Thomas Walker, 86, Was Decorated Navy Veteran
The Gazette received news this week of the death of Thomas J. Walker, a native of Edgartown who had a distinguished career in the U.S. Navy, retiring with the rank of vice admiral. Mr. Walker died on Thursday, May 8, at Scripps memorial Hospital in Encinitas, Calif., at the age of 86.
In a career that spanned more than three decades, Admiral Walker logged 5,500 flying hours in a variety of aircraft.
A month after completing flight training in 1942, he began flying scout-observation planes that were catapulted from the stern of a battleship.
By the time he retired more than 30 years later as a vice admiral, he had served in three wars, received two Distinguished Service medals and commanded the Naval Air Force Pacific Fleet.
His military decorations included a Legion of Merit and Bronze Star.
In 1945, he was assigned to Los Alamos, N.Mex., where he commanded a B-29 crew that prepared to deliver the U.S. military's fourth atomic bomb.
The first bomb had been tested on the deserts of New Mexico in July 1945. The second was dropped on Hiroshima the following month, and the third devastated Nagasaki three days later. The fourth bomb, as it turned out, was reserved for the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
During the Korean War, Admiral Walker developed techniques and tactics for the delivery of atomic weapons from light-carrier-based aircraft as the first commanding officer of Air Development Squadron VX-5 at Moffat Field.
In 1957, he was assigned command of an all-weather training unit in San Diego. He trained pilots in instrument flying, including an air defense squadron attached to the Air Force Defense Command.
His first sea command was in 1959, when he was assigned to the ammunition ship Nitro. In 1960, he became the first commanding officer of the aircraft carrier Constellation.
In June 1966, during the Vietnam War, Admiral Walker served as commander of Carrier Division 3, an assignment that resulted in the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm.
Based at North Island Air Station from 1971 until his retirement in 1973, he oversaw the Naval Air Force Pacific Fleet. Under his command were nine aircraft carriers, 16 naval air stations, nearly 100 air squadrons and more than 68,000 service personnel.
As a civilian, he pursued a career in international and domestic marketing with Hughes Aircraft before retiring in 1986.
He then settled into a home near the golf course at Lomas Santa Fe Country Club in Solana Beach. He was an avid golfer.
Admiral Walker was a supporter of and adviser to the San Diego Aerospace Museum and was active in the exclusive Early and Pioneer Naval Aviators Association, better known as Golden Eagles.
He was the son of the late Raymond and Barbara Coffin Walker. He is survived by his wife, Katharine; his sons, Thomas Jr. of Wilton, Conn., and John of Santa Cruz; and two grandchildren. Also surviving are his cousins, Cynthia Riggs, Ann Riggs Fielder, Carlin Smith, Alvida Riggs Jones and Eileen Sibley Robinson. He was predeceased by his sisters, Eileen Walker and Nancy Walker Hand; a brother, James C. Walker, and a son, David Raymond Walker.
Admiral Walker's ashes will be strewn at sea from the aircraft carrier Constellation in full military ceremonies as the carrier steams from Hawaii to San Diego.