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Story in a box.

The picture of the gentleman in the dapper hat (upper left) sat on his wife’s bedside reading lamp table when John Thornton Walker was serving as a liaison pilot with the U.S. Army in Italy.  It had been taken at a Springfield, Illinois studio but had moved with Gerri (Geraldine) Walker when she returned to her home town in Indiana.  It came back to Springfield almost a month ago.

For the better part of the past week, I have engaged what promises to be a long task of transforming the story of a World War II hero from Springfield, Illinois from a box of photographs, newspaper clippings, two pilot’s log books, documents, and certificates into a book which I believe people will purchase and read and cherish. The book will describe the life of Gerri’s husband who attended Springfield High School, whose father was a Springfield firefighter,  who learned how to fly as Springfield Commercial Airport (re-named Southwest Airport in 1947), joined the Illinois Army National Guard before Pearl Harbor was attacked and flew artillery spotting and forward liaison planes (commonly known as “grasshoppers”) . . . . and never came home.

The box of memorabilia and a remarkable, restored, 65 pound brass plaque which used to greet visitors to Walker Army Airstrip, Virginia (dedicated to her husband in 1951)  were donated to AeroKnow Museum by the Walkers’ daughter Connie and her husband Richard Strouse.

Left to right: Richard Strouse, Job Conger, Connie Walker Strouse.

John Thornton Walker seldom signed  his full name or even “J. Thornton.”  As Thornton Walker he wrote aviation column for the Illinois State Journal.  His friends called him T. Through most of the book I’m writing about him and through most of my “Book Reports” here at Honey & Quinine, I will call him “JTW.” Some of JTW’s story was shared in my book Springfield Aviation produced by Arcadia Publishing and available everywhere 

Last week I started transcribing the information he recorded in his two log books: every flight he made that begins with his first flight as a student pilot April 7, 1937 and ends in his second log book, October 11, 1942 when he was training to be a liaison pilot with the US Army at Ft. Sill, Oklahoma.

Here are my transcription from the first flights recorded in his second log book. He was 26 years old when he started it. . . .

_____1938
11-8 – Decatur to Springfieldd – Taylorcraft BC — NC21221 —  :33 – picked up Dr. Turley’s plane
11-6 – Springfield to Springfield —  Fleet – NC726V —  :16 – took Gerrie for a ride
12-4 –– Springfield to Springfield  — Fleet – NC726V – 21 – vertical turns
12-16 — Springfield to Springfield – Taylorcraft BL —  NC21218  —  :05 – hop in new Lycoming 50 craft
12-17 — Springfield to Springfield –  Taylorcraft BL – NC21218 —  :08 – hop in new Lycoming 50 craft
12-24 — Springfield to Springfield – Taylorcraft 40  — NC19655 —  :15 – flying from right side
12-24 — Springfield to Springfield – Taylorcraft BC – NC21221  —  :04 —  hop with Metz
                                                                                                                  _____ 78:07
We know that he flew hardly at all during November, especially compared with 12 flights in April that year. Weather may have been a problem in November; perhaps a heavy work schedule or busy social life. We do know he was having fun in the air, picking up a friend’s airplane on the 8th, flying with his wife and later with a friend named Metz. He took many friends up for “hops” most lasting 15 minutes or less in the air.  He was also honing his new skills, practicing vertical turns, getting to know the new 50 hp Taylorcraft, but spending most of his time since his first lesson in 40 hp Taylorcraft. Before supper on Christmas Eve, 1938 he had logged 78 hours and seven minutes in control of a flying machine.

I don’t know for sure that I will include this transcription of when and where he flew, often the purpose of each flight, in what airplane and  its registration number, and how long he was in the air each time he flew as a student or pilot in command of the airplane. I believe JTW’s experience is typical of all Americans who learned to fly as civilians before World War II, and that is why I am inclined to include the transcription. I’m already laying it out in an appendix at the end of the book. I know that I will include pictures of most of the airplanes he flew, thanks to him being an avid photographer and to his family donating many pictures to AeroKnow Museum.

Every fact I have today was provided by a member of the Walker family. When Rich and Connie Strouse visited Springfield, they also visited Walker’s former home at 614 1/2 S. Douglas Avenue. I have contacted an employee of the State Journal-Register (modern version of the Illinois State Journal of Walker’s time, but was advised that their preserved newspapers (on microfilm I’m guessing) are not available to the  public at large, of which I am a member.  If  YOU know anything about the family of John Thornton Walker I cordially invite you to contact me by way of AeroKnow Museum or via my home telephone. The number is in the white pages.

