Gathering of Eagles Foundation

Honored as an Eagle in:

1987 1993

Eagle Biography

Kenneth A. Walsh

Kenneth A. Walsh was a United States Marine Corps Corsair ace in World War II. From April to September 1943, he scored 20 victories in battles over the Solomon Islands. On 8 February 1944, for action on 15 and 30 August 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, at the White House, decorated Walsh with the Medal of Honor. Walsh was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 24 November 1916, and joined the Marine Corps in December 1933, to become a fighter pilot. Earning his wings in April 1937 as a private at Pensacola, Florida, he flew scout and observation aircraft before realizing his goal of becoming a fighter pilot in July 1941. In October 1942, Walsh transferred to a Marine fighter squadron, VMF-124, the first unit to deploy to the Pacific with the new F4U-1 Corsair.

Flying from Fighter Strip 1 on Guadalcanal, he became VMF-124's first ace by mid-May of 1943. Walsh continued to add aerial victories and, by 15 August, was credited with 10. On that date, he led a flight of five Corsairs on combat air patrol near Vella Lavella. Outnumbered six to one, Walsh repeatedly dove into the enemy formation to claim three victories. Just 2 weeks later, on 30 August, escorting B-24s for a strike on Kahili Airdrome, Bouganville, Walsh's Corsair developed engine trouble. He quickly changed aircraft at Munda and approached Kahili just as the bombers commenced their run.

In the ensuing melee, Walsh downed 4 of a force of 50 Zeros, only to have his Corsair so badly shot up he crashed in the sea off Vella Lavella. Arriving in the States in late 1943, he was an operational training instructor before returning to the Pacific with VMF-222 in April 1945. In June, flying from Kadena, he scored his 21st and last victory--a Kamikaze Zero bound for Okinawa. After V-J Day, he was assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, Washington, D.C. In Korea, he flew combat-cargo and aerial-evacuation missions in a Marine transport squadron, VMR-152. Promoted to major in April 1952, he later commanded VMR-152. In January 1959, Walsh was stationed in Japan as the first Marine Aircraft Wing aircraft maintenance officer. Lieutenant Colonel Walsh retired in 1962.

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Late on 15 August 1943, Walsh led a flight of five Corsairs from Munda on combat air patrol. After arriving on station near Vella Lavella, US Navy radar warned of "a large bogey," later reported as approximately 30 Japanese aircraft, approaching the area. Determined to thwart the enemy attack, Walsh unhesitatingly dove into the enemy formation. After downing one Zero, he attacked a formation of Val dive bombers during which his Corsair received numerous 20-mm hits, including one in the starboard wing fuel tank. Taking violent evasive action, Walsh flew into a cloud. As he put it, "Of course my gyros tumbled and I experienced vertigo! After some needle-ball-air speed, I exited the base of the cloud inverted, in about 43 degrees of dive, looking into the crater of an extinct volcano on the island of Kolombangara! Now at minimum altitude, I righted the aircraft and began a pull-out, trying, hoping, and trying not to black out! For an instant I thought I'd never make it.But then I missed the outer crater rim; yes, just barely missed the rim...It was a close call." He returned to base where his aircraft was declared a total loss.

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