A family of freedom fighters
by The Press and Standard | November 16, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: November 13, 2019 at 12:49 pm
Veterans Day signifies the most important assets Americans have … freedom, and the men and women who fought for it.
Veterans are honored because they have impacted lives by giving of themselves so that people in this country can enjoy many privileges.
Some of these privileges are taken for granted. United States citizens have the freedom to name a baby anything the parents want, to wear any hairstyle, to choose not to enlist in the service, to worship anywhere, to be educated, to have a fair trial, to wear a variety of clothing, to choose a spouse, to access information online, to divorce, to vote, to own property, to start a business, and a host of others.
This is why veterans are honored. They are special individuals who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the freedom enjoyed by all Americans.
Four such freedom fighters come from the same family … the Walkers.
Cohen Walker, affectionately called “Pop” and the family patriarch, began a legacy that continues today. Now walking with a cane and forced to use a wheelchair from time to time, he has a winning smile and engaging personality. He is charming and soft-spoken as he talks about his life.
Born in 1925, Cohen was drafted in the Army in 1943. He was just 18.
“I had heard about Hitler, and I wanted to go fight,” said Cohen. “I started in Fort Bragg with some training, and then went on to Pennsylvania and Boston for the rest of my training. I was in the Port Battalion. We went by ship to Liverpool, England, and then I was sent to fight in Northern France. I really loved being in England, and the French countryside was beautiful,” he added. “I got to see places I never would have been able to.”
Cohen grew quiet as he opened a book about World War II. “This is where I was sent to fight, with my Port Battalion” said Cohen. He refused to say anything else about the picture. It was a photo of the well-known beachhead in Normandy.
On June 6, 1944, the Allies succeeded in gaining a tiny foothold on the coast of Normandy. However, their situation was very precarious. The Germans began the battle to extend the beachhead. For the British and Americans, it was a case of landing fresh troops as quickly as possible, and delaying the arrival of enemy reinforcements for as long as possible.
During this time, the Allies and the Americans sent 30,000 men, 7,000 vehicles and 30,000 tons of supplies per day.
In less than 10 days, 600,000 men had landed, and the Allies had won the fight … but at a tremendous cost.
The Normandy American Cemetery is now the resting place for 9,387 Americans, who gave their lives during the battle to take the beachhead and defeat the Germans.
Cohen Walker returned home with two Bronze Stars, a Good Conduct medal, and World War II Victory Medal.
Cohen reflected on that time. “I was happy to go,” he said. “It was a hard time, but I made lifelong friends, especially Rev. Riley from Jacksonboro,” he added.
“In training, I had the top bunk, and Riley had the bottom,” he added with a grin.
When asked if he had ever been frightened while fighting, he said no.
“The only time I remember being scared was crossing the ocean aboard ship. I didn’t like that at all. Our ship was only escorted halfway by American planes. Allied planes took over escorting the rest of the way. One day lookouts thought they saw a German submarine and began firing. I was in the hull of the ship, and the entire place began to shake. BAM…BAM…BAM! I thought we were under fire, but the captain came on the intercom and said we were safe. That was scary. I didn’t like the ocean,” he stated.
“The thing I missed the most about being in the army was not having freedom to do what I wanted. I couldn’t change my wardrobe at all! I also missed my mother,” he continued. “She worried about me and my younger brother who was also a soldier, and I worried about her. That was hard, but when I came home, I found myself having to readjust a lot. I found it strange to be my own boss and wear my own clothes. I even had trouble going into stores at first. I realized that I could buy anything I wanted and actually had American money to spend. I was so used to having my life regimented that it was difficult to change my ways.”
Cohen has never regretted his service. “I believe that everyone should serve. It gives you a chance to interact with people from different countries. The military teaches you things, and everyone should love their country enough to fight for it,” he stated.
“I was happy and glad to go serve my country. I am proud that I could do that.”
The 94-year-old Cohen leaned forward, hands tight on his wheelchair, his face firm. “I would go again if asked, and if I were younger!”
JAMES WALKER SR.
In his father’s footsteps
James Walker, called Jimmy by the family, is proud of his dad, Cohen. He even continued in his father’s footsteps and enlisted in the Vietnam War.
“I was NOT drafted,” he stated firmly. “I volunteered to fight, and I am proud of that!”
Enlisting in the army in 1969 when he was 19, he underwent training at Fort McClellan, Ala., in what he termed “a mock jungle” surrounded by concrete.
