technical duties, in addition to providing supervision. Walker was also responsible for the career development of all enlisted men under his supervision. While on Saipan, Walker lived in the open on the ground and later in a 5 man tent. Conditions were not great and his food consisted of sea rations. Walker also was shot by a stray bullet while serving on Saipan from friendly U.S. fire. This injury did not bother Walker. Walker went to the hospital for a week and then returned back to the airbase. Walker finished out World War II on Saipan and received several medals and citations for his service there. In 1945, Walker was sent stateside to finish his service in Van Nuys, California at the 4th Air Headquarters Airfield. In September 1945, Walker was discharged from the Army Air Corps. Walker felt very good at the time of his discharge. Walker stayed motivated during his service in order to “take care of himself and others around him”. His goal was always “to do what was necessary”. In fact, Walker’s most memorable moment of the military was “getting discharged and just living, I guess”.
After his discharge, Walker attended Southern Illinois University and transferred to UC Berkeley where he graduated with a degree in Business Administration in 1949. Shortly thereafter, Walker entered the insurance industry and later became a Certified Life Underwriter. In 1955, Walker reentered the military as a reservist in the Army Air Corps. Walker served from 1955-1965 and was based out of the Santa Rosa airfield and did some work at the Hamilton Air Force base in Novato. Walker’s primary duties remained the same as when he was on active duty. His rank, however, was elevated to Master Sergeant. As a Master Sergeant, Walker held a 7-skill level, his rank carried increased responsibility and required broad technical and managerial skills. Simultaneous with his reserve duty, Walker continued to advance in the insurance industry. Walker worked in excess of 60 years in the insurance industry, served as President of the National Charter Life Underwriters’ Society, was a member of the Million Dollar Round Table since 1958, a longtime chair of the Golden Key Society at the American College, served on The College’s President’s Circle National Committee and its 21st Century Endowment Campaign Committee, and the 2008 recipient of the Samuel H. Weese Award bestowed by The American College. According to The American College, the Weese award is a top honor given in recognition of exceptional leadership in service to The College’s advancement efforts. Upon receipt of the Weese award, Walker stated, “[e]ver since I started in the industry in 1948, I have believed that service is important”. “For over forty years, Carroll has demonstrated great leadership in advancing the role of education in the financial services industry…. He believes deeply in The College’s mission, and wants to serve clients and the public with the highest standard of professionalism and expertise”, said Stephen D. Tarr, Senior Vice President of The American College. Walker claims that he used “his belief in strengthening relationships to build an ethical insurance business” coupled with his conviction earned during his military experience at Pearl Harbor.
Today, Carroll Walker still attends Reunions throughout the U.S. to honor the survivors of Pearl Harbor. There are over 6,000 members of the organization throughout the country. Walker was also present in June 2006 at the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii to commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the attack and is a life member of the Marin Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, a group whose numbers are dwindling rapidly. According to Walker, the toughest part of the service was “living and surviving. So many people died”. Walker kept busy during his service years by trying to stay alive. Overall, the scariest moment of Walker’s service was not getting shot over the eye while on Saipan, but rather the attack on Wheeler Field in 1941. This experience clearly made Walker the man he is today. Walker’s advice to young men and women entering the military today is “study, advance, become an officer or top enlisted person, and do what is necessary to be done”. Walker is proud to be a member of an increasingly exclusive club. He finds comfort in visiting with his fellow survivors. “Seeing some of the survivors is kind of important. There’s a feeling you have that you don’t have with anyone else”, claims Walker. He is the embodiment of American patriotism and a living symbol of the terror that launched the U.S. involvement in World War II. Walker’s goal is to “be the last man standing”. He may surely reach this goal.
Interview by Nicholas Elsbree on June 22, 2011