World War II Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient

First Lieutenant Kenneth Ambrose Walsh, USMC

Kenneth A. Walsh was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 24 November 1916. Ken Walsh enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on 15 December 1933, serving as an aircraft mechanic and radioman before being accepted for Naval Flight Training (Class 89-E) in March 1935, where he graduated in April 1937.

Designated Naval Aviation Pilot (NAP), and promoted to Corporal (Cpl.) after winning his wings, Walsh served in this capacity for five years. Flying in scout-bomber and observation squadrons, Walsh's fleet duty also included carrier landings on Yorktown (CV-5), Wasp (CV-7) and Ranger (CV-4).

Ken Walsh was finally assigned to the Marine fighter squadron, VMF-121, as a Sergeant (Sgt.) pilot flying Grumman F4F-3 Wildcats at New Berne, NC, while he was promoted to Technical Sergeant (Tech. Sgt.) in December of 1941. Promotions came again in May of 1942, when Walsh became Marine Gunner (Warrant Officer, WO1), and then commissioned to Second Lieutenant (2nd Lt.) in October. The commission also accompanied a transfer to VMF-124 and a new fighter, the Chance Vought F4U-1 Corsair.

The Corsairs of VMF-124 would be the first to commit this fighter in combat on 13 February 1943 at Guadalcanal, and would fly from airfields in the Solomon Islands such as Guadalcanal, Russell Islands, and Munda, between February and September 1943. This marine unit, commanded by Major (Maj.) Bill Gise who would later be killed in action (KIA) on 13 May 1943 and would be succeeded by Captain C. B. Brewer, was attached to Rear Admiral Charles Mason's COMAIRSOLS (Commander Air Solomons). The aviation assets of COMAIRSOLS would be known as Airsols.

What was not known to COMAIRSOLS at the time was the fact that the IJN Fleet Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto had received approval for his so-called I-Plan from Tokyo. As part of this plan to seal off the Bismarck Sea barrier from further Allied encroachments, the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) was to transfer all of its aviation units to the protection of Papua in New Guinea. The responsibilities of sealing off the Solomans would fall on the aviation units of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). What then followed was to become a bloody war of attrition.

During the 13 February 1943 engagement, twelve Corsairs of VMF-124 were assigned as fighter escort for fifteen Thirteenth Air Force B-24 bombers belonging to the 307th Bomb Group (307th BG). This mission was a 300 mile attack against the airfields on Bougainville. The very next day, 14 February 1943, COMAIRSOLS opted for a repeat performance of having escorted bombing missions against Bougainville.

The Corsairs of VMF-124 and 70th Fighter Squadron (FS) P-38s again escorted the B-24s of the 307th BG and navy VB-101 PB4Ys against this same target. The hoped for repeat of the earlier success did not take place. What became known as the "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," resulted in the loss of eight bombers and two Corsairs.

There seems to be some confusion over this mission. Some sources claim that the bombers were navy VB-101 PB4Ys while, according COMAIRSOPAC Operations Plan 2-43 of 15 February 1943, there are definite references to 307th BG B-24s. Since it can be established that two VB-101 PB4Ys were lost, as were two VMF-124 F4Us and four 70th FS P-38s, the COMAIRSOPAC Operations Plan 2-43 must be referring to 307th BG B-24s that were also assigned to both the 13 and 14 February missions. This report is quite specific on this group's loss record. Both navy and 13th AF PB4Y and B-24s were stationed at Henderson field at the time. COMAIRSOLS would have used all of its available aviation assets for such a mission.

This relatively disappointing initial showing in combat brought a cancellation of daylight bomber raids against Rabaul or Bougainville until stronger escorting fighters were available. The Corsairs of VMF-124 would soon make their name known, especially with names like Ken Walsh.

While preparing for the assault against Rabaul, VMF-124 and Ken Walsh were used against the Shortland-Poporang area off southern Bougainville. The IJN Eighth Fleet Headquarters at Bouganville had established the "R-Area Air Force" with seaplanes in the Shortland-Poporang area. This action was because of the lack of suitable land bases available since the loss of Munda.