Jimmy eventually found himself in southeast Asia and Vietnam. As part of the 101st Airborne Division, he was in the 11 Bravo Infantry.
Being the new guy, he was given the dangerous position of “point man,” which means he was in front, leading the troops. Later he was changed to “pace counter,” counting the steps from one location to another, and finally ended up as grenadier (grenade launcher.)
“My weapon was an M16. I depended on it because whenever we changed locations in the jungle, we had to walk there,” said Jimmy.
“We were supposed to be air mobile, but we ended up walking everywhere. I broke my toe once, and marched the entire time. It is still crooked, so I have to buy big shoes,” he added with a chuckle.
Jimmy remarked that war had changed since his father’s time and that there were no paratroopers back then during the Vietnam War. “The Vietnamese would shoot the guys in the air, which was against the Geneva Convention.
“I didn’t trust any of the Vietnamese over there,” he stated. “In fact, I refused to eat in the mess hall because the cooks were all Vietnamese. You couldn’t trust anyone … even little kids would run up and toss a grenade at you.”
Jimmy’s worst experience occurred in November 1969 in the Demilitarized Zone.
Soldiers had been engaged in heavy fighting against the 27th North Vietnamese army. Chinook helicopters dropped bombs from the air, and ground troops set up a parameter on the hillsides surrounding a valley. GIs uncovered enemy base camps, but an all-night battle ensued.
“I was so frightened,” said Jimmy. “I was a buck sergeant, and at one point, my platoon was being overrun in a Vietnamese ambush.”
In November 1969, the “largest battle of the year” took place less than two miles from the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone. Late on November 12, it became evident that the American position could be overrun. Three hours later, well past midnight, the Americans were attacked by 1,500 NVA.
“There were two brigades of us on a hill with VC in the valley. But there was a surprise ambush. Some of us were separated from the rest of our outfit. I was scared to move. I knew that if I wasn’t careful, I could be shot by my own men. Thankfully, two squads of old-timers, guys who had seen a lot of action and been in the army for awhile, volunteered to come to our rescue. They were on the hill above us and could see we were in trouble. American forces fought for two days, inflicting heavy casualties, but we had only eight killed. We were able to win the battle and leave.
“The war was bad, but there were some fun times,” said Jimmy. One of his best memories overseas was being able to attend a Bob Hope show.
“The old-timers, and those with rank got to sit in the front, but I was still able to hear and see Bob Hope, Connie Francis, Teresa Graves and dancing girls,” he said with a grin. “It was great, and we were given a commemorative book about the show.”
Jimmy reflected on his decision to fight. “You know, I really missed my family and my girlfriend, but I have never regretted my decision. I had told my mom, who I knew worried about me, not to watch the news, but she did anyway. I worried about her, but I had cousins fighting, and I felt like it was the right thing to do.
“When I got back, I had some problems with PTSD. We didn’t call it that back then … we called it battle fatigue,” said Jimmy. “I didn’t leave the house for the longest time, and in fact, I didn’t tell anyone I was home. I had been through two monsoons while in Vietnam, and all that rain is really memorable. I remember that one day after I went home, I was sitting outside when a hard rain came up. I put a towel on my head and just sat there, crying. It really hit me hard. My aunt Bessie, who lived next door, looked out the window and saw me, and that was how she found out I was home.”
Jimmy smiled and told about the days leading up to coming back to the U.S.
“Well, I don’t drink,” he said, “and never have. But when we finally arrived back in the states in Seattle, Wash., (we left Southeast Asia on Wednesday, and because of the time zones, we arrived on Wednesday), I went to get a Coke with friends. I wasn’t going to tell my folks I was home … I wanted it to be a surprise. But my friends put rum in my Coke, and since I was unused to it, I got a little unsteady and ended up calling them. I missed my flight home, but when I finally arrived at my house … Oh, my, the smells coming out of that kitchen. Since my mom knew I was coming home, she had really been cooking. Everyone stayed home that day waiting on me.”
He chuckled, “Soon after I returned home, I went out and bought a car, a Mustang, which I still have, and I got married. I still have the wife, too!”
Although he left the Army, he didn’t forget the friends he made while there. One recently drove from North Dakota to visit. “We both got a Medal of Valor for the same fire-fight. I talk all the time with my Army buddies, and our unit is having a reunion soon.
