Many of our nation's fallen heroes have yet to make it home from war. One of those men is Air Force Capt. John S. Walmsley Jr., whose dedication to completing his mission during the Korean War cost him his life, but it earned him the Medal of Honor.
Walmsley was born and raised in Baltimore and attended the University of Maryland after graduating from high school in 1936. Within a few months of the U.S. entering World War II, he decided he needed to help the cause, so he enlisted in the Army.
Walmsley trained to be an Army Air Forces pilot, eventually earning his wings and his commission in November 1943. He didn't see combat during the war, but instead served as an instructor in the U.S. and Japan for many years before going to air tactical school training in 1949.
Walmsley had become a specialist with a series of air control and warning squadrons by the time the Korean War broke out. He was deployed there with the Air Force in June 1951, having already completed about two dozen combat missions.
On Sept. 14, 1951, Walmsley and three crew members were sent on a nighttime reconnaissance mission over a main supply route in central North Korea. While flying along in their B-26 Invader light bomber, Walmsley noticed an enemy supply train — a priority target for them.
Walmsley went in for the attack immediately, dropping all his bombs on the train. The attack disabled it, but it wasn't destroyed, so Walmsley called for backup to finish the job.
When another B-26 responded, Walmsley turned on his bomber's searchlight, which was still being tested at the time, to give the other B-26 full visibility of the train. That was helpful for the incoming pilot, but it made Walmsley’s crew an easy target. They flew low into the valley and over the train twice, which exposed them to heavy ground fire.
Walmsley could have evaded the barrage, but he wanted to ensure maximum destruction, so instead, he pushed straight through the intense enemy fire. His bomber was hit and crashed into nearby mountains, exploding on impact.
The gunner in the B-26 with Walmsley, Master Sgt. George Moror, was the only member of the crew known to have survived, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. He was taken prisoner and released after the war.
Walmsley; his navigator/bombardier, 2nd Lt. William Mulkins; and his photographer, Capt. Philip Browning, died in the crash. Walmsley's body has never been recovered.
The crash was a terrible ending to the mission, but it was actually a success — the train and its vital cargo were destroyed. For Walmsley's courage under fire and willingness to give his life for the cause, his widow and two daughters were presented with the Medal of Honor on his behalf on June 12, 1954.
Walmsley was the first bomber pilot to earn the nation's highest honor for actions taken in Korea.
Walmsley is memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.