Thomas Alva Walkup, Jr. – Staff Sergeant, United States Air Force

December 8, 2003

Millville soldier’s remains returned home

MILLVILLE, NEW JERSEY – The remains of native son Air Force Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup Jr., 25, a flight engineer who was killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan last month, were returned home Sunday.

Staff Sergeant Jay Hensley, a close friend, escorted Walkup's body home from Dover, Delaware.

“Jay is a wonderful man, and we requested that he do this,” Walkup's mother, Patricia, said.

Patricia Walkup is getting through her son's death with the help of family, friends and the words of support from hundreds of people she does not even know.

Family members attended a memorial service Wednesday at Hurlburt Field, Fort Walton, Florida, where three of the crash victims had been stationed. Family members included Walkup's parents, Patricia and Thomas Sr.; his sister, Susan Justis, and her daughter, Alyssa, 2, Tom's godchild; his widow, Staff Sergeant Carissa Walkup and her mother, Lisa Conat.

Patricia Walkup said Sunday that she and family members will receive callers from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Friday at St. John Bosco Catholic Church, 2 Hillcrest Ave.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Friday by Monsignor William Graham, now of Lindenwold, and the Rev. William Pierce, St. John Bosco pastor.

“Tom was an altar boy when Monsignor Graham was here, and Monsignor Graham wrote a recommendation for Tom to join the Air Force,” the soldier's mother said.

Walkup will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery on December 30, 2003. In January, there will be an additional ceremony for him and the other four soldiers who died in November 25, 2003, crash, according to Carissa Walkup.

Carissa, 24, who is stationed at Luke Field in Phoenix, Arizona, and her mother, Lisa Conat, of International Falls, Minnesota, arrived in Millville on November 29,2003, and will remain with the Walkup family until Saturday.

“I am in awe of how supportive everyone in Millville has been,” Carissa said. “I've seen all the yellow ribbons and the flags and the signs.”

One of them at Sharp and High streets, reads, in part, “A Man, A Soldier, Our Hero Thomas A. Walkup.” There's also a tribute on the marquee of the Levoy Theatre.

Carissa said that their third wedding anniversary would have been December 16, 2003. She said the couple met five years ago at Luke Air Force Base. A vehicle operator, Carissa and Tom both were stationed in Saudi Arabia and she later was stationed in Kuwait.

“I returned home from Kuwait two weeks before Tom was deployed (overseas) in September.”

Local arrangements are under the direction of the Barbetti Funeral Home, where the remains were taken Sunday.

The flag at Millville City Hall has been flown at half-staff since Walkup's death. Gov. James E. McGreevey issued a directive Tuesday that flags should be flown at half-staff in state offices on that day.

Donations in memory of Walkup may be made to the Millville Army Air Field Museum, 1 Leddon St., Millville Airport, Millville, New Jersey 08332, or to USO Delaware, 500 Purple Heart Way, Dover Air Force Base, Delaware 19902.

December 12, 2003

Final homecoming for slain soldier

MILLVILLE, NEW JERSEY – Air Force Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup Jr., 25, a former altar boy at St. John Bosco Catholic Church who was killed November 23, 2003, in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, was remembered Thursday as an all-around good guy who loved his family and his country.

Floral pieces, most with patriotic red, white and blue ribbons, surrounded the flag-draped casket in the church.

Nearby was his blue service uniform with ribbons depicting the Purple Heart, Medal of Honor and some of his assignments. The actual medals are expected to be presented December 30, 2003, when he will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

But the most vivid insight into Millville's hero was the pictures.

With tears in her eyes, Patricia Walkup held up what she thinks is the last picture taken of her son before Thomas Walkup, a flight engineer, boarded the doomed helicopter.

“I carried this picture home with me from Florida,” she said.

Unlike the many other pictures of Walkup that were displayed in the church, he wasn't smiling in this one.

“When Tom put on a uniform, he was serious,” his father said.

Patricia Walkup and other family members attended a memorial service December 3, 2003, at the Air Force base in Hurlburt Field, Florida, where he had been stationed.

Tom Walkup Sr. finds it difficult not to get choked up when he talks about his son, whom he felt closer to than anyone in the world.

“I went to see Tom in Pensacola the day he was deployed (in September). If Tom couldn't come to me in Millville, I would go to him.

“We were like clones,” Tom Walkup Sr. said. “We liked model trains. … We liked boating. … We liked the same things.

