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About Walton Harris "Johnnie" Walker
Walton Harris Walker (December 3, 1889 – December 23, 1950) was an American army officer and the first commander of the U.S. Eighth Army during the Korean War.
Walker was born in Belton, Texas on December 3, 1889 and graduated from West Point in 1912. As a lieutenant, he served in the Vera Cruz expedition under Brigadier General Frederick Funston. Patrolling on the U.S.-Mexican border in 1916, he developed a close friendship with Dwight Eisenhower.
During World War I, Walker fought in France with the 5th Infantry Division and was awarded the Silver Star for gallantry in action.
After World War I, Walker rotated through a variety of assignments, including service in China, Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and teaching duties in several posts, including West Point. In the 1930s he served as executive officer of an infantry brigade commanded by George Marshall, the future Army Chief of Staff.
World War II
When hostilities broke out in Europe in 1939, Walker was executive of the War Plans division of the general staff, but when Marshall (now Chief of Staff) assigned George Patton to organize America's armored forces, Walker successfully lobbied Marshall for a post as one of Patton's subordinate commanders, gaining promotion to brigadier general in the process. Promoted major general in 1942, he commanded Third Armored Division and eventually XX Corps, taking the latter to England in early 1944 and leading it into combat in Normandy in July as part of Patton's Third Army.
Walker's XX Corps played a role in Patton's dash across France in August and early September 1944, earning the sobriquet "Ghost Corps" for the speed of its advance. Walker's troops saw heavy fighting in France and Germany during the remainder of the war, especially at Metz, the Battle of the Bulge, and in the invasion of Germany. In the spring of 1945 XX Corps liberated Buchenwald concentration camp then pushed south and east, eventually reaching Linz, Austria by May. Walker received his third star at this time, making him a Lieutenant-General.
Post-World War II
After the war Walker became commander of Fifth Army, headquartered in Chicago, but in 1948, was assigned as commanding general of the Eighth Army, the American occupation force in Japan. Walker was ordered by General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander in Japan, to restore the depleted Army to combat-worthy condition.
Shortly after the North Korean invasion of South Korea, in June 1950, the Eighth Army was ordered to intervene and drive the invaders back across the 38th parallel, the border between the two countries. With only four lightly equipped and poorly trained divisions, Walker began landing troops on the southeast side of the Korean peninsula in July. After his lead units, elements of the 24th Infantry Division (including the ill-fated Task Force Smith), were virtually destroyed in a few days of furious fighting between Osan and Taejon, Walker realized his assigned mission was impossible and went on the defensive. Pushed steadily back towards the southeast by the North Korean advance, Walker's forces suffered heavy losses and for a time were unable to form a defensible front, even after bringing the 1st Cavalry and 25th Infantry Divisions into the fight.
Walker's situation was not helped by unrealistic demands from MacArthur in Tokyo not to retreat an inch. Attempting to obey, Walker gave a bombastic "not a step back" speech to his staff and subordinate commanders which did not go over well. Nor did it stop the North Koreans from pushing back the Americans and the Republic of Korea Army (ROK), which had been badly mauled in the opening days of the invasion, even further.
As American and ROK forces retreated further east and south, they finally arrived at a defensible line on the Nakdong River. They took advantage of shortened supply routes and a relatively good road network to exploit the advantages of "interior lines". Walker was able to quickly shift his units from point to point, stopping North Korean attacks before they could be reinforced. The Americans were greatly aided by decoded radio intercepts of enemy communications, giving them advance knowledge of where North Korean attacks would occur. Walker was also able to employ artillery and airpower to great effect.
American forces gradually solidified this defensive position on the southeast side of the Korean peninsula, dubbed the "Pusan Perimeter". Walker received reinforcements, including the Provisional Marine Brigade, which he used along with the Army's 27th Infantry Regiment as "fire brigades," reliable troops who specialized in counterattacking and wiping out enemy penetrations.
As more reinforcements arrived, the combat advantage shifted toward the American and South Korean forces. North Korean forces had suffered terribly and their supply lines were under constant aerial bombardment. Almost all of their T-34 tanks, which spearheaded the invasion, had been destroyed. Walker ordered local counterattacks while planning for a large scale breakout in conjunction with MacArthur's Inchon landing in September.
With MacArthur's amphibious flanking move, the North Koreans seemed trapped but Walker's rapid advance northwest towards Inchon and Seoul emphasized speed over maneuver and made no attempt to encircle and destroy the North Koreans after punching through their lines. Although thousands of prisoners were taken, many North Korean units successfully disengaged from the fighting, melting away into the interior of South Korea where they would conduct a guerrilla war for two years. Others escaped all the way back to North Korea.
With the war apparently won, Walker's Eighth Army quickly moved north and, with the independent X Corps on its right, crossed the 38th parallel to occupy North Korea. Fighting tapered off to sporadic, sharp clashes with remnants of North Korean forces. By late October 1950 the Eighth Army was nearing the Yalu River, North Korea's border with China. Walker, informed by MacArthur's headquarters that the Chinese would not intervene, did not insure that his troops maintained watchful security. Due to a lack of coordination between Walker, General Edward Almond, Commander of the X Corps, and MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo, a gap had opened between Eighth Army and X Corps as they moved close to the Chinese border. Eventually, the weather had turned savagely cold, and most American units had no training and inadequate equipment for the bitter temperatures.
Contrary to MacArthur's expectations, the Chinese intervened in force; first in a series of ambushes, then in sporadic night attacks, and finally in an all-out offensive in which large Chinese forces infiltrated the lines, taking advantage of the American failure to take basic security measures, and the large intervals between American and South Korean units and between the Eighth Army and the X Corps. From late October until the beginning of December in 1950, the Chinese killed or captured thousands of American and ROK soldiers, decimating the 2nd Infantry Division and forcing Walker into a desperate retreat.
By early December, using his superior mobility Walker successfully broke contact with the Chinese, withdrawing south to a position around Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea. Without instructions from MacArthur's headquarters, Walker decided that Eighth Army was too battered to defend Pyongyang and ordered the retreat resumed to below the 38th parallel.
On December 23, 1950, Walker was killed in a traffic accident, when Walker's command jeep collided with a civilian truck at high speed as he inspected positions north of Seoul. His body was escorted back to the United States by his son, future general Sam S. Walker. Walker was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on January 2, 1951.
In 1963, South Korea President Park Chung-hee honored the general by naming a hill in the southern part of Seoul after Walker. Today, Walker Hill is the site of the Sheraton Walker Hill, a five-star international resort and hotel. In December 2009, the mayor of Dobong-gu district, Choi Sun-Kil, unveiled the Walton Harris Walker monument to mark the site of his death. The memorial, which is near Dobong subway Station, pays tribute to Walker and to all those who defended South Korea in the Korean War.
Promoted posthumously to 4-star General, Walker's memory was much honored in the years immediately following the Korean War. The Army chose his name (and his other nickname), for its next light tank, the M41 Walker Bulldog. Dallas, Texas, named the western segment of Texas State Highway Loop 12 after him (the portion going through neighboring Irving, Texas continues the naming convention). One of the largest Armed Forces Recreation Center's hotels, the General Walker Hotel in Berchtesgaden (now demolished), was also named in his honor. Camp Walker in Daegu, ROK is named in his honor.