VETERAN SPOTLIGHT - Gary Lee WalkerSep 10, 2021
The year was 1967, and Gary Lee Walker was the first in his family to graduate from high school in Baltimore, Maryland. He had grown up admiring his father’s military service under the command of General Douglas MacArthur in the Pacific during World War II.
“I had heard my dad tell the stories,” said Walker, “And for me, there was never a question of what I was going to do. I simply wanted to serve my country in the way my father had.”
Unfortunately, Walker was born without a joint in one of his thumbs, so he discovered that the Army and Marines wouldn’t take him. He couldn’t connect with an Air Force recruiter, but when he walked into a Naval recruiting station, they were ready to bring him on board.
“The guy said, ‘Come here, boy, I’ve got a job for you,’” said Walker. Three weeks later, I was at a naval air station annex in Key West, Florida.”
Walker quickly found his way to working on the flight line, servicing helicopters that participated in sea rescue missions. Among the things he learned to do was servicing jet engines and loading torpedoes. He moved to an aircraft carrier, the USS Shangri-La, based in Jacksonville, Florida, from that initial duty station in Key West. The carrier and its crew’s mission included a cruise to Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Brazil, and Vietnam. It was at that last stop where Walker experienced combat for the first time.
“We were delivering supplies to various bases that day with Navy Seals on board, returning to the ship to reload between trips,” said Walker. “It was in the middle of the afternoon when we went back to a Marine base to unload that we came under fire. I was not considered to be combat-trained, so I was not allowed to return after that.”
As his enlistment ended and he prepared to re-enlist, Walker was hit with disappointing news from a military doctor. Even though he was otherwise healthy at the time, he was diagnosed with arthritis at 23-years old. He would not be permitted to re-enlist.
“There wasn’t anything wrong with me,” said Walker. “But I wasn’t going to be able to make a career of the military, so I just sort of rolled with the punches and started going on job interviews.”
After facing some initial problems getting a job due to the enforcement of job quotas on the East Coast, Walker packed up and headed west to look for work in the oil fields. He quickly found a spot with a company in Oklahoma and made a career. He and his first wife joined First Baptist Church in Moore, where he still attends. Walker’s first wife died after 11-and-a-half years. Today he has an adult daughter and a second wife he loving calls “Princess Kathy.”
“I was widowed for eight years before I met Princess Kathy,” said Walker. “We married in April of 2010, and I’ve been a happy boy since!”
These days Walker invests his time in the local VFW as the chaplain for District 10. He has served in the past as state and post chaplain. He hopes that young men and women today will follow in the footsteps left by himself and his fellow veterans.
“You will learn so much,” said Walker. “Millions of young men and women have taken that oath, and it never expires.”