“I was in the fire department in Philadelphia for 20 years before moving to Millville. One of the first things Tom did when he was assigned to Florida was to become a volunteer firefighter in the Holley-Navarre Fire Department,” Tom Walkup Sr. said.

“Tom also loved camping,” said his widow, Air Force Staff Sergeant Carisse Walkup, 24, known to friends as Kit.

She pointed to one of the pictures in the display that she helped her sister-in-law, Susan Justis, arrange. It showed Tom and Kit on a camping trip in Flagstaff, Ariz.

“He dressed me in his helmet and goggles,” she said.

There was another photo of the happy couple on a belated honeymoon, a cruise to the Caribbean in 2001.

The couple was married December 16, 2000.

Kit and her mother, Lisa Conat, have been staying in Millville since November 29. Her mother will return to the family home in International Falls, Minnesota. Kit returns to her base in Phoenix, Arizona, on Saturday.

Like Tom, Kit joined the Air Force soon after graduating from high school.

“Two of my three younger brothers have joined the Air Force, too,” she said.

“The people in Millville and in the Air Force have been very supportive,” Kit said. She admits it has been hard, however, to be here without Tom. They were together on all her previous trips.

The last time Kit saw her husband was in June, when she helped him move from Arizona to Florida. “I was deployed to Kuwait in July, and he was deployed in September to a classified location.”

“Tom could have stayed a supply sergeant, but he pushed to be cross-trained,” his father said. Walkup was in the 20th Special Operations Squadron.

For Tom Walkup Sr. and Patricia Walkup, St. John Bosco Catholic Church is filled with memories of their son.

“I used to be moderator for the altar boys here, and Tom was one of them,” Tom Walkup Sr. said. “When we first came here, the priest asked for volunteers for bingo, and we were the first two volunteers,” Patricia Walkup recalled.

“Tom used to help me set up for bingo,” his father added.

“Helping people was a big part of his life,” Patricia Walkup said.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. today by the Rev. William Graham, now of Lindenwold and a former pastor of St. John Bosco who was close to the Walkup family, and the Rev. William Pierce, current pastor.

The family will receive callers from 9 to 11 a.m. before the Mass. After the Mass, Walkup's casket will be placed on a fire truck and taken to Barbetti Funeral Home until the burial service at Arlington National Ceremony.

December 17, 2003

Millville Elks offer buses to Arlington for Walkup’s interment

The Millville, New Jersey, Elks Lodge will provide free bus transportation for Cumberland County residents wishing to attend the special interment service at Arlington National Cemetery of Air Force Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup Jr. on December 30, 2003.

Walkup was killed on November 23, 2003, in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

Mayor Jim Quinn announced that buses will leave the Elks Lodge on East Broad Street at 10 a.m. and return to Millville by 7 p.m.

Reservations are to be made by December 23, 2003.

“This will be a great way to show how proud we are of Millville's hero and to show support for the Walkup family,” Quinn said.

Thomas Walkup Sr. is employed in the city's Department of Public Works.

Millville says goodbye to son who died in Afghanistan

MILLVILLE, NEW JERSEY – Air Force Staff Sgt. Thomas A. Walkup Jr., 25, who died in a helicopter crash November 23, 2003, in Afghanistan, took his last ride in a firetruck Friday.

His father, Thomas A. Walkup Sr., was a firefighter for 20 years in Philadelphia. And when Tom Jr. was assigned to Florida, he became a volunteer firefighter in the Holley-Navarre Fire Department, said his proud father.

Following the funeral Mass at St. John Bosco Catholic Church, the casket with an American flag draped on the top was placed ever so gently on the Millville Fire Department's 1925 American LaFrance.

Accompanying him in the vehicle were Millville firefighters Christine Klingensmith, assistant leader of the honor guard, Deputy Chief Steven Alcorn and Lieutenant Richard Lappine, plus a member of the Air Force.

Police vehicles and the Fire Department's engine 36 provided escort service for the four-mile trip to Barbetti Funeral Home.

On December 30, 2003, a hearse will transport the casket from there to Arlington National Cemetery, where Millville's hero will be buried.

Walkup, a flight engineer, was among five servicemen killed when their Air Force special operations helicopter crashed.

Standing in respectful silence, many of those attending, including his widow, Air Force Staff Sgt. Carissa “Kit” Walkup, 24, watched tearfully as the firetruck bearing Walkup's casket left the church grounds.

During the funeral Mass celebrated by Monsignor William Graham, of Lindenwold, and con-celebrant, the Rev. William Pierce, current St. John Bosco pastor, Graham said that “sacrifice is giving of self.”