The IJN RAdm. Jojima Takatsuga, the CO of the Eleventh Seaplane Tender Division, formed the squadrons of four seaplane tenders into two hikokitai (ad hoc air groups). These two hikokitai aircraft, which would eventually be expanded and combined to become the IJN Eleventh Ku, were equipped with three types of aircraft. The twin-float, and three seat, Aichi E13A1 Type 0 (Jake) reconnaissance seaplanes would fly long- range searches and anti-sub patrols. The two-man Mitsubishi F1M2 Type 0 (Pete) observation biplanes would serve as make-shift fighters, while the real fighter punch was being relied upon the Nakajima A6M2-N Type 2 (Rufe) single float version of the Zeke fighters.

A combined AAF and Marine duel strike took place against the Shortland-Poporang area on 28 March. This Airsols force, being made up of eight P-38s of the 70th FS and eight VMF-124 Corsairs. Due to engine trouble and weather, seven Corsairs and three P-38s were forced out of the mission. The remaining aircraft of the Airsols' strike force were able to destroy eight IJN float-plane fighters and also to able to severely damage an IJN destroyer.

With the Allied build up for the assault up the Solomon Island chain the IJN Southeastern Fleet's High Command at Rabaul, which also included IJN Fleet Admiral Mineichi Koga's Third (Carrier) Fleet, decided to strike at the assemblage of Allied shipping at Tulagi Harbor. A large IJN strike force of Aichi D3A1 Type 99 (Val) carrier based dive-bombers, with Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 carrier fighter, Model 21s (Zeke) as fighter protection, were thrown against this very attractive target.

These aircraft were from the IJN Carrier Division Two (CARDIV 2), commanded by the IJN Rear Admiral Kakuta Kakuji, which included the carriers ZUIKAKU, SHOKAKU, and the ZUIHO. The IJN CARDIV 1 was composed of the carriers RYUJO, JUNYO, and HIYO. Aircraft from all of these carriers had been shore based since February to replace the relocation of the IJA Fourth Ku transfer of its aerial assets of approximately 200 aircraft to Wewak.

Forty-two fighters, four of them P-38s, from Airsols were sent over the Russell islands to counter the IJN strike force that was approaching in two waves. In the resulting three hour combat, twenty Zekes were claimed shot down with the loss of six Allied fighters.

During the 1 April 1943 combat Ken Walsh was able to score his first victories. Walsh claimed two Zeke fighters and one Val dive- bomber. Walsh is sure to have been involved against the large IJN attack that took place on 7 April. On this day the IJN strike force was made up of over 160 aircraft.

COMAIRSOLS, based at CACTUS (code name for Guadalcanal), sent up all of their seventy-six available fighters, which were Corsairs, P-38s, P-39s, and F4F-4s. In the ensuing aerial engagement, Airsols' fighters accounted for thirty-nine of the IJN aircraft shot down. Thirteen of this number were credited to AAF pilots, the remaining twenty-six victories went to navy or marine pilots.

Second Lieutenant Walsh became the first Corsair ace when he shot down three Zekes on 13 May 1943. Walsh was nominated for and received the Medal of Honor for his missions on the 15th and 30th of August, which were in support of the Allied assault against New Georgia.

During the action on 15 August, Walsh repeatedly dove his aircraft into an enemy formation that out-numbered his division by numbers of six to one. Ken Walsh was credited with the destruction of two Vals and one Zeke while his aircraft was repeated hit by enemy fire. The total Allied claims for this day amounted to thirty-five aircraft in two separate engagements over Vella Lavella. The Corsairs of VMF-124 claimed ten more victories over Kahili airfield at Bouganville.

