John L. Walker
U. S. Army
Dates of Service: 06/02/1966 - 08/29/1972
Infantryman, Squad Leader, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 506th Infantry
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John Lenard Walker was born on 14 January 1949 in Athens, Louisiana to J.D. Walker and Addie Graham Walker. He has a brother and sister, Bobbie Ray Owens and Rose Mary Jennings. In 1966 John graduated from Hillcrest High School, which later became Athens High School after integration. He starred on the basketball team as a guard and forward. He went to the prom with Jessie Faye Smith, a woman he would eventually marry in 2004. As Vietnam raged, John wanted to join the army. Instead of being drafted, he forged his mother's signature "because I was only 17. The recruiter knew it." John relates that the recruiter found his mother. "I'm going to go ahead and sign it just because he'll do it anyway," his mother said. John joined the army in June of 1966, and went through basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. "I was a bit naive you know. I wanted to be an infantryman, you know, be gung-ho." He vividly recalls the training. "It was tough. It was tough. But you know it's strange, you know there's some things in life that makes such an impression on you. I can recall right now vividly faces, people, events, conversations, all of that from that many years ago in basic training: the cadences that were called and the runs that we would go on. All of that is just like it was yesterday." He took Advanced Individual Training in infantry at Fort Ord, California, and then volunteered for jump school at Fort Benning in Georgia. "In fact, the second time I was ever on a plane I jumped out of it so that's a memorable experience." He was then sent to Panama in the 508th Airborne Infantry, the "Red Devils". There he learned the unit was going to Vietnam, although he had already volunteered for service in war-torn country. John became "best of friends" with a soldier from Birmingham, Alabama, whose younger sister was one of the children killed in the 1963 bombings of Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. At Fort Campbell, Kentucky he saw President Lyndon Johnson speak to the soldiers. The whole unit went together to Vietnam in November 1967.They were to land at Bien Hoa Air Force Base, but it was under rocket attack, so he disembarked at Cam Ranh Bay. John says the climate in Vietnam, was "hot and humid" like it is in Louisiana, but worse. "During the rainy season, the monsoon they call it, you know everything is mud, mud, mud. During the dry season, it's dirt, dust. We say white guys come out looking like black guys and black guys start looking like something else, you know? Because it's just all in your skin and nose and everything. John got a week's leave of rest and recuperation in Bangkok, Thailand. Meanwhile he was writing Jessie Faye. "I was very much in love with Jessie Faye at that time. While in Vietnam he enjoyed watching one of the Bob Hope shows. John completed his tour of duty in Vietnam in December 1968. The next year he was sent to Germany, where he disliked cold weather, for "three gruesome years." he remarks. After completing his military obligation he worked as program administrator for the California Department of Corrections for 20 years, while obtaining a degree from the University of California, Berkeley. John believes his military experience gave him "disciplines that I otherwise wouldn't have." He is in favor of the draft. "I think a lot of people that hide behind their so-called patriotism and all of that, that the draft would make them put their money where their mouth is," he states. John is married to Jessie Faye Smith Walker, the girl he took to the prom. They have four children: Lisa Addison Walker, Byron Kenneth Walker, Myaka Nafu Walker, and Myakani Nafuu Walker, and one grandchild.