Graham, a former St. John Bosco pastor when Walkup was an altar boy, told of the sacrifice made by Walkup and his family.

“After 9-11, we know full well that terrorism has no boundaries,” Graham said. “Regardless of how we feel about our going to Iraq, countless men and women are there serving us. We are proud of our nation, and we would like everyone to have freedom. This is why Tom and other men and women have sacrificed their lives.”

Graham stressed the importance of telling firefighters, police officers and men and women in the armed forces how grateful we are for what they do.

Walkup loved what he did in the service and was proud to serve his country, his parents, Patricia and Tom Walkup Sr., have repeatedly pointed out. He liked helping people, they said.

The most poignant words at the funeral Mass were expressed by Susan Justis, 26, Walkup's sister and the mother of 2-year-old Alyssa.

“My brother Tom is known as a hero,” Justis said. “He gave his life because of war and so every one of us would have freedom. He was not just a hero, but a soldier who had pride, a son who was proud of his parents, an uncle who would do anything to put a smile on his niece's face, a loyal friend you could always count on and a brother who has always stood by me.”

Justis emphasized, “He will always be remembered as a hero and for the man he was – and for that I am proud of him.”

The service was filled with music, sung by Sue Schwegel and Jackie Cox Buono and accompanied by Marion Mokrynski. Especially moving were their renditions of “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” “On Eagles' Wings” and “America the Beautiful.”

After the service, people stood in the parking lot reminiscing about Walkup.

Schwegel recalled the time she had a problem with the microphone at the church, and Walkup, then a young teenager, said, “I can fix it,” which he did.

“When he worked at the ACME, he was like a greeter and would come up to you and give you a hug,” Schwegel said.

There were many people from out of the city as well as members of the church at the funeral Mass.

A large contingent came in uniform from the Department of Corrections. Justis had formerly worked at Southern State Correctional Facility. There were also members of the honor guard from McGuire Air Force Base.

And some came from Hurlburt Field, Florida, Walkup's home base, where a memorial service was held December 3, 2003.

Airman First Class Jeff Porter, Walkup's roommate at Hurlburt, said sadly, “Tom was the older brother I never had.”

Brigadier General Bruce Burda, director of operations for the Air Force Special Operations Command, said he did not know Walkup, but felt it was an honor and privilege to pass on the Air Force's sincere sympathy to the family.

Flags have flown at half-staff at Millville City Hall, and many people have done what Patricia Walkup requested—display the American flag and yellow ribbons. The Wheels and Wings air show on May 1 at Millville Airport will be dedicated to Tom Walkup's memory.

“He was my son, but he died a hero. He died for all of us,” Patricia Walkup said.

December 31, 2003


Air Force Staff Sergeant Carissa “Kit” Walkup kept her hand to her heart as she looked up at the two military helicopters that flew above her husband's flag-draped casket.

The 24-year-old widow's face revealed intense pain and, at the same time, deep pride.

Air Force Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup Jr., 25, one of five servicemen killed in a special operations unit helicopter crash in Afghanistan on November 23, 2003, was buried Tuesday after a majestic and emotionally powerful ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

More than 100 of Walkup's neighbors from his hometown of Millville traveled to the cemetery on two buses chartered by the New Jersey town's Elks Lodge. Many had never met the young soldier.

After filling the chapel at a Catholic Mass, Walkup's friends, family and neighbors gathered at the cemetery.

The immediate family – Walkup's wife, Carissa, parents, Patricia and Tom Walkup Sr., sister Susan Justis and 2-year-old niece Alyssa Justis – sat next to the casket.

About 20 yards away, military riflemen performed a 21-gun salute.

Pallbearers in military uniform passed three American flags along the length of the casket, with each soldier turning at a precise 45-degree angle to hand the flag to the soldier at his right. The last soldier raised the flag to his face, gently handed it to his commander and then saluted.

The flags were presented to Walkup's parents and his wife, who also received Walkup's Purple Heart medal.

Then, as a soldier concluded the ceremony with the mournful tune taps, a commuter plane flew over the cemetery, serving as a chilling reminder of the September 11, 2001, attacks that prompted Walkup's mission in Afghanistan.

Retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant George Cooper, 70, watched from the crowd.

Walkup was his neighbor, and although Cooper didn't know him well, he felt compelled to take the bus to Arlington. It seemed the appropriate way for Cooper and his wife to spend the second day of their honeymoon.