In the action on 30 August, Walsh was on an escort mission for navy PB4Ys (B-24s), again against Kahili airfield. The Corsair that Walsh was flying developed engine trouble and was forced to landed at Vella Lavella. Ken Walsh "borrowed" an alert-strip F4U and took off alone. During this mission the bombers were attacked by a formation of about fifty Zekes. Walsh, having caught up with the bombers and, in a running fight, shot down four Zekes before being shot down himself near Vella Lavella. With these last victories, before his own downing, Walsh's score of twelve kills ran his total to twenty.

After being shot down himself, Ken Walsh was rescued and was returned safely. After this first combat tour, Walsh was sent back home. Back in the US, he received the Congressional Medal of Honor from Franklin Delano Roosevelt on 8 Feb 1944. With the receiving of this award and honor, Ken Walsh was promoted to Captain, effective the same date.

Ken Walsh returned to combat with VMF-222 in the Philippines in April 1945. Between April and June 1945, VMF-222 operated from Samar in the Philippines. These missions were used in a fighter-bomber capacity. In the combat operations between June and September, VMF-222 operated from airfields on Okinawa. In this part of the campaign, Walsh scored his 21st and final kill on 22 June 1945, which was a Zeke Kamikazi.

During the Korean War, Walsh was assigned flying R5D (C-54) transports with Marine Transport Squadron 152 (VMR-152). Ken Walsh attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel (usually the highest possible for a former "mustang") in October 1958, when he was assigned to the 3rd Marine Air Wing at El Toro, California. Lieutenant Colonel Ken Walsh retired from military service on 1 Feb 1962.

Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth A. Walsh USMC (retired) died on 30 July 1998 at the age of 81. Funeral Services for Lt. Col. Walsh were at the Marine Corps Air Station Chapel at El Toro, CA, on 4 August 1998. As per Kenneth A. Walsh's request, his body was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on 13 August 1998. Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth A. Walsh was survived by his wife of 57 years, Beulah, and their son, Thomas.

Two words explained the life of Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth A. Walsh USMC (retired), SEMPER FI.


Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Ambrose Walsh, who wore the Medal of Honor for World War II heroism, retired from active service in the Marine Corps in January 1962, after over 28 years' continuous active duty as a Marine. He died 30 July 1998.

A veteran of both World War II and the Korean War, Colonel Walsh rose from a flying private to the fourth-ranking Marine Corps Ace in World War II with a record of 21 enemy planes destroyed.

Colonel Walsh was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 24 November 1916. He was graduated from Dickinson High School, Jersey City, New Jersey, in 1933 where he had been an outstanding track athlete. He enlisted in the Marine Corps on 15 December 1933, and underwent recruit training at Parris Island, South Carolina. Upon graduation, he spent two years as an aviation mechanic and radioman at Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia.

In March 1936, Colonel Walsh was selected for flight training and was transferred to Pensacola, Florida. He won his wings there as a private in April 1937, and spent four years in scout and observation flying. During this time he served aboard aircraft carriers Yorktown, Wasp and Ranger. Meanwhile, the aviator was promoted through the enlisted ranks to master technical sergeant and then to Marine gunner, equivalent to the present rank of warrant officer. The latter promotion took place on 11 May 1942, while he was serving with Marine Aircraft Group 12, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force, San Francisco, California.

In October 1942, he was commissioned second lieutenant and, in June 1943, was promoted to first lieutenant. He was promoted to captain (temporary) in February 1944 (this appointment became permanent 13 November 1948); to major in April 1955; and to lieutenant colonel in October 1958.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Colonel Walsh was serving on the East Coast with Marine Fighting Squadron 121. He transferred to Marine Fighting Squadron 124 in September 1942, to be shipped overseas in January 1943, for duty in the Solomon Islands area. He was particularly active in aerial combat in the Vella LaVella vicinity in August 1943, while a division leader in his squadron. He scored all his 21 victories in the Vought "Corsair" F4U fighter.

Colonel Walsh returned to the United States 15 October 1943, and was assigned special temporary aviation duty with the Division of Aviation, Headquarters Marine Corps. He received the Medal of Honor 8 February 1944.

