Perryville veteran attends dedication of World War II memorial

June 03, 2004|TIM WISEMAN

PERRYVILLE - The uniform still fit.

Sixty-one years after Norm Walker enlisted in the U.S. Navy, he pulled out his uniform to wear to the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

"I look pretty good for a 79-year-old, huh?" Walker said, as he sat for a portrait wearing the uniform and its 11 medals.

When plans for the memorial were finalized four years ago, Walker set a goal for himself - he would be there when it opened.


He and his wife Joan made good on that promise Memorial Day weekend as they made the long car trip from Perryville to Washington, D.C., to be part of the more than 140,000 people gathered to see the memorial dedicated.

"It was jammed up but well organized," Walker said.

Seeing everyone together brought back strong, but good, memories, he said.

"It was about the good times," Walker said. "Back then it was a different time, because everybody had a job and everybody did it together."

He came for the people he did not see

In the crowd, Walker saw friends from his 26 years in the U.S. Navy, and he spoke with historians gathering information for the Library of Congress. But he came for the people he did not see.

"The main reason I went was for everyone who wasn't there," he said. "I felt fortunate to have made it, so I thought I should be there for them."

Joan Walker was moved by the sons and daughters who came to honor their parents.

"Children were there with pictures, to be there for their mothers and fathers who had passed away," Joan Walker said. "It was really touching."

The scope of the entire gathering was impressive to her husband. "I was surprised by all the older veterans that made the trip," he said. "The young people impressed me, too, going around and taking pictures and talking with everyone."

In 1943, Walker was young, too, 17, and ready to go to war.

A native of Muskegon, Mich., he enlisted in the U.S. Navy in Buffalo, N.Y., and he was off to see the world. "It's a long story, so I always say, 'There were three theaters in the war - the American, the European and the Asian - and by age 18 I had been in all three and was sitting in a lifeboat,'" Walker said. "I went all the way around the world and got sunk."

Walker's ship had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine off the coast of Bombay, India, but he wasted no time in getting back on board.

"I was real young and Gung ho, so I put in for another ship - it's hard to explain," Walker said. "When we got back to New York, they offered us a three-week vacation in Florida and 90 days shore leave, but I wanted another ship. "I wouldn't do that now, but when you're young, you're eager to get going."

He was sent to Russia

He was sent to Russia, and after his ship was hit again, he finished the war in Okinawa. On Victory-Europe Day, he did not get a trip to Paris, but back to Russia.

In 1949, Walker was part of a secret submarine mission outside of Russia, one of the opening movements of the Cold War. Recently, the mission was described in a book, "Blind Man's Bluff: The Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage," which led to an appearance by Walker on The History Channel.

During the mission, one of the two American submarines began to sink. Walker did not think, he just reacted by jumping into the frigid waters to help. He did not even think about the fact that he did not know how to swim.

His efforts helped save 90 crew members from the sinking submarine and earned him the Gold Lifesaving Medal. "I don't think I was doing anything other than my job," Walker said. "I don't care too much for being called a hero - everybody was in the same boat and everybody had a job to do. With the circumstances and where you end up, it could have happened to anyone."

Walker said his generation deserves to be recognized for its sacrifices and accomplishments in World War II, but he said they don't need the attention.

"One thing about our generation is we did the job and didn't complain," Walker said. "We're humble; we do it and just don't complain."

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