Walker honors family military history with wall display
With the coming of a Memorial Day – a day of remembrance for those who have given their lives and service in service to their country – one local Graham man and his family see their military service not as a choice, but a tradition.
Graham native Leon Walker and many of the men in his family have been servicemen, starting in World War II. Walker noticed the trend not long after he started gathering pictures of his relatives.
“It all started when I started getting pictures out and figured out that I had so many relatives and immediate family members who were in the military. It all started with my father-in-law (Maurice Smith), who enlisted in the Marine Corps, and he was 41 years old when World War II broke out,” Walker said. “He fought on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.”
Walker joined the Navy in 1964 and served from 1965 to 1967 on the USS Preble, a guided missile frigate. He left Graham young and started a new life in California after his service was over.
“I left Graham when I was 17 and went into the Navy and got stationed in California and met my wife out there. We married, had all of our sons out there and came back here (Graham) in ’79,” he said.
After Walker found that his family was so full of servicemen, he made a wall of their pictures in his home. Following his father-in-law Walker’s earliest-serving family members were his two uncles and his two brothers.
“My two brothers, Dean (Walker) and Frank (Walker), in the ‘60s they served peacetime, but Dean was in the Air Force and Frank was in the Army,” he said. “My two uncles, my dad’s brothers, one served in Korea and Vietnam, and the other one served in World War II in Korea.”
Walker had four sons in California who all followed his footsteps into the military, though each took a different path, Walker said.
“My oldest son, Byron, enlisted in the Air Force and he was part of the invasion force in Grenada that freed the medical students back in the ‘80s,” he said “My middle son, David, was in the Marine Corps and he served during peacetime. My youngest son, Jeff, was Army Special Forces Green Beret and he served in Bosnia, Serbia, both Gulf Wars, and enlisted as a private and got out as a first lieutenant.”
The military legacy of the Walker family does not end with Walker’s sons, but has spread to his grandsons, who are currently serving around the world.
“My first grandson, Justin, enlisted in the Army and he served one tour in Afghanistan, and I have got one grandson, Wyatt Walker, he is David son, and he is in the Naval Corps of Cadets at Texas A&M (University) in Galveston,” he said. “Byron’s youngest son, my grandson Colby, is the Marine Corps as we speak and he is right now in Okinawa (Japan).”
The wall of pictures that sits in Walker’s home in Graham is a focal point for everyone who visits, he said.
“It’s an honor that we all wanted to serve and do our part and when you get it all together … and you look at all the years and all the history there and all the wars and the battles that everybody was in, it’s a really an honor.”
The family has not lost any members in service except for Walker’s older brother, Dean, who was 18 when he died of cancer while in the Air Force. Walker said nobody knew of his disease until around a week before his death.
Walker said he’s thankful there were no other losses during service in his family.
“We haven’t lost anybody to combat, so we can thank God for that, but some of us have come close,” he said. “Jeff has come close in both Gulf Wars and my son, Justin, came close in Afghanistan, but thank God, they came home.”
For the family, the military has been both a test of their strength and a benefit to their educations. Walker’s son Jeff was a Green Beret who spent 14 years in the Army and got a master’s degree after serving as a team medic and leaving service as a physician’s assistant.
“As far as my family is concerned, the military is the way to go, whether it is two years, four years or career,” Walker said. “If you get out of high school and you don’t have a direction and you don’t want to go to college or you can’t afford to go to college, then go in the military.”
His grandson Wyatt, who is currently attending Texas A&M University in Galveston, has already visited 19 different countries through the Corps of Cadets program. He received his merchant marine license in the program and has taken trips through the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal and around the world.
Walker said most kids who come out of high school are unsure of what to do and are unchained from their parents for the first time. For his family, the military served as a guidepost to follow after high school.
“Well, when you get out of school and go to the military, you are still under some sort of control, (and) you are getting paid for it.” he said. “You are growing up seeing how the world works and how other people live. And then, when you get out, you’ve got funds there to send you to school. By then, maybe you know what you want to do in life.”
In front of Walker’s home is an estimated 350-year-old tree that almost mirrors the strength and military valor displayed in the Walker family tree, its tradition of military service binding each member now and forever.
“Military is our legacy and I wouldn’t trade anything in the world for my time in the Navy,” Walker said.