My son is a favorite subject of mine and it is with pleasure that I transmit the following information concerning him.
He is 32 years old, having been born in 1912 on Nov. 24th. During high school he excelled equally in scholastic achievements and athletics, graduating as valedictorian from Rushville High School in 1930 and winning popular acclaim for prowess in basketball, football and track. Golf, tennis and swimming were favorite extra-curricular sports with him.
After high school, my son entered Depauw University as a Rector Scholar and affiliated with the Phi Delta Theta social fraternity. It was a busy year, washing dishes for free meals, taking a pre-medical course and participating in football and track. The following year (1931) he transferred to Indiana University, where he continued pre medical and medical training and in addition winning a varsity letter for participation in track, going to the final heat of the 1932 Olympic trials in the four hundred meter hurdles.
In 1933 he transferred to Indianapolis where he completed his medical education and became a member of the Phi Chi medical fraternity. Postgraduate instruction was received from the University of Chicago and Harvard University in later years. Following an internship in 1937, he went to Midway Island, then a little known island in the North Pacific Ocean, where he was physician and surgeon to Pan American Airways, the United States Engineering Dept, and Trans Pacific Cable Co.
After a full and interesting fifteen months at Midway, Dr. Walther accepted a position as medical director of a hundred bed hospital at Lihue, Kauai and later became a plantation physician and surgeon, in charge of two hospitals where he did a tremendous amount of work until called into the Army in March 1941.
While at Hickam Field he became a flight surgeon, evidently a successful one, as indicated by what a General officer once wrote of him: "I consider him an ideal flight surgeon and medical officer. This opinion is based on my twenty-six years of experience in the Air Corps. He posseses those characteristics so necessary to successful flight surgeons, to with; an understanding of the 'psychology of the airman'; the faculty of securing the confidences of both officers and enlisted personnel; the ability to maintain his profession as a successful practicing medical officer; the understanding of military administration; and all around ability to be here when needed." And another flight surgeon with twenty-three years service described him as "professionally the best man in the Seventh Air Force."
He has alway displayed a certain amount of talent in devising ingenuous and new equipment and this trait found an avenue for application when he created a Flight Surgeon's Medical and Surgical Kit. This kit was found "so admirably suited for the purposes for which it was designed" that it was the subject of a letter of commendation from the Air Surgeon. Later, he devised a mobile aid unit which was adopted for use by the enitre Seventh Air Force. At Makin Island his unit was driven ashore from an LST along with tanks, jeeps and trucks and became immediately available to wounded personnel.
During the night of April 5-6 1942, a B-18 crashed on an extremely steep portion of the Koolau Range near Pali, Oahu, T.H., and bringing tragedy to three good friends of my son. The heartache, pathos, humor and sickening sensation accompanying a scramble to dizzy heights with only precarious footing are only dimly touched on by the citation for the Soldier's Medal for Heroism: "On 6 April 1941, Captain Walther accompanied by two enlisted men of the Medical Department succeeded in reaching the wreck after an extremely arducous climb. Upon arrival at the wreck, Captain Walther, at the risk of his life, dug into the still smoldering ruins which contained several live bombs and a quantity of maching gun ammuntion, some of which ammunition exploded from time to time, in search of bodies and material that might identify the dead. Captain Walther managed to remove some of the bodies and wrap them in preparation for removal before approaching darkness compelled him to leave the scene.
On April 7 1941, Captain Walther returned to the wreck and removed more bodies to a total of nine and personally assisted in their removal. On 9 April 1941, Captain Walther returned a third time to the wreck, which still contained the bombs, in search of one last body, which he located and removed."
In November of 1941 my son, still at Hickam Field, volunteered to accompany a force for ferrying B-17's to Maila. The group of planes to which he was assigned was scheduled to pass through HIckam on 7 December 1941, but in a last minute change his planes were postponed for the next subsequent flight. As is well known, the planes arriving at Hickam on that fateful day received a warm reception indeed, and a fact now well known is that the flight surgeon was killed. For three days my other son, who was at HIckam on the 7th, believed his brother dead.
January of the new year found him as part of a task force with a group of B-17's patrolling the air lanes of the southern frontier--using hastily constructed fields on strange islands. On one expedition four out of six planes were damaged, but he escaped unscathed with his usual good Hoosier luck, and a plane in which he was flying in the Phoenix Islands was credited with bombing and sinking a Japanese submarine.
