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War Stories

Weapons range to be named after hero

by Columnist July 12, 2008; Hearld Online

This story is about the Range being named, but it also is a detailed story about the heroic actions of Frank Walker & Joe Beck

He was straight off a Lesslie farm and his father's electrician's truck, where he started working in the eighth grade. Then Clemson ROTC, and all Frank Walker did was save six people from behind enemy lines in Vietnam 36 years ago Friday.

This coming Friday, the Army National Guard of South Carolina will name an entire weapons range at Columbia's Fort Jackson after him. They will call it the Wesley F. Walker range. But nobody, including his wife of 32 years, Kathie, ever called him anything but his middle name, Frank.

Frank Walker owned and worked right alongside his guys in that electrician company until a couple years ago when he sold it and retired. He is also retired from the Army National Guard as a lieutenant colonel.

On Friday, sitting on a stool in his house on the anniversary of his heroics, I found out Frank Walker might be the toughest, bravest man I've ever met.

He clearly should be dead.

"There was a helicopter they called the Jolly Green Giant down," Walker said. "It carried about 60 people."

Somebody had to fly the miles to get them. Of 27 airships in his unit, 21 already were shot down or would be. Two helicopters volunteered. One pilot was Lt. Frank Walker, with a gunner named Joe Beck at his side and another soldier on the other side. There was supposed to be Naval bombing support and Air Force support, but there was none.

I find Joe Beck in Eastman, Ga. He picks up the phone and remembers everything.

"We got inside the perimeter and couldn't fire our own guns because we had friendlies down there," Beck said. "It was bad enough all those missions when we are firing, but now we can't shoot. But they can sure shoot at us. It came from all sides, underneath. I was 20 years old. Walker was about 23. An old man by our standards. His voice was calm, and cool, somehow. He got us in and back. I admire about three people on this earth. My father. My brother. And Frank Walker."

Walker and that other helicopter found the six survivors among all the dead. Then Walker overloaded his own chopper with three of the wounded.

"We bumped along the ground a bunch just to get up -- we were so overloaded," Walker said.

Yes, the whole time Walker's helicopter was being shot at by all things that maim and kill.

Frank Walker, for his work that day, received the Distinguished Service Cross -- the second highest medal awarded for combat valor. In the year he was in combat, flying thousands of missions, he received three Distinguished Flying Crosses, a Bronze Star, The Vietnam Cross for Gallantry.

Rifle ranges are not named after people every day. Yet, South Carolina's Adjutant General Stan Spears, who nominated Walker for this rare honor, said Walker's distinguished service makes him deserving.

Frank Walker at age 61 has to make a speech this coming Friday at the range dedication. "How do I make a speech for something I didn't ask for, and quite frankly don't feel like I deserve?" Walker asked. "The guys in Iraq right now, Afghanistan. They deserve honors."

But he will go because that's what guys named Walker do.

In World War II, a farmer from Lesslie received honors for flying bombers. That guy's name was Marshall Walker. Frank Walker's father. Marshall Walker died in 2004.

"If I regret anything, it's my father isn't alive for this," Walker said.

But Frank Walker will have two special guys at Fort Jackson on Friday who are not dead. One is Joe Beck. The other is Bruce Keyes from California.

Keyes was the pilot of that helicopter that was shot down 36 years ago. Keyes was pulled from that burning hulk by Joe Beck and a pilot with a bandido mustache in those days, a rogue whose combat flight helmet that ugly day had the words "I am not your friend!" screaming across the side.

His friend, Frank Walker.

Andrew Dys • 329-4065 |