Flight Officer James Walter (1915–1945)

James Walter (Courtesy of the Newark History Museum)
ResidencesCivilian Occupation
Born in Pennsylvania, moved to Delaware as an adultRestauranteur
BranchService Number
U.S. Army Air ForcesT-64584
TheaterUnit
China Burma IndiaIndia-China Division, Air Transport Command
AwardsCampaigns/Battles
Air Medal with oak leaf cluster, Order of the Cloud and BannerResupply missions between India and China

Early Life & Family

James Walter was born in Chester County, Pennsylvania on March 3, 1915.  (His marriage certificate gave his place of birth as Red Lion, in East Marlboro Township, Pennsylvania, while his draft card listed nearby Kennett Square.)  It appears he was the youngest of eight children born to James Walter (a farmer, 1868–1936) and Ella Walter (née Thompson, 1871–1962).  He had three older sisters and four older brothers. 

Walter’s family had farmed in Chester County since before the Revolutionary War.  The younger James Walter’s father had been born on the ancestral family farm known as Lindenhurst (located off South Union Street just south of downtown Kennett Square).  The elder James Walter and his wife purchased a farm at what is now 753 Northbrook Road in East Marlborough Township.  In 1925, when the younger James Walter was ten, his parents effectively traded properties with his uncle Joseph H. Walter and moved to a farm on Bucktoe Road in Kennett Township, Pennsylvania.  In 1933, James and Ella sold that farm and moved back to Lindenhurst, where the elder James died in 1936.  It is unclear whether the younger James Walter accompanied his parents on the move.

Lindenhurst, the Walter family homestead in Kennett Township, Pennsylvania, photographed in 2021 (Courtesy of D. Lynn Sinclair)

A July 13, 1940 article in the Wilmington Morning News stated that the younger James Walter “attended the Kennett Consolidated School and Pennsylvania State College.”  According to his marriage certificate, he was back in Red Lion, Pennsylvania and working as a timekeeper when he married Jane Fayette Trethaway in Warrenton, Virginia on June 17, 1939. 

At the time he registered for the draft on October 16, 1940, Walter and his wife were living at 10 South Church Street in West Chester, Pennsylvania.  He was described as standing five feet, eight inches tall and weighing 175 lbs., with brown hair and blue eyes.  The historical record is unclear, but the Walters probably moved to East Main Street in Newark shortly thereafter and opened a restaurant, Bunny’s Grill.  According to Jane’s son, Bunny was James Walter’s nickname.  The restaurant was located at 182 East Main Street, near the intersection with North Chapel Street (where Astra Plaza is now).

The Walters’ restaurant Bunny’s Grill depicted in a 1943 pamphlet (Courtesy of the Newark History Museum)

Flying the Hump

According to the State of Delaware Individual Military Service Record that his widow submitted to the Delaware Public Archives Commission, Walter enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in Philadelphia on November 30, 1942.  She stated that he was initially a flight instructor.  The only stateside location that she listed was Lafayette Field, Louisiana; it is unclear whether that was where he did his own pilot training or where he served as an instructor. 

Sometime in late 1944 or early 1945, Flight Officer Walter went overseas to India to serve in the U.S. Army Air Forces’ Air Transport Command (A.T.C).  A December 19, 1945 article printed in the Wilmington Morning News stated that he “spent 10 months and flew 750 hours on C-54 missions over ‘The Hump’ between Burma and China.” 

That assignment had its origins in events which began years earlier when the Japanese invaded China in 1937.  By the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan had already secured most of the Chinese coast as well as the surrounding seas.  Then, in 1942, Japan seized most of the British colony of Burma, cutting off the land route to China known as the Burma Road.  That left resupply from India by air as the only means by which the British and Americans could resupply China until the completion of the Ledo Road in 1945.  The air routes crossed the Himalayas, which the crews nicknamed the Hump.  Failure would have led to potentially ghastly consequences not only for the Chinese, but also the entire war effort.  If China collapsed, the Japanese could have shifted hundreds of thousands of soldiers elsewhere in the Pacific Theater, greatly slowing the Allied advance. 

C-54 from the India-China Division, Air Transport Command during World War II (National Archives via Fold3)

That it was not a combat assignment belied the extraordinary strain the cargo plane crews endured.  On the ground, personnel lived in spartan accommodations with little protection from weather or insects.  In the air, crews faced dangerous wind shear and icing conditions while crossing the mountains.  In his book Over the Hump, Lieutenant General William H. Tunner (the last commander of A.T.C.’s India-China Division during the war) grimly noted:

It was the accident rate which most impressed me—with horror!  In January of 1944 there were two accidents (actually 1.968) per every thousand hours flown.  Every two hundred trips over the Hump we lost an airplane.  For every thousand tons flown into China, three Americans gave their lives.

Douglas C-54s in the China Burma India Theater during World War II (National Archives via Fold3)

In his article, “Over the Hump to China,” John T. Correll wrote:

In May 1944, the Allies recaptured Myitkyina, the main base in Burma from which Japanese fighters threatened the Hump. This made it possible for Tunner’s aircraft to use the Low Hump route in the south. […]

The last of the major Hump transports, the four-engine Douglas C-54, joined the operation in October 1944. The C-54 could not be used on the northern route because of altitude limitations, but it was ideal for the more benign southern route, where elevations were 12,000 feet or lower.