“You know, the military taught me a lot. It was a good experience. It is a test … you learn about yourself and people. You can never go into a battle without thinking that you are going to win. You have to have nerve. You can control it, or it can control you. I am glad I served.”
Jimmy didn’t want his sons to go into the military, but he is proud of them. His oldest son, James Walker Jr., joined followed in his dad’s footsteps.
JAMES MCKEEVER WALKER
In his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps
James McKeever Walker continued the legacy of serving his country but took a different path. He served in the United States Marine Corps.
“I was A 0481 which was a landing support specialist,” James said. “It was basically logistics. I was stationed in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Storm, serving with the 4th Landing Support Battalion and the 8th Motor Transport Battalion in Charlie Company. I served from 1989 to 1995.
“I joined the military because my father, grandfather and two uncles served in the military. I wanted to wear those dress blues and be tough!” he added. “But I believe this affected my father and mother the most, with my father being a combat veteran from the Vietnam War. My mother cried when I was deployed to the Persian Gulf.”
Many parts of the military were fascinating for James. “I attended marine combat training at Camp Geiger. I was taught to use the M16 A2 rifle, the Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW), but I also became familiar with the M203 grenade launcher and M60 machine gun. Then I was sent overseas. I went to the Persian Gulf on a Galaxy C5. It was an interesting plane ride, because you face the rear of the plane,” James said. “And the military mess hall is where I had my very first omelette!”
James remarked that the civilians in the Persian Gulf were so friendly. “They were curious about Americans, and I was interested in them. While I was there I actually saw real shepherds with camels in the desert.”
When he missed the most about leaving home, he said, was missed sleeping in a bed, fast food, and the overall American culture of freedom. He also missed being safe. Sometimes the experience overseas was frightening. “The worst part was being in the Persian Gulf and in that part of the country when Iraq launched skud missles. It was scary hearing the sirens alerting the marines to get into the bunkers, and not knowing if any chemical agents had been released or not,” said James.
Not all memories of his military service were so negative. “I have two memories that stand out as being positive. The first one was just graduating and becoming a Marine. The second was learning to swim in boot camp. I didn’t know how to swim when I joined the Marine Corps, and I had never been in a pool. I was having trouble passing swim qualifications, so the night before the last day to qualify, my drill instructor told me to pack my stuff because I was going to be recycled to another platoon. That meant that I was going to have to leave all of the friends I had made in my platoon and join another platoon. The next day after multiple failures, I qualified in the pool! If I remember correctly, I was the last one to qualify. The rest of my platoon was in the locker room dressing, and I came in running yelling, ‘I didn’t go unk’! ‘I didn’t go unk’! (be unqualified). All of my friends were excited and to see me return to the platoon!” added James.
James left the Marine Corps as a corporal, but had issues when he returned home. “I wrecked several cars,” he said. “I was having dreams and nightmares, and sirens from emergency vehicles would startle me. Later I found out that I was suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was tough.”
Even though he had to deal with PTSD, he made lifelong friends while in the Corps. “Some of them I still talk to,” remarked James. “We have this saying, ‘Once a Marine, always a Marine’ and being a Marine initiates you into a never-ending brotherhood. Even when I meet a Marine on the street, we greet each other by saying “Semper Fi” which means always faithful to yourself, the Corps and God!”
Like his brother
James Walker’s brother, Jermaine, is also in military service. Lieutenant Colonel Jermaine Montez Walker, a distinguished military graduate, was commissioned as an engineer officer into the U.S. Army in 2000 from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. He holds a bachelor’s of science degree in mechanical engineering from NCA&TSU, a master of arts degree in public administration with a concentration in facilities management from Webster University, and is a Ph.D. candidate, ABD (All but Dissertation) in organizational leadership with Northcentral University. He is currently the Chief of the Construction Division, United States Army Special Operations Command.
His major awards and decorations include: the Bronze Star Medal (3), the Meritorious Service Medal (2), the Army Commendation Medal (3), the Army Achievement Medal (2), the Afghan Campaign Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, and the NATO Medal. He also wears the Airborne Badge, German Airborne Badge and Combat Action Badge.
Lieutenant Colonel Walker is still active duty, so he is not at liberty to discuss much of his military experiences. But he is proud of his distinguished family.
The Walker family is unique. They are friendly, outgoing, charming, and humble. Thoroughly patriotic and proud, this grandfather, father and two sons share an honorable heritage and a legacy that will not be forgotten.