Eagle Profile

Lieutenant Colonel Ken Walsh is the top scoring living F4U Corsair ace with 21 air victories and 140 combat missions. “Join the Marines and Learn to Fly” was the poster that prompted Walsh to enlist in the Corps as a private on 15 December 1933. He served two years as an aircraft mechanic before becoming eligible for flight training in March 1936, he went to NAS Pensacola, Florida, to enter flight class 89-E. He earned his wings on 19 April 1937, and was then assigned to Brown Field, Quantico, Virginia, where he flew with Marine Scouting Squadron One (VMS-1). In June 1941, he realized his ambition of becoming a fighter pilot when he transferred to a Marine fighter squadron, VMF 121. When the Japanese attacked American forces in the Pacific, he was a technical sergeant with more than 2000 hours of flying time.

Walsh received his commission as a second lieutenant in October 1942. He-fought in the campaign to retake the Solomon Islands from February to September 1943 with VMF- 124, the first Marine Corps squadron in the Pacific equipped with the new Chance Vought F4U- 1 Corsair. During this period, he achieved 20 air victories and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for actions on 15 and 30 August 1943. On 15 August, Walsh repeatedly dove his plane into an enemy formation outnumbering his own division six-to-one and, although his plane was hit numerous times, shot down two Japanese dive bombers and a fighter. Two weeks later on 30 August, after developing engine trouble during a vital B-24 escort mission, he landed his mechanically disabled plane at Munda, quickly replaced it with another and rejoined his flight over Kahili where he encountered a pack of 50 enemy fighters.

He shot down four Mitsubishi Zeros, two over Ballale and two near Vella La Vella, before he himself was brought down. After the Solomons, he became a Training Command flight instructor at NAS Jacksonville, Florida. He returned to combat in April 1945 with VMF-222 flying first out of the Philippines and, later, Okinawa in the F4U-4 Corsair. He scored his 21st and final victory against a “Kamikaze” Zero on 22 June 1945. After V-J Day, he was assigned to the Bureau of Aeronautics, Washington, D.C. During the Korean war, he flew combat-cargo and aerial evacuation missions with VMR-152, a Marine transport squadron he would later command.

He was Promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1958 and transferred to Japan In January 1959 to become the Aircraft Maintenance Officer for the first Marine Aircraft Wing. Lieutenant Colonel Walsh retired in 1962 after 28 years of military duty.  He was an active participant in meetings with other fighter aces, Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, and Navy and Marine aviation pioneers.

Lieutenant Colonel Walsh was first selected as an Eagle by Air Command and Staff College’s Gathering of the Eagles in 1987 and subsequently honored in 1993.

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1987 Lithograph
1993 Lithograph

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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.

Walsh received a Distinguished Flying Cross for 5 June 1943 actions as a fighter escort for the Navy's Air Group Eleven, under Commander Weldon Hamilton. The strike force of 15 Douglas SBDs and 12 Grumman TBFs was on a mission to Buin harbor, Bougainville. As Hamilton made the final bomb run, Walsh shot down a Japanese Zero attacking his own wingman. As the strike force departed, a Mitsubishi Pete attacked Hamilton. Walsh closed and destroyed the attacker. Hamilton, whose aircraft had been damaged. returned to Guadalcanal, but unfortunately this superb combat leader did not survive the war.