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Sunday, November 20, 2016

THE SHOOTER


I admit the only element of this story that surprised me was that the assassin planned to use a church congregation as a cover for his get away. After he had murdered his target, he intended upon blending into the parishioners leaving Wednesday evening services. It was a diabolical and inspired plan. And it was about the last smart thing the would be assassin did. From that moment on, he started to shrink in stature, and intellect..And oddly, the same had been true of his intended victim.
The target lived in a two story Craftsman style home at 4011 Turtle Creek Boulevard, in Dallas Texas. The assassin realized the boulevard was too busy for a safe shot, and the front of the house set back too far from the street to provide a reliable shot. But his reconnaissance revealed there was a dead end alley in the rear which would get him to within a hundred feet of the home's windows. At that range the shooter couldn't miss.
And for an escape, running north through the alley would lead him to the parking lot behind a Presbyterian Church, which fronted on Oak Lawn Avenue. And just past the church, on Oak Lawn, was a bus stop, which would provide an inconspicuous getaway. It was, again, diabolical and inspired. By using the bus, he would not have to borrow a car. And his overcoat would hide the rifle from fellow riders.
The target was Edwin (Ted) Anderson Walker, a man with many enemies, almost all of them of his own choosing. A West Point graduate, he had been a hero in World War Two and Korea, being awarded both the silver and the bronze star, the latter with an oak leaf cluster, as well as the Legion of Merit. He had risen to the rank of Major General. But he remained married only to the Army.
In 1957 the six foot two inch combat veteran had been ordered by President Eisenhower to take command of the 82nd Airborne and the Arkansas National Guard, and to oversee the court ordered desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School. So personally repulsive was this task to Walker that the general had tendered his resignation. The President, and old soldier himself, had refused to accept it, and told Walker to get on with the job. Reluctantly the racist General followed his orders, seeing to it that 9 black teenagers were admitted and attended classes at the Little Rock Public High School.
But Walker remained a racist and a radical. He tried to resign from the Army a second time in 1959, in protest of American participation in the United Nations, and of the “fifth column conspiracy and influence in the United States” of communists. Again his resignation was rejected. Instead the Joint Chiefs transferred him to Augsburg, Germany, where he took command of the 24th Infantry Division. But the General was already beginning to shrink.
It was in Germany, in the spring of 1961,  that Walker delivered a series of lectures to the troops on a program called “Pro-Blue”. As veteran Dick Thornton remembered it over fifty years later, “As Gen Walker addressed us, he pulled down a huge wall map of the world. It was rendered in various shades of red and pink. This was, he said, the degree of communist influence in each country. The United States got off easy with only a medium red color. We all looked at each other…rather mystified and uneasy with this commanding officer who seemed, to all intents and purposes, to be flat out crazy.  Gen Walker stated that it wasn't enough to be anti-red - you must be PRO-BLUE!  He gave us a list of books to be placed in all the day rooms - required reading for everyone.”  The General was now growing too small for his uniform.
The required books included many publications of the John Birch Society. Then, a small civilian newspaper aimed at U.S.Servicemen, the “Overseas Weekly” (colloquially known as the “Oversexed Weekly”) quoted Walker as calling President Harry Truman, ex-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, as being “pink”.  The paper quoted Walker as calling journalist Edward R. Murrow a “confirmed Communist” and adding that 60% of the American press was Communist controlled. Walker counter attacked, calling the paper “immoral, unscrupulous, corrupt and destructive” - three of which it defiantly was. But the two star general then stepped over the line when he published a list of “Pro-Blue” politicians his soldiers should vote for. They were all conservative Republicans, of course. It almost seemed like he was trying to get fired. And he had finally done it.
Walker was relieved of his command and ordered to report for a psychiatric examination. Instead, on 2 November, 1961, Walker resigned from the Army for a third time. And this time the Pentagon accepted. Having resigned, Walker would now receive no pension and no benefits. Walker explained he wanted to be “free from the power of little men who, in the name of my country, punish loyal service to it. It will be my purpose now, as a civilian, to attempt to do what I have found it no longer possible to do in uniform.” Out of uniform for the first time in his adult life, he immediately shrank several sizes.
What he did first, in February of 1961, was to run for Governor of his home state of Texas. He managed to draw only 10% of the vote in the Republican Primary, and now many noticed he had never been that large to begin with.  In September of 1962 Walker helped to organize protests to the admittance of James Meredith, a young African-American, to the University of Mississippi.  Walker’s public statement, on 29 September, 1962, called the use of Federal troops in defense of integration  “a disgrace to the nation", adding it was, :" the conspiracy of the crucifixion by anti-Christ conspirators of the Supreme Court in their denial of prayer and their betrayal of the nation.”
