Kenneth A. Walsh
Congressional Medal of Honor awardee
Written with material supplied by: Barrett Tillman and
Colonel Jacksel Broughton, USAF (retired), and with textual material inserts
from John B. Lundstrom's
Then Second Lieuteant Kenneth A Walsh, USMC (retired)
Then Second Lieuteant Kenneth A Walsh, USMC (retired)
Kenneth A. Walsh was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 24 November 1916. Ken Walsh enlisted in the USMC on 15 December 1933, serving as an aircraft mechanic and radioman before being accepted for Naval Flight Training (Class 89-E) in March 1935, where he graduated in April 1937.
Designated Naval Aviation Pilot (NAP), and promoted to Corporal (Cpl.) after winning his wings, Walsh served in this capacity for five years. Flying in scout-bomber and observation squadrons, Walsh's fleet duty also included carrier landings on Yorktown (CV-5), Wasp (CV-7) and Ranger (CV-4).
Ken Walsh was finally assigned to the Marine fighter squadron, VMF-121, as a Sergeant (Sgt.) pilot flying Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats at New Berne, NC, while he was promoted to Technical Sergeant (Tech. Sgt.) in December of 1941. Promotions came again in May of 1942, when Walsh became Marine Gunner (Warrant Officer, WO1), and then commissioned to Second Lieutenant (Sec. Ltn.) in October. The commission also accompanied a transfer to VMF-124 and a new fighter, the Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair.
The Corsairs of VMF-124 would be the first to commit this fighter in combat on 13 February 1943 at Guadalcanal, and would fly from airfields in the Solomon Islands such as Guadalcanal, Russell Islands, and Munda, between February and September 1943. This marine unit, commanded by Major (Maj.) Bill Gise who would later be killed in action (KIA) on 13 May 1943 and would be succeeded by Captain C. B. Brewer, was attached to Rear Admiral Charles Mason's COMAIRSOLS (Commander Air Solomons). The aviation assets of COMAIRSOLS would be known as Airsols.
What was not known to COMAIRSOLS at the time was the fact that the IJN Fleet Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto had received approval for his so-called I-Plan from Tokyo. As part of this plan to seal off the Bismarck Sea barrier from further Allied encroachments, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) was to transfer all of its aviation units to the protection of Papua in New Guinea. The repsonsibilities of sealing off the Solomans would fall on the aviation units of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). What then followed was to become a bloody war of attrition.
During the 13 February 1943 engagement, twelve Corsairs of VMF-124 were assigned as fighter escort for fifteen Thirteenth Air Force B-24 bombers belonging to the 307th Bomb Group (307th BG). This mission was a 300 mile attack against the airfields on Bougainville. The very next day, 14 February 1943, COMAIRSOLS opted for a repeat performance of having escorted bombing missions against Bougainville.
The Corsairs of VMF-124 and 70th Fighter Squadron (FS) P-38s again escorted the B-24s of the 307th BG and navy VB-101 PB4Ys against this same target. The hoped for repeat of the earlier success did not take place. What became known as the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," resulted in the loss of eight bombers and two Corsairs.
There seems to be some confusion over this mission. Some sources claim that the bombers were navy VB-101 PB4Ys while, according COMAIRSOPAC Operations Plan 2-43 of 15 february 1943, there are definite references to 307th BG B-24s. Since it can be established that two VB-101 PB4Ys were lost, as were two VMF-124 F4Us and four 70th FS P-38s, the COMAIRSOPAC Operations Plan 2-43 must be referring to 307th BG B-24s that were also assigned to both the 13 and 14 February missions. This report is quite specific on this group's loss record. Both navy and 13th AF PB4Y and B-24s were stationed at Henderson field at the time. COMAIRSOLS would have used all of its available aviation assets for such a mission.
This relatively disappointing initial showing in combat brought a cancellation of daylight bomber raids against Rabaul or Bougainville until stronger escorting fighters were available. The Corsairs of VMF-124 would soon make their name known, especially with names like Ken Walsh.
While preparing for the assault against Rabaul, VMF-124 and Ken Walsh were used against the Shortland-Poporang area off southern Bougainville. The IJN Eighth Fleet Headquarters at Bouganville had established the "R-Area Air Force" with seaplanes in the Shortland-Poporang area. This action was because of the lack of suitable land bases available since the loss of Munda.
The IJN RAdm. Jojima Takatsuga, the CO of the Eleventh Seaplane Tender Division, formed the squadrons of four seaplane tenders into two hikokitai (ad hoc air groups). These two hikokitai aircraft, which would eventually be expanded and combined to become the IJN Eleventh Ku, were equipped with three types of aircraft. The twin-float, and three seat, Aichi E13A1 Type 0 (Jake) reconnaissance seaplanes would fly long- range searches and anti-sub patrols. The two-man Mitsubishi F1M2 Type 0 (Pete) observation biplanes would serve as make-shift fighters, while the real fighter punch was being relied upon the Nakajima A6M2-N Type 2 (Rufe) single float version of the Zeke fighters.