In January 1944, he was assigned to the Naval Air Operational Training Command, Naval Air Station, Jacksonville, Florida, to serve as flight instructor. In April 1945, he was transferred to the Philippine Islands and served in that area and in the Okinawa campaign as Operations Officer for Marine Fighting Squadron 222 and, later, as Assistant Operations Officer of Marine Aircraft Group 14. He returned to Headquarters Marine Corps in March 1946, to be reassigned with the Bureau of Aeronautics, Navy Department.

After nearly three years with the Bureau, Colonel Walsh joined the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Fleet Marine Force, in January 1949, at El Toro, Santa Ana, California, as Assistant Group Engineering Officer, Marine Aircraft Group 12. He transferred from there in July 1949, to Marine Corps Air Station, Quantico, Virginia, as an aircraft engineering and maintenance student. Upon completion, he returned to El Toro and Marine Aircraft Group 25 as Assistant Engineering Officer in Marine Transport Squadron 152.

With this squadron Colonel Walsh went overseas on 15 July 1950, shortly after the outbreak of the Korean Conflict. He served in Korea until July 1951, and was awarded a gold star in lieu of his fifteenth Air Medal, "for outstanding performance of duty in aerial flight against the enemy in Korea."

Colonel Walsh returned to El Toro in late July 1951, remaining there until 1 April 1952, when he was transferred to Staff, Commander Air Force, United States Atlantic Fleet, Norfolk, Virginia, as Marine Liaison Officer for Aircraft Material and Maintenance. He remained there until 28 September 1955, when he was assigned to the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, El Toro, as Aircraft Maintenance and Repair Officer in Marine Transport Squadron 152.

In January 1959, Colonel Walsh was assigned to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, as Wing Aircraft Maintenance Officer. He held this assignment until April 1960, and the following month returned to the 3d Marine Aircraft Wing at El Toro, serving consecutively as Executive Officer and Operations Officer of Marine Transport Squadron 352 until October 1961. That month he was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, Marine Wing Service Group 37, 3d Marine Aircraft Wing.

Besides the Medal of Honor, Colonel Walsh held the Distinguished Flying Cross with six Gold Stars, the Air Medal with 14 Gold Stars, the Presidential Unit Citation with one bronze star, the Army Distinguished Unit Citation with emblem, the Good Conduct Medal with one bronze star, the American Defense Service Medal with base clasp, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four bronze stars, the World War II Victory Medal, the Navy Occupation Service Medal with Asia clasp, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal with one silver star and one bronze star, the United Nations Service Medal, the Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one bronze star, the Philippine Presidential Unit Citation, and two Korean Presidential Unit Citations.

Colonel Walsh and his wife, the former Beulah Mae Barinott of Washington, D.C., resided in Santa Ana, California.

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron 124, U.S. Marine Corps.

Place and date: Solomon Islands area, 15 and 30 August 1943.

Entered service at: New York.

Born: 24 November 1916, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Other Navy awards: Distinguished Flying Cross with 5 Gold Stars.

Citation: For extraordinary heroism and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty as a pilot in Marine Fighting Squadron 124 in aerial combat against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands area. Determined to thwart the enemy's attempt to bomb Allied ground forces and shipping at Vella Lavella on 15 August 1943, 1st Lt. Walsh repeatedly dived his plane into an enemy formation outnumbering his own division 6 to 1 and, although his plane was hit numerous times, shot down 2 Japanese dive bombers and 1 fighter. After developing engine trouble on 30 August during a vital escort mission, 1st Lt. Walsh landed his mechanically disabled plane at Munda, quickly replaced it with another, and proceeded to rejoin his flight over Kahili. Separated from his escort group when he encountered approximately 50 Japanese Zeros, he unhesitatingly attacked, striking with relentless fury in his lone battle against a powerful force. He destroyed 4 hostile fighters before cannon shellfire forced him to make a dead-stick landing off Vella Lavella where he was later picked up. His valiant leadership and his daring skill as a flier served as a source of confidence and inspiration to his fellow pilots and reflect the highest credit upon the U.S. Naval Service.