FINALLY, I invite you who want to know more about JTW and his family — or have information and photos of the old airport, airplanes and pilots who flew from there to visit my AeroKnow Museum blog — http://aeroknow.wordpress.com  and my AeroKnow Museum Gallery of Flight blog — http://akmgallery.wordpress.com

I think when the book now in process comes off the press, we will have a record of a remarkable citizen of Illinois’ capital city who has been unknown or forgotten by almost everyone alive in Springfield today. What do you think?

Live long . . . . . .  . and proper.

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When I took the last sip of Carlo Rossi Burgundy in the duplex I was renting in about 1989, I had no inkling that I”d have that bottle with me in a duplex I owned 22 years later. It moved when I moved: from 326 S. MacArthur to 521 S. Glenwood to 1213 Interlacken to 428 W. Vine, and today it moved to my WELCOME Room office of AeroKnow Museum at the airport.a bottle of good cents

a bottle of good cents

It came to the airport  because the thought of someone breaking into my home and stealing this investment of time and memories was more than I wanted to live with. At best the burglar would have taken it. At worst, he or she would have dropped it to the floor from where it sat on my bedroom chest of drawers since 1997 and left me to filter the valued metal alloy from the shards of broken glass — pretty much what I’ve been doing recently, metaphorically speaking, as I approach the big SIX FIVE.

It came to the airport also because putting every penny I brought home from purchases here and there was not filling the bottle fast enough for me. I was determined that I would not go to a bank and exchange a $20 bill for the equivalent in pennies. That would be cheating.

At this time in the blog I concede there is nothing artistic about the process, I do not intend to write a poem or folksong about it, proclaim the name of Cheeses (when I talk to myself I call myself Cheeses as in CHEESES, that was stupid of me!), talk about restaurants, silver dollars,  Facebook, how much I love Chicago or Fort Monroe or Ft. Wayne, Indiana or Manitowoc, or the Shymansky family (my sister Dorothy’s side) Johnny Appleseed or Vachel Lindsay, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and yardcare. I’ve been ticking off these items on my categories list so I can suggest to readers this post is about them . . . . . and thus court additional readers who pay attention to blogs when these categories are mentioned. NOW . . . . . . . where was I?

the bottle and the barefoot boy with cheek of tan

Oh, yes, I remember. . . . The photograph of the boy behind the bottle is of the same boy ahead of it when the picture above was taken.  If I was three years old, the year was 1950. I will post more about the picture as I approach September 5. Suffice to say now that I show that picture to darn near every visitor to AeroKnow Museum. My goal, starting this morning, is to give visitors who don’t care to share heavy dough-re-mi with the museum will lighten their pockets of pennies. I want to fill this the bottle by my birthday.

There’s a nearby donation jar for those who care to be extra-nice with larger coins and folding money.

So if you find yourself of mind and spirit to see this bombastic enterprise in the weeks ahead, please bring pennies. The dollars . . . . almost . . . . won’t . . . . matter.

Live long . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . and proper.

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After I shared the news — at Honey and Quinine and my AeroKnow Museum blog — of my interest in learning about John Thornton Walker, Richard and Connie Strouse, key contributors to what I shared about him in my book Springfield Aviation from Arcadia Publishing wrote me to correct some information.

Richard and Connie will visit Springfield to deliver and donate to AeroKnow Museum a 63 lb brass plaque displayed for decades at Fort Monroe, Virginia. It was presented by General Mark Clark and dedicated to John Thornton Walker when Walker Army Airstrip was dedicated after World War II. General Mark Clark, who was a frequent passenger flown by Walker during the Allied campaign in Italy presented the plaque at the dedication. 

Walker’s wife Geraldine (Gerri) was from Indiana and lived in Springfield during the time she was married to John. They had one child, Connie, and following John’s death in Italy,  Gerri returned to her home state with Connie. Walker is buried at a cemetery in Washington, Indiana.

I am writing a book, probably about 100 pages long, that will share the story of John Thornton Walker. Needed for this book are photos, memories of him during his life in Springfield, in the Illinois Army National Guard and his regular Army service. I intend to have all but the final chapter written, at least in a draft, when Richard and Connie come from their home in Delaware to  Springfield later this year to see John’s city almost 70 years after Walker said goodbye, never to return.  The final chapter will be about the Strouse’s’ visit to John’s home town. 

If I can find a publisher for the book, it will be available from the publisher. If I cannot find a publisher, I will publish it under auspices of AeroKnow Museum, the first of what I hope with be a series of books and/or pamphlets about important Springfield area aviation people.

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

If you have photos and information to share about John Thornton Walker please call me — 217-544-6122 — or leave a comment following this post. Because I am administrator of this blog, I will see your e-mail address and will respond to your comment.

The book will be written

Thanks for your help.

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