A combined AAF and Marine duel strike took place against the Shortland-Poporang area on 28 March. This Airsols force, being made up of eight P-38s of the 70th FS and eight VMF-124 Corsairs. Due to engine trouble and weather, seven Corsairs and three P-38s were forced out of the mission. The remaining aircraft of the Airsols' strike force were able to destroy eight IJN float-plane fighters and also to able to severly damage an IJN destroyer.
With the Allied build up for the assault up the Solomon Island chain the IJN Southeastern Fleet's High Command at Rabaul, which also included IJN Fleet Admiral Mineichi Koga's Third (Carrier) Fleet, decided to strike at the assemblage of Allied shipping at Tulagi Harbor. A large IJN strike force of Aichi D3A1 Type 99 (Val) carrier based dive-bombers, with Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 carrier fighter, Model 21s (Zeke) as fighter protection, were thrown against this very attractive target.
These aircraft were from the IJN Carrier Division Two (CARDIV 2), commanded by the IJN Rear Admiral Kakuta Kakuji, which included the carriers ZUIKAKU, SHOKAKU, and the ZUIHO. The IJN CARDIV 1 was composed of the carriers RYUJO, JUNYO, and HIYO. Aircraft from all of these carriers had been shore based since February to replace the relocation of the IJA Fourth Ku transfer of its aerial assets of approximately 200 aircraft to Wewak.
Forty-two fighters, four of them P-38s, from Airsols were sent over the Russell islands to counter the IJN strike force that was approaching in two waves. In the resulting three hour combat, twenty Zekes were claimed shot down with the loss of six Allied fighters.
During the 1 April 1943 combat Ken Walsh was able to score his first victories. Walsh claimed two Zeke fighters and one Val dive- bomber. Walsh is sure to have been involved against the large IJN attack that took place on 7 April. On this day the IJN strike force was made up of over 160 aircraft. COMAIRSOLS, based at CACTUS (code name for Guadalcanal), sent up all of their seventy-six available fighters, which were Corsairs, P-38s, P-39s, and F4F-4s. In the ensuing aerial engagement, Airsols' fighters accounted for thirty-nine of the IJN aircraft shot down. Thirteen of this number were credited to AAF pilots, the remaining twenty-six victories went to navy or marine pilots.
Second Lieutenant Walsh became the first Corsair ace when he shot down three Zekes on 13 May 1943. Walsh was nominated for and received the Medal of Honor for his missions on the 15th and 30th of August, which were in support of the Allied assault against New Georgia.
During the action on 15 August, Walsh repeatedly dove his aircraft into an enemy formation that out-numbered his division by numbers of six to one. Ken Walsh was credited with the destruction of two Vals and one Zeke while his aircraft was repeated hit by enemy fire. The total Allied claims for this day amounted to thirty-five aircraft in two separate engagements over Vella Lavella. The Corsairs of VMF-124 claimed ten more victories over Kahili airfield at Bouganville.
In the action on 30 August, Walsh was on an escort mission for navy PB4Ys (B-24s), again against Kahili airfield. The Corsair that Walsh was flying developed engine trouble and was forced to landed at Vella Lavella. Ken Walsh "borrowed" an alert-strip F4U and took off alone. During this mission the bombers were attacked by a formation of about fifty Zekes. Walsh, having caught up with the bombers and, in a running fight, shot down four Zekes before being shot down himself near Vella Lavella. With these last victories, before his own downing, Walsh's score of twelve kills ran his total to twenty.
After being shot down himself, Ken Walsh was rescued and was returned safely. After this first combat tour, Walsh was sent back home. Back in the US, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from Franklin Delano Roosevelt on 8 Feb 1944. With the receiving of this award and honor, Ken Walsh was promoted to Captain, effective the same date.
Ken Walsh returned to combat with VMF-222 in the Philippines in April 1945. Between April and June 1945, VMF-222 operated from Samar in the Philippines. These missions were used in a fighter-bomber capacity. In the combat operations between June and September, VMF-222 operated from airfields on Okinawa. In this part of the campaign, Walsh scored his 21st and final kill on 22 June 1945, which was a Zeke Kamikazi.
During the Korean War, Walsh was assigned flying R5D (C-54) transports with Marine Transport Squadron 152 (VMR-152). Ken Walsh attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (usually the highest possible for a former "mustang") in October 1958, when he was assigned to the 3rd Marine Air Wing at El Toro, California. Lieutenant Colonel Ken Walsh retired from military service on 1 Feb 1962.
Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth A. Walsh USMC (retired) died on 30 July 1998 at the age of 81. Funeral Services for Lt. Col. Walsh were at the Marine Corps Air Station Chapel at El Toro, CA, on 4 August 1998. As per Kenneth A. Walsh's request, his body was buried at Arlington National Cemetary on 13 August 1998. Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth A. Walsh was survived by his wife of 57 years, Beulah, and their son, Thomas.
Two words explained the life of Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth A. Walsh USMC (retired), SEMPER FI.
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