“It's heartfelt,” Cooper said before the ceremony. “And for me, it doesn't just represent one man. It represents many young men.”

Although he has lost count of the military burials he has attended at Arlington, Cooper said he has seen few as well attended as Walkup's.

Among those at the service were a four-star general, U.S. Representative Frank LoBiondo, R-2nd, Millville Mayor Jim Quinn and many of the soldiers from Walkup's home base in Hurlburt Field, Florida.

Sitting next to Cooper on the crammed charter bus was P.J. O'Neill, a baby-faced 18-year-old who joined the U.S. Marines as a reserve in November. O'Neill never met Walkup either, although his mother works with Walkup's father.

“I wanted to honor him,” O'Neill said. “After going through military training, you feel like a brother.”

The brotherhood bond is shared between Cooper, a veteran of two wars fought decades ago, and O'Neill, a new soldier not yet old enough to buy a beer.

“He's part of it too,” Cooper said, pointing toward O'Neill. “I'd do anything for him and I'd expect as much to be done for me. You can't explain the bond. It's more important than brothers.”

For Cooper, a Vietnam veteran who returned home to a country where troops were sometimes demonized, Thursday's bus trip was heartening.

“The people of Millville realize that Tom Walkup Jr. was our hero,” said Quinn, the town's mayor. “They appreciate what he did for our city and our country.”

Funeral for a Dutiful Sergeant and Son

Flight Engineer Died in Crash In Afghanistan
By S. Mitra Kalita
Courtesy of the Washington Post
Wednesday, December 31, 2003

The calls came at all hours of the day and night. No matter where he was stationed, Patricia Walkup could count on her son, Air Force Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup Jr., to keep in touch. He phoned before her nursing school entrance exam to wish her luck — and again afterward to congratulate her. He called to get her recipe for chicken and broccoli and then to request a shipment of pork rolls from South Jersey.

Often, he interrupted her sleep just to say, “I love you.”

She never wanted him to enlist in the Air Force but stayed quiet when he signed up at 18. Years later, when Patricia Walkup — a self-described stay-at-home “Kool-Aid mom” — decided to go back to school, her son was her biggest supporter. “I am so proud of you that you are doing what you wanted to do,” she remembers him saying. “I can't wait for your graduation.”

But when she receives her nursing degree next year, he won't be there to see it.

Thomas Walkup, 25, a flight engineer with the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlbert Field, Florida, died November 23, 2003, with three other airmen when their helicopter crashed in Afghanistan after mechanical failure. He was buried yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery.

For his mother, a ringing telephone is now something to be endured, a reminder that her son's voice won't be on the other end. But in a telephone interview the day before yesterday's service, she said she intends to use her son's death to better understand his life. The last month, she said, has been one of discovery.

At a memorial service in New Jersey, Patricia Walkup recalled, an elderly woman approached her saying she had so appreciated the teenage Tommy, who once worked at the neighborhood Acme supermarket, because he always carried her groceries. High school friends trickle steadily into his mother's living room in Millville, N.J., to share the practical jokes they played during junior varsity football season. And there are phone calls and e-mails from strangers, the men and women who served with her son and recall his fervent patriotism.

“He became his own person in the Air Force,” Patricia Walkup said. “When you have a son that at 25 could accomplish what he's accomplished . . . he amazes me. I'm proud to be his mom.”

His wife, Staff Sergeant Carissa Walkup, yesterday received the flag that had covered his coffin, his Purple Heart and a medal for his service to his country. She is stationed at Luke Field in Phoenix, where she and her husband met. They would have celebrated their third wedding anniversary this month.

A caravan of two buses and dozens of cars, many with New Jersey and Pennsylvania license plates, followed the hearse to the grave. Walkup was born in Philadelphia, spent his childhood there and then moved to Millville. He often returned home to speak to classes and civic groups about his military duty, enthralling them with tales from Arizona, Saudi Arabia and many points in between.

Since his death, the small city in New Jersey has mourned him, inundating his family with casseroles and flowers and flying the flag at half staff at City Hall and schools. Besides his mother and father, he is survived by two sisters and all four of his grandparents.

After his parents separated five years ago, they said, their son was careful to spend equal amounts of time with both, evenly dividing his correspondence and love. In final e-mails to his parents October 30, 2003, he said he carried two U.S. flags in his equipment bag. He promised to present one to each of them when he got home.