The C-54s were based in Calcutta and had sufficient range to fly directly to China, which eliminated the need to shuttle cargo by rail from the port to the upcountry bases.

If the Wilmington Morning News article was correct, Flight Officer Walter participated in this phase of the airlift.  A September 20, 1945 article in Journal-Every Evening reported that Walter “has been awarded the Air Medal for over 300 hours of operational flight in transport flying on the India-China transport route over the Himalaya mountains.”  He later earned a bronze oak leaf cluster in lieu of a second Air Medal.  Walter’s wife wrote that he also earned a Chinese decoration, the “Order of the flying cloud” (presumably the Order of the Cloud and Banner).

Correll continued:

The Hump operation was officially closed Nov. 15, after the war had ended.

In all, the Hump airlift had carried 650,000 tons of gasoline, supplies, and men to China, more than half of that total in the first nine months of 1945. The results had come at a great price. During the operation, 509 aircraft from Air Transport Command and other organizations were lost. The total of crew members known dead was 1,314, with 345 listed as missing.

James Walter’s Air Medal with bronze oak leaf cluster card (National Archives)

Tragedy After Returning to the United States

Although Flight Officer Walter was not included among those loses, he may have been an indirect casualty of the airlift.  Walter’s mental health deteriorated while he was overseas; his wife Jane wrote that as a result, Walter was hospitalized in New Delhi, India. 

Despite some advances in military psychiatry during the world wars, combat stress was still poorly understood and treated.  A February 1945 U.S. Army Air Forces manual, Coming Home, illustrates the limitations of the contemporary approach.  The first part of the manual astutely documented the stresses a service member faced overseas and the difficulty of reintegrating into a civilian society that now seemed alien.  All the soldier’s experiences, the manual explained, “all added up to more tension…lots of it…” 

But despite being insightful about the causes of wartime stress, the manual concluded that “The real, permanent solution […] lies with the individual man himself.”  Though cautioning against alcohol use, the manual suggested hunting, sports, and dancing to cope (with “medical treatment when needed” as an afterthought a few pages later).

Walter returned to the United States in 1945; he was last stationed at Scott Field, Illinois.  In December 1945, three months after the surrender of Japan, Walter went on terminal leave.  (That is, he had effectively left the military, but his official separation date would not occur until after he had used up the leave that he had earned.)  He rejoined his wife at the Colonial Apartments at 102 East Main Street in Newark and resumed work at their restaurant.

About a week later, on the night of December 18, 1945, Walter was found unresponsive in his apartment along with a suicide note.  Resuscitation techniques and technology were very rudimentary in 1945 and the invention of C.P.R. was still years away.  Personnel from the Aetna Hose, Hook & Ladder Company station on Academy Street, located a block to the south, responded immediately with a ventilation device known as an inhalator.  Despite attempting to resuscitate Walter for close to two hours, their efforts were unsuccessful.

After a funeral on December 23, 1945, Flight Officer Walter was buried at Union Hill Cemetery in Kennett Square; his parents’ bodies now rest there as well.

His widow Jane (1918–2002) continued to operate the restaurant.  On May 29, 1947, she remarried to Bayard Oscar Perry (1917–1997) in Newark.  The couple raised five children.


Notes

Name

It appears the elder James Walter did not go by James Walter, Sr.  The younger James Walter was listed as James Walter, Jr. in census records and some newspapers articles.  However, his headstone and military records do not list that suffix, so I have omitted it from the title of this article. 

One other discrepancy is the fact that the younger James Walter’s name was listed as O. James Walter on Newark’s WWII memorial (as well as in newspaper articles that were presumably based on the same list).  I have been unable to find any other evidence that Walter had a different first name beginning with O.  My best guess is that the list of names used to create the memorial originally included grades.  Flight officer was a somewhat uncommon grade, used in the U.S. Army Air Forces only during World War II.  If the list originally read “F/O James Walter” (much like his headstone), perhaps the person incorrectly believed that the F/ was his rank and O was part of his name.  The relative rarity of flight officers may also explain why several newspaper articles described him as a lieutenant.  However, the T- prefix in his service number proves he was indeed a flight officer, as does the official casualty list.

Lindenhurst

The elder James Walter’s obituary, printed in the Wilmington Morning News on July 18, 1936 stated: “Mr. Walter was born on the farm upon which he lived at the time of his death.  The Walter homestead, ‘Lindenhurst,’ was deeded direct from William Penn.”  It is possible that Penn deeded some land to the Walter family, but that did not include the land that became Lindenhurst.  Joseph Walter, Sr. purchased that land from Samuel Levis in 1769.  Lindenhurst belonged to the Walter family until 1945 and the historic home still stands at what is now known as 1059 James Walter Way in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.  The road was apparently named after Flight Officer Walter’s great-great-great-grandfather, also named James Walter. 

