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