Sunday, January 08, 2006:On a cold January day almost two years ago, family members and friends of five Special Forces servicemen killed in an Air Force helicopter crash in Afghanistan gathered at Arlington National Cemetery for their burial, receiving folded American flags and honored by a military flyover and a seven-gun salute.The servicemen were memorialized at the ceremony by a Chaplain, Colonel David E. Boyles, as “five brave young men who gave their lives not only for their country, but for friends and family, to keep them free.”

Now, the widows of three of the men are suing defense contractors for the wrongful deaths of their husbands in the 2003 crash, which the Air Force blamed on engine failure of the MH-53M Pave Low helicopter caused in part by failure of auxiliary fuel tanks to jettison.

While not unheard of, such lawsuits in wartime are uncommon, and frequently involve sensitive information about military hardware that the government doesn't want in open court.

“These are difficult cases to win, but it is not impossible,” said Randall Craft, an attorney with the Holland & Knight law firm who specializes in aviation liability issues.

According to an Air Force accident report, the Pave Low flight dubbed “Beatle 12” carrying 13 passengers and crew crashed Nov. 23, 2003, about five minutes after it lifted off from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

The helicopter, which can carry up to 55 people, was part of a Special Operations “infiltration” mission in the war against Taliban and al-Qaida fighters during Operation Mountain Resolve. The aircraft was on its third sortie of the day.

A compressor problem caused one of the two engines on the Pave Low to stall, leaving it with one engine operating and far too much weight to carry in the thin mountain air. The pilots “attempted to jettison the auxiliary tanks without success” and then the other engine stalled while an emergency landing was being attempted, the Air Force concluded.

With all power lost, the helicopter fell from an altitude of about 200 feet onto an uneven river bank, rolled over and burst into flames. Eight people somehow managed to survive – but four Air Force personnel and one Army officer were killed.

Their remains were difficult to identify and were buried together at Arlington under a single tombstone bearing all five names. Those killed were: Air Force Staff Sergeant Thomas A. Walkup Jr. of Millville, New Jersey; Air Force Major Steven Plumhoff of Neshanic Station, New Jersey; Air Force Tech Sergeants Howard A. Walters of Port Huron, Michigan, and William J. Kerwood of Houston, Missouri; and Army Sergeant Major Phillip R. Albert of Terryville, Connecticut.

Walters, Kerwood and Walkup were all assigned to Hurlburt Field, Florida. Plumhoff's home base was Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.; Albert was assigned to Fort Drum, New York.

Widows Melissa Walters, Kara Kerwood and Yvette LaPointe-Plumhoff have filed lawsuits in federal court in Miami accusing the Pave Low's maker, Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., and two fuel tank installation and maintenance companies of negligence that led to the crash. The lawsuits seek an unspecified amount of damages.

None of the women responded to requests for comment for this article.

The Air Force accident report, which by law cannot be used as evidence in civil lawsuits, concluded that there was “insufficient written guidance” available to check on the status of the fuel tank jettison system. The lawsuits contend that Sikorsky, Lear Siegler Services Inc. and Smiths Aerospace LLC never instructed maintenance personnel to perform necessary electrical tests to assure the tanks would drop in an emergency.
“The jettison system was indispensable to the ability of the MH-53M crew to avoid a crash by rapidly reducing the helicopter's weight in the event one of the two engines failed during flight,” says one of the lawsuits.

The widows also claim in their lawsuits that the tank design was faulty because it had no backup jettison system. Sikorsky, a unit of defense contractor United Technologies Corp., denies that its aircraft or maintenance schedules were to blame, saying that the Pave Low and its operation “met the standards of the state-of-the-art, scientific knowledge” and that no red flags had been raised about any defects in the fuel tanks. Sikorsky also contends that it had no control over possible “misuse” of the helicopter by the Air Force.

Lear Siegler also denied any liability. Smiths Aerospace said it has not yet confirmed whether it actually supplied the tanks on the Pave Low, but spokeswoman Jennifer Villarreal said in an e-mail that the company has begun a review of the tanks and related equipment as a result of the crash.
“To date, we have not identified any problems with this equipment,” she said.

The judge presiding over the case, U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro Benages, has not yet set a trial date but the lawsuits have been consolidated into a single proceeding.


  • VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 02/01/1996 – 11/23/2003
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 04/06/1978
  • DATE OF DEATH: 11/23/2003
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 12/30/2003


  • VETERAN SERVICE DATES: 12/23/1993 – 11/23/2003
  • DATE OF BIRTH: 04/06/1978
  • DATE OF DEATH: 11/23/2003
  • DATE OF INTERMENT: 01/21/2004

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