Ronald C. Walkerwicz – Captain, United States Marine Corps

From a contemporary news report:

“A 30-year-old Marine Corps Captain who helped escort downed pilot Scott O'Grady to freedom in Bosnia last year was killed on a training mission this week and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on February 23, 1996.

“Captain Ronald C. Walkerwicz, who grew up in Valley Stream, New York, was killed on February 16, 1996 when the Harrier jet he was flying crashed shortly after takeoff at the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, North Carolina. Walkerwicz, a nine-year veteran who flew with Marine Attack Squadron 231, went down in a wooded area west of the airfield during a routine training mission. Harrier jets have thrusters that allow the planes to maneuver like helicopters, making them more difficult to fly than conventional jets. Officials are investigating the cause of the crash.

“Walkerwicz helped in the daring rescue of O'Grady by flying a Harrier jet as cover for the helicopter that plucked the downed airman from hostile territory in Bonia on June 8, 1995, Marine officials said. O'Grady has evaded capture for several days after being shot down while patrolling what was supposed to have been a demilitarized zone.

“Walkerwicz, the son of William Walkerwicz of Kerhonkson, Ulster County, New York and Dori Fox of Palm Beach, Florida, joined the Marine Corps after graduting from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1988. “All I want everyone to know is how special he was and what he did for his country,” his mother said. He was the fourth generation in his family to serve as a Marine, according to his father, who had served at Cherry Point during his own military career. “He was just thrilled to fly,” William was quoted as saying in a Marine Corps newspaper. “He was happy to be a Marine.”

“He is survived by his fiancee, Joanie Burke; a sister, a brother, a sister-in-law, a niece and a grandmother.”

Captain Ronald C. Walkerwicz was proud to be a Marine, like his father and uncle who served before him. And his family, while mourning his loss Sunday, spoke of their pride in him.

A veteran of the daring rescue mission in Bosnia that picked up Captain Scott O'Grady, Walkerwicz was an accomplished pilot and a family role model.

He was killed in a training accident Friday when his AV-8B Harrier jump-jet crashed in North Carolina, according to Marine officials.

William Walkerwicz, Ronald's father, said he and the young pilot's relatives were heading to the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station on Sunday to be with Ronald Walkerwicz's fiancee, Joanie Burke. The couple was to be married in April.

“No one was to blame for this,” said William Walkerwicz, a former Marine who once served at the same air station where his son was based. “We knew he was doing something he was proud of, and we were so proud of him.”

Both his father and his uncle, Michael, said Ronald Walkerwicz, a quiet boy who became an officer adored by his family and fellow Marines, accepted the risks of military life.

“He talked about the risks, but that never really bothered him,” Michael Walkerwicz said. “Ronnie knew he was involved in a dangerous job.”

Ronald Walkerwicz experienced those risks first-hand while serving in Bosnia. The six-year Marine veteran piloted one of the two Harriers that flew support for the helicopter mission that rescued O'Grady last year, Michael Walkerwicz said.

“We were so afraid that it was Ronnie that went down in Bosnia, not Scott O'Grady,” his uncle said. “When I found out it wasn't him, I was so relieved, but then I felt ashamed because there was still a good man out there. I'm proud that Ronnie helped get (O'Grady) home safely.”

“He may not have agreed with everything going on over there, but he was happy to participate in that mission, and very happy with the results,” William Walkerwicz said.

At least 11 Harriers, noted for their ability to take off and land vertically, have crashed in eastern North Carolina in the past five years. The Marine Corps grounded all Harriers nationwide in 1993 for a two-day review after a Harrier crashed and burned at Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville.

In October, a pilot ejected safely before a Harrier jet crashed into the Atlantic off the North Carolina coast. The pilot was rescued by a Navy helicopter about 110 miles east of Elizabeth City.

In September, a pilot was killed when his jet bumped into the rear of another and went down in the Neuse River.

But Walkerwicz's father does not blame the jets. “He was just thrilled to fly. He was happy to be a Marine.”

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