Bunny’s Grill

I can only provide vague details about the Walters’ restaurant.  Unless they opened it while still living in Pennsylvania, (if they indeed founded it), it must have been after October 1940 but before November 1942.  A September 7, 1944 article stated that Bunny’s Grill was a “convenient luncheon and soda fountain establishment” that was “now under the new management of Mr. and Mrs. Frank J. Edmisten.”  There was no mention of the previous management, nor did I find a story about the Walters taking management back.

I have been unable to locate an enlistment data card for Walter, so it is not possible to verify that he enlisted on November 30, 1942.  Family-supplied information on these forms is generally accurate but not necessarily without errors.  That she underlined “enlisted” rather than “inducted” would tend to suggest that he volunteered.

Death

Based on the guidelines in “Best Practices and Recommendations for Reporting on Suicide” from the Suicide Prevention, Information, and Awareness (S.A.V.E.), I have intentionally omitted certain details of Flight Officer Walter’s suicide.  However, I thought it important that Flight Officer Walter’s story be documented accurately, since it was previously whitewashed as “accidental death” in the World War II Memorial Volume printed by the State of Delaware Public Archives Commission in 1949.  Even today, suicide remains a serious problem for the armed forces, just as it is in the civilian world. 


Acknowledgments

Special thanks to D. Lynn Sinclair, Founder & Chair, Kennett Heritage Center, for helping me unravel the Walter family history in Chester County, Pennsylvania.  Thanks as well to the Newark History Museum for the use of their photos, as well as to Joe Allmond for locating some articles about Bunny’s Grill. 


Bibliography

“Air Medal for Kennett China Transport Flier.” Journal-Every Evening, September 20, 1945.  Pg. 27. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/54130552/james-walter/

“Air Officer Discharged Week Ago Dies of Gas.”  Wilmington Morning News, December 19, 1945.  Pg. 1. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/54130420/james-walter-newark-de-war-dead/

Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Applications and Claims Index, 1936-2007. Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. https://www.ancestry.com/discoveryui-content/view/41090410:60901

Bunny’s Grill advertisement.  The Newark Post, December 28, 1944.  Pg. 2. https://udspace.udel.edu/bitstream/handle/19716/18961/np_035_46.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Coming Home (Air Forces Manual No. 59).  Headquarters, Army Air Forces, 1945. https://447bg.smugmug.com/OTHER-FILES/COMING-HOME/i-4n8RhB6/A

Correll, John T.  “Over the Hump to China.”  Air Force Magazine, October 2009. https://www.airforcemag.com/PDF/MagazineArchive/Documents/2009/October%202009/1009hump.pdf

“Death Notices.”  Journal-Every Evening, December 21, 1945.  Pg. 25. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/71472697/death-notice-james-walter/

Delaware Marriages. Bureau of Vital Statistics, Hall of Records, Dover, Delaware. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/61368/images/TH-266-12576-77025-66

“Frank J. Edmisten Takes Management of Bunny’s Grill.”  The Newark Post, September 7, 1944.  Pg. 1. https://udspace.udel.edu/bitstream/handle/19716/18945/np_035_31.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

“Her Marriage Announced.”  Wilkes-Barre Record, July 18, 1940.  Pg. 6. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/67922440/marriage-of-trethaway-james-walter/

“James Walter.”  Find a grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/138697642/james-walter

“James Walter Dies at Kennett Square.”  Wilmington Morning News, July 18, 1936.  Pg. 8. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/71381570/james-walters-father/

“Jane Fayette Perry.”  The News Journal, March 19, 2002.  Pg. B5. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/71387622/jane-walter-perry/

“Newark Veteran Kills Self.”  The Newark Post, December 20, 1945.  Pg. 1. https://udspace.udel.edu/bitstream/handle/19716/19013/np_036_45.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Perry, Jane.  James Walter Individual Military Service Record, circa 1947.  Record Group 1325-003-053, Record of Delawareans Who Died in World War II.  Delaware Public Archives, Dover, Delaware. https://cdm16397.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p15323coll6/id/21261/rec/1

Sinclair, D. Lynn.  Email correspondence, February 22–28, 2021.

Tunner, William H.  Over the Hump.  Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, 1964.  Reprinted by Air Force History and Museums Programs, 1998. https://media.defense.gov/2010/Sep/28/2001329799/-1/-1/0/AFD-100928-057.pdf

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920.  National Archives and Records Administration at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6061/images/4384790_01147

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930.  National Archives and Records Administration at Washington, D.C. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/6224/images/4639692_00976

Virginia Marriages, 1936–2014.  Virginia Department of Health, Richmond, Virginia. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/9279/images/43067_172028004422_0685-00154  

“Weddings.”  Wilmington Morning News, July 13, 1940.  Pg. 5. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/71379083/james-walter-wedding/

World War II Memorial Volume.  State of Delaware Public Archives Commission, 1949.  Delaware Public Archives website.  https://archives.delaware.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/156/2017/05/WWIIMemorialVolume.pdf

WWII Draft Registration Cards for Pennsylvania, 10/16/1940-03/31/1947.  Record Group 147, Records of the Selective Service System.  The National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/2238/images/44033_09_00417-01475


Last updated on June 9, 2021

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