Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series.
Walton Walker distinguished general who defended the nation in some of its most pressing battles. The native Texan commanded troops during the heated battles of World War II and in the chaos of the Korean War. He liberated countless peoples in the defense of democracy, and his brave stands later prevented the collapse of an ally.
By 1942, Walker, already a general, had been a veteran of World War I and was serving with Gen. George S. Patton training American troops in the Mojave Desert. By February 1944, he was sent to Scotland to prepare his troops for the upcoming invasion of Normandy. Patton assigned Walker’s XX Corps to be part of his Third Army assault deep into Nazi-occupied France.
A last-minute change put him at Utah Beach during the D-Day invasion on June 6. The commander of the XIX Armored Corps had fallen ill, and Walker was given temporary command. He led his troops on their successful invasion on the beaches of northern France, advancing steadily forward under heavy fire. As he would be throughout the war, Walker was often close to the fighting. He was given a silver star for his actions that day.
Six weeks later, the XX Corps arrived in France, and Walker resumed command. In August, Patton unleashed his aggressive plan to sweep aside Nazi resistance in France, with Walker’s men leading the charge. Patton’s plan worked perfectly, one that cemented itself into military legend. Walker’s XX Corps charged deep into France, retaking hundreds of square miles for the Allies and taking thousands of prisoners in a matter of weeks. They became known as the “Ghost Corps” because the Nazis never knew where they were hitting next, and wartime press restrictions never explicitly identified them in real time. German defenses collapsed in response to the relentless attacks. Patton personally awarded Walker the Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership under fire.
By February 1945, Walker’s forces were in Germany where they assisted in the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. More than 21,000 people were held as slave labor for the Nazis as the Nazis systematically exterminated anyone they deemed undesirable because of their racial or religious heritage. Walker continued to move forward, linking up with Soviet troops in Austria as the Nazis surrendered.
Patton and Walker were very complimentary of each other’s leadership in the war. Patton wrote Walker in August 1945, “You pulled a tremendous load in whatever success the Third Army had.”
He was next assigned to the Far East, commanding the Eighth Army. He spent months re-training the post-war set of recruits. In June 1950, they faced their greatest test yet when North Korea launched a surprise attack on South Korea. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commanding American troops in the region, ordered Walker to South Korea to mount a defense while he remained behind in Japan.
Though the United Nations condemned North Korean actions and dozens of nations would support the Allies, Walker’s Eighth Army and the disintegrating South Korean forces were essentially on their own in the face of a confusing attack. Outmanned and outgunned, Walker quickly organized a mobile defense to keep the North Koreans off-balance and settled into a defensive position in the southeast by July. Rather than let South Korea fall, Walker gave the command “stand or die” and dug in to rebuild their forces and eventually hit back. The Pusan Perimeter, as it was called, held firm under Walker’s leadership despite constant attacks. Because of his actions, South Korea did not fall.
In the meantime, MacArthur planned his daring counteroffensive behind North Korean lines. MacArthur’s September landing at Inchon and quick liberation of the South Korean capital at Seoul stunned North Korean forces. Walker, carefully coordinating with MacArthur punched out of the Pusan Perimeter and raced to meet MacArthur’s forces further north. North Korean forces fell back in a panic.
Within two months, Allied forces were preparing to retake all of North Korea. Walker quietly voiced his concerns about China invading North Korea as the Allies approached their border. MacArthur dismissed his concerns. By November, China had invaded, overwhelming the Eighth Army. He steadily pulled back, destroying the industrial infrastructure of North Korea in the process.
The Eighth Army was preparing to regroup when disaster struck. He was riding in a jeep to inspect the front lines and personally give commendations to his troops when he was killed in a head-on collision. He died two days before Christmas 1950 at the age of 61, at a time when the army still needed his leadership.
Though Walker is often overshadowed by other figures of World War II and the Korean War, he has many admirers around the globe. In 1971, a group of Korean War veterans established the General Walton Walker Memorial Foundation to honor his memory. The foundation offers scholarships to descendants of Korean War veterans. In 1987, the South Korean government unveiled a memorial to Walker in Seoul. In May, he was inducted into the Ft. Leavenworth Hall of Fame, joining such generals as MacArthur, Omar Bradley, Dwight Eisenhower, and George Marshall. Today, he is perhaps most well-known to commuters in the Dallas area as the namesake for Walton Walker Boulevard, a portion of Loop 12.
Ken Bridges is a Texas native, writer and history professor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.