Fate seems to tug him toward Midway Island, for in November of 1941 he made one of the early pioneer flights back to his old home. He found that the isolated, uncivilized island, which boasted a population of sixty in 1937, had leaped to the prominence of having an airfield and citizenry of seven thousand. Again, in May of 1942 he returned to fight off a Japanese invasion of the small but strategic coral island, how he made a flight to the enemy fleet, his gallantry during the terrific aerial bombardment in which he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire so as to treat his patients, the risky decision to help take off in a damaged B-17 during an air raid, the long flight which followed and ended in a crash on Lanai island at two o'clock in the morning and his subsequent rescue by a destroyer are a matter of record since the press had publicized these events. For this action he received the Silver Star, whose citation states "During the attack on 3 June 1942, Major Walther, with complete disregard for his personal safety, exposed himself to enemy fire on numerous occasions to treat wounded personnel. His courage and skill under bombardment were above and beyond the call of duty and were in keeping with the gallant traditions of the service."
In November, Smokey (as he is known throughout the Pacific, although his pet family name has always been "Joedy") went to Guadalcanal with several of his pilot friends. He ate, slept and fought with them and of all the campaigns in which he was participated he mentions that this was the toughest. His pilots were already war weary from the Battle of Midway and the grueling search missions required of them in the following months. The additional psychological factor of fighting what appeared to be a losing war made good morale a difficult state to acquire and maintain. S imilar conditions likewise existed in New Guinea where on New Year's Day 1943 he participated in an attack against Rabaul. His plane was one of two planes out of sixteen which reached the target over the treacherous Owen Stanley mountains, the others failing because of engine troubles, weather, navigation difficulties and enemy interception. On this mission his plane was credited with bombing and sinking a large troop carrier. For his outstanding achievements in aviation, he was awarded the Air Medal with the following citation: "As Flight Surgeon for heavy bombardment organizations, he participated in over fifteen combat missions in order to obtain first hand knowledge of physical and mental effects on combat crews from long over water flights and exposure to enemy fire. Throughout these operations, Lieutenant Colonel Walther displayed high professional skill, courage, and devotion to duty which exemplifies the highes traditions of the military service."
After the Guadalcanal and New Guinea campaigns, "Smokey" was granted thirty days leave to recuperate from dengue and dysentery. These golden days were spent at home with me in Rushville and Indianapolis. All too soon, he departed for the war zone and immediately plunged into combat duty at Tarawa, Kwajalein and Eniwetok. After the Gilbert and Marshall campaigns he returned to Hawaii for duty in the rear area with a higher headquarters. Soon, however, a call came for an experienced flight surgeon to go to Iwo Jima to care for pilots who were scheduled to do a job never performed before in the history of aviation. His pilots were to fly fifteen hundred miles over water in single engine fighter planes, visiting Tokyo en route and then returnign to the meager comforts offered by Iwo Jima. He volunteered to go on the campaign, although long past eligible for return to the States. An Army plane deposited him on Iwo Jima's barely won air field while the Japanese were still lobbing in mortar shells. He subjected himself to the same conditions faced by the pilots, making a through study of the unusual physilogical and psychological problems involved. For heroism and meritorious achievement in face of the enemy he was awarded the Bronze Star whose citation states in part "On the long trip over the water to and from the target, pilots of the command were insured speedy medical treatment in the event they were force to parachute from planes by the voluntary presence of Lieutenant Colonel Walther in the Air-Sea Rescue plane. Lieutenat Colonel Walther was prepared to parachute with special medical equipment to give aid to any wounded or injured flyer. The etraoridnary achievemetns and devotion to duty of Lieutenant Colonel Walther played a material part in the success of the command missions against the Japanese Empire, reflecting great credit upon himself and the Army Air Forces." One of his narrowest escapes occurred in a parachute jump in the rough, icy waters ten miles from Iwo Jima. A shroud line from the opening parachute struck him a severe blow in the right temple. He recovered consciousness barely with sufficient time to wriggle from the harness into the shark infested water. However, despite the nausea and vomiting caused by cooncussion from the bleeding head wound, he scrambled into a one man raft and was picked up late by a destroyer. The jump was a volunteered action to determine the feasibility of innovating an air-sea rescue procedure and was made only after a period of intense training in which daily work-outs were taken in order to leave as little as possible to luck. Each day he ran to the top of Mount Suribachi (2 Miles) and swam in the cold waters to toughen and rigorously condition himself for physical hardships. The heroic measure was deemed justified by the heroic end obtained, so he flew seven missions in a scantily armed PBY to the Empire, giving his pilots the maximum possible protection from danger and the ultimate in flight surgeon's care.
After more than four years in the active combat zone he is returning to the States. I understand that he will go to Washington, where his experience accumulated the "hard way" can be given to all flying personnel.
It is hoped the above information concerning my son will be of value to you. In event your article is accepted for publication I would appreciate very much having you send me a copy. I've known, of course, for thirty-two years that he is wonderful, but I enjoy with pardonable mother's pride seeing all about it in print.
Mrs. Winona Walther