Walter Burnside, Jr. – First Lieutenant, United States Air Force

Courtesy of his classmates, United States Military Academy Class of 1946

Walter Burnside, Jr.   No. 15698

Class Of 1946
Died 18 October 1949 At Toledo, Ohio, Aged, 23 Years.
Interment:  Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.


Walter Burnside, Jr., affectionately known as “Wally” to friends and family, was born 26 October 1925 at Fort Brown, Texas. Wally's father (USMA 1923) was a Cavalry officer, so Wally spent his boyhood living at various Army posts. Being the son of a cavalryman, Wally learned to ride early in life and became an avid and excellent equestrian. His sister Mary recalled that Wally won many silver cups for his equestrian prowess when they lived in the Philippines before World War II. She also recalled that Wally enjoyed making model airplanes and soldiers from molten lead, a hint of his future interests. When his senior year in high school rolled around, Wally's folks entered him in Allen Academy, Bryan, Texas to prepare for West Point. He graduated from Allen and received his appointment to join the Class of 1946 at West Point on I July 1943.

Life as a cadet was relatively easy for Wally. His background had prepared him for what was to come, and his optimistic outlook on life carried him easily over the rough times. Academics were no problem, although German frustrated him completely. Slight of build, Wally was on the gymnastics team and hoped to build up his muscle tone. His first love – after Ruth Forman, with whom he spent most of his free time – was flying, and he eagerly signed up for flight training. Graduation saw Wally commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps.

The day after graduation, 5 June 1946, Wally and Ruth were married in Garden City, New York. After graduation leave, the newlyweds traveled to Arizona, where Wally took advanced fighter training. At Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, Wally flew P-51's as a member of the 55th Fighter Squadron of the 20th Fighter Wing. Next, Wally and Ruth moved to Hawaii, where he became a flight leader, 93rd Fighter Squadron, 81st Fighter Wing. While with this unit, Wally became the “slot man” for the 81st's aerobatics team, one of the forerunners of the “Thunderbirds.” Another classmate, the late Hobart Gay, was also a member of this team of outstanding pilots.

The 81st Fighter Group was ordered to return to the States in 1949, and, in August 1949, Wally was assigned to the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Ruth recalled that Wally was so pleased with this assignment and feels certain that Wally would have become deeply involved with the space program had he lived. On 18 October 1949, Wally took off from Wright Patterson on a routine flight in a P-51 en route to Selfridge Air Force Base, Michigan. The plane crashed on the outskirts of Toledo, Ohio, and Wally was killed instantly. He was survived by his wife Ruth, his mother and father, and two sisters, Mary and Anne.

Walter Burnside, Jr. had the potential to do great things in the Air Force and in the service of his country. That he was unable to attain this potential is a tragic loss for his country, the Air Force, his family and friends. Wally had an insatiable appetite to learn something new each day of his life. That is why he was so pleased with his selection to attend the Air Force Institute of Technology. A classmate recalled: “Wally was an eager and aggressive fighter pilot who worked hard and played hard. He was serious about his profession. He was an outstanding flyer and demonstrated a skill in a P-51 far beyond his limited experience. Indeed, on occasion, his ability equaled that of some combat veterans in the unit. Off-duty, Wally was friendly, gregarious, uninhibited and sociable. He was a fine officer. The country, the Air Force and his friends suffered a great loss in his passing.”

Wally grew up in a family where he heard “Duty, Honor, Country” as a routine part of his life. His commitment to these principles was reinforced as a cadet, but it wasn't until he became an officer that he realized how important it was to live those principles each day of his life. Ruth recalled that is exactly what Wally did. He was totally committed to the principles of the motto in everything he did and planned to do. While Wally was taken from his family, friends and classmates early in his life, this loving husband, outstanding officer and true son of West Point will remain forever in the memories of those who knew and loved him. “Well Done, Wally; Be Thou at Peace!”

'46 Memorial Article Project and his wife Ruth

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