John Thornton Walker of Springfield, Illinois

John Thornton Walker (JTW)  was the son of a Springfield fireman. He attended Springfield High School where he was injured in a school fire that burned most of the hair from the top of his head. He was a private pilot who flew from what was known as Springfield Commercial Airport in the late 30s. He enlisted in the Illinois Army National Guard and soon after the outbreak of World War II and flew L-4s and L-5s in Italy under the command of General Mark Clark. He died February 19, 1945 when the transport plane departing Italy to carry Walker to England, the first part of a planned trip back to Springfield on leave, crashed, killing all aboard.

When I was writing my book Springfield Aviation, published by Arcadia Publishers, I corresponded with the Rich Strouse, husband of Walker’s daughter Connie. The entire Strouse family told me a great amount about JTW’s life and scanned/e-mailed me dozens of clippings from newspaper articles, photographs and more about him. I promised to write a book about the man, a nearly forgotten combat pilot from Springfield who never came home. Following the end of WWII, his body was disinterred from Italy and re-buried in his wife’s home town in Indiana. Walker Air Strip in Virginia was dedicated in his honor. The dedication speech was given by General Clark on May 29, 1951.

On Friday, September 28, Rich and Connie Strouse visited AeroKnow Museum and Job Conger. They brought with them and donated to AKM many original photos and memorabilia about JTW. The next day, the Strouses visited the outside of JTW’s home and later, after a tour of AeroKnow Museum we visited the site of the former airport where JTW, his pilot-wife Geraldine (Gerry) and daughter Connie had flown before the war. These pictures were taken during their visit. Additional pictures of the airport, remembered best locally by its final name of Southwest Airport, will be posted at AKM Gallery in the near future.
Visitors from Delaware, Rich and Connie Strouse

The Walker Air Strip dedication plaque was displayed at the air strip until it was closed a few years ago.

examining a kit in the AKM Model Kits Room upstairs

The rare kit of a Baade 152 was manufactured in East Germany at the height of the Cold War.

Connie (Walker) Strouse outside the former hangar which she visited as a small child at the airport where she flew with her mother several times before moving to Indiana.

We were greeted by the owner of Kreations, 3427 Old Chatham Rd., which occupies buildings which were once part of airport operations.

Behind Connie are the walkway used by airline passengers arriving in Springfield and the airport-side entrance to the terminal.

I stood some distance from the concrete airplane parking area, now heavily overgrown with grass, for this view of the former airport buildings from the southwest, looking northeast.

Rich Strouse is a former loadmaster on USAF C-133s, C-141s and C-5s. His brother Bill also served with distinction in the USAF. We could have talked flying for days.

posing happily with an employee of Kreations

It is very likely that Amelia Earhart and Wiley Post stood in this parking lot on the “front” (east side) of the airport. The Strouse’s truck was park here during the visit.

Looking southeast from the northwest a former hangar and engine shop are unrecognizable because additional structure has been added to them since the airport closed, by the current property owners.

Job Conger in the middle is flanked by Rich and Connie Strouse, posing with the brass plaque donated to AeroKnow Museum by the family.


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