A 15 hour riot broke out on campus that night, during which two were killed and six federal marshals were wounded. Walker was arrested and charged with sedition and insurrection, but in January of 1963 a Mississippi grand jury refused to indict him, and he returned to Dallas, hailed as a hero. His supporters seemed unaware at an additional loss in stature. Yet, if anyone had cared to look closely, General Walker was now shrinking more every day.  And it was his hero's welcome to Texas that inspired the would-be assassin, a small man all his life, to order a rifle, using the alias “A. Hidel”.
In early April the the would-be assassin insisted that his wife take his photo with his new rifle. He even told his wife, “If someone had killed Hitler in time, it could have saved many lives.”
After 8:30, on the night of Wednesday 10 April, 1963, the shooter walked down the alley from Avondale Avenue. In sight of the rear of the house on Turtle Creek, he crouched behind a wall, cradling his Mannlicher-Carcano 6.5 mm bolt action rifle. He balanced the rifle on the top of the chain link fence, and using the telescopic sight, aimed at his target’s head through the french doors, just 100 feet away. It was Nine O’clock when the assassin pulled the trigger.
Walker was sitting at his desk in his dinning room, working on his taxes. The lights were on and the shades were up. He heard a crack and thought it was a firecracker. Then he heard glass break, and he felt a sting in his arm.  He rose and walked around the desk, and saw a hole in the wall behind where he had been sitting. Immediately Walker went upstairs to retrieve a pistol, and so armed and feeling bigger, he went into the back yard.
Seeing nothing, he turned to face his house, and spotted a chip in the window frame. It was only then that Walker was certain that someone had taken a shot at him, and he called the Dallas Police. He did not suspect for a moment that the bullet might have missed him because he had grown so much smaller.
A Dallas Police officer dug the remains of the bullet from General Walker’s dining room wall, but it was too badly deformed to be of much value. However he saved it in an evidence bag. Following the path of the bullet showed that after clipping the window frame, the tumbling slug had missed Walker’s head by less than an inch. It came so close that part of the disintegrating shell's metal jacket had struck Walker in the arm. Had he been in his full size, it would have killed him. But then, had he been full size the shooter might not have shot at him...maybe.
Seven months later the assassin pulled the trigger again. This time he hit his target, twice. This time his target was riding in the back seat of a limousine. This time his target was President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. It was only when the Warren Commission interviewed Lee Harvey Oswald’s wife that they stumbled upon the solution to the mysterious rifle shot taken at General Walker. At the time Oswald had admitted to his wife that he was responsible for the attempt, and had also admitted it to George De Mohrenschildt, the husband of his wife’s only friend in Dallas. Fourteen years later, a Neutron Activation Analysis of the bullet recovered from Walker’s wall confirmed its connection with ammunition used on 22 November 1963, in Dallas.
The hatred inside Edwin (Ted) Anderson Walker, mocked by ex-five star general and President Dwight David Eisenhower as a “super patriot”,  had long since consumed so much of his soul that he was now  isolated from his old friends. He made a meager living from speeches to local John Birch Society chapters. Until, that is, the 66 year old was arrested once more, on 23 June, 1976.
On that night, just three blocks from his home, Edwin Walker followed Dallas undercover police officer, R.J. Stevens, into a public restroom in Cole Park. There Walker made a “physical advance” and was arrested on the spot. Officer Stevens had no idea who Walker was. Like another conservative Republican decades later, Walker pleaded no contest, posted $200 bail and later paid a $1,000 fine. He received one year probation. But history repeated itself again, less than a year later, on 16 March 1977,  and this time in Dallas' Reverchon Park. This time the general was charged with public lewdness and making “suggestive overtones.” Now, even the John Birch Society isolated him.
In 1980 the one organization he had served the longest,  the U.S. Army, quietly restored his medical benefits. And in 1982 it even forgave his resignation and restored his pension, in full; $45,120 a year. General Walker died of lung cancer, in his own bed, on 31 October,  1993, still a little man, dwarfed by the inner demons he did battle with, which he externalized as Communists and African-Americans..
I thank General Walker for his service to the nation we share. I am glad they restored his pension in the end. But, I must admit, I also believe the world would have been a better place if Lee Harvey Oswald had not missed General Edwin Walker on that April night in 1963.  Perhaps the notoriety the little assassin would have gained from that murder, would have made Oswald feel big enough, that he would not have felt compelled to pull the trigger again in Dallas,  on 22 November, 1963.
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