Walter Ralls Lawson Sr. – Captain, United States Army Air Service

Born 23 October 1893 at Chattahoochee Coounty,Glen Alta, Georgia, the son of Frank H. (28 December 1857-28 October 1927) and Mary Ellen Ralls Lawson (10 September 1870-17 January 1904). Both buried at the Rosehill Cemetery, Kissimmee, Florida. Death: 21 April 1923 in an aircraft crash near Dayton, Ohio. Spouse: May Elaine Rogers. Born 2 December 1895 at Langford, Ireland. Death: 16 November 1973.

The New York Times, of August 27, 1920, reported that Pilot Lieutenant O.G. Kelly and Observer Sergeant William Steckel of the Army Air Service won the aerial match at the National Matches at Camp Perry the previous day.

Probably flying the Air Service’s work horse, the DeHaviland DH-4, mounting Browning machine guns the airborne pair engaged targets on the ground, scoring 520 points out of a possible 800. Kelly was required to shoot at an upright target with his fixed machine guns, aiming the ship as if it were a rifle. He racked up an impressive 270 points out of 300. As Kelly maneuvered to keep the plane stable Steckel shot at a smaller recumbent target with a pair of flexible machine guns mounted on a Scarff ring, posting a score of 250X500.

In second place were Captain Walter R. Lawson and Lieutenant Leland Bradshaw with a 462. Apparently being in front of the guns wasn’t the only dangerous place to be that day as one of the aircraft was wrecked during the competition. Lawson came in second at Perry but the National Match experience was put to good use less than a year later.

“Tiny” Lawson found himself 60 miles off of the Virginia coast piloting a Martin MB-2 bomber, a squadron mate of Jimmy Doolittle. Slung beneath each of the six twin engine planes of General Billy Mitchell’s 1st Provisional Air Brigade were 2,000 pound bombs and below them lay the captured German dreadnaught Ostfriesland. Twenty-one minutes after the first bomb fell from the sky the Ostfriedland slipped beneath the waves, her hull split open by the excessive water pressure created when the bombs detonated underwater hard by her. The sinking proved, at least as far as Mitchell was concerned, that air power should be the nation's first line of defense.

Unfortunately the Fates dealt Lawson a pair of ironic jokers. Taking off from Dayton, Ohio’s McCook Field in 1923 he lost power and crashed into the Miami River. The Georgia native lost his life at the controls of the very MB-2 he piloted over the Ostfriedland.

The Army named the balloon landing facility at Fort Benning, in his home state, Lawson Field in his honor in August of 1931. After World War II the name of Second Lieutenant Ted W. Lawson was added to his, giving the parsimonious post war Army two memorials for the price of one. The second Lawson was author of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, a memoir of his experiences as a pilot on the historic World War II raid lead by the first Lawson’s fellow pilot in the 1st Provisional Air Brigade, Doolittle. Just as Captain Lawson and Camp Perry are historically linked so, likewise, are the late captain and the Rattle Battle. Some of the nation’s finest National Trophy Infantry Team Match competitors train just a few miles from Lawson Field on Easley and McAndrews Ranges, for Fort Benning is also the home of the United States Army’s Marksmanship Training Unit.

NOTE: The Captain's son, Walter R. Lawson, Jr., Colonel, United States Army, is also buried in Alrington National Cemetery.

WASHINGTON, April 21, 1923 – Captain W. R. Lawson, killed in an airplane accident at Dayton today, had a remarkable record during the World War and received the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in action. He served during part of 1919 as Chief of the Civil Operations Section in the office of the Chief of the Army Air Service.

He was born on October 25, 1893, at Glenn Alter, Georgia. His home was at Kissimmee, Florida, and he is survived by a wife and two children. He was a member of the Alabama National Guard when the war started. He went overseas with the Rainbow Division. In February, 1918, he was detailed to the Air Service and served as Operations Officer and Aerial Observer until November, 1918.

He received the Distinguished Service Cross for repeated acts of heroism in action near St. Mihiel, France, from July 10 to September 13, 1918. He showed unusual courage in a reconnoissance flight over the enemy lines, when he continued on his mission after being seriously wounded by anti-aircraft fire. On September 13, 1918, while still convalescing from his wounds, he volunteered for a particularly dangerous mission requiring a seventy-five kilometer flight over the enemy lines. Because of weather conditions he was fored to fly at a low altitude and was repeatedly fired on by anti-aircraft and machine guns. He successfully accomplished his mission and returned with important information.

When he returned to the United States after the armistice he served as instructor at the School for Aerial Observers, at Post Field, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, from December 1, 1918, to April, 1919. Since November, 1919, he had served continuously at Langley Field. At the time of his death he was commanding the Twentieth Bombardment Squadron.

Captain (Air Service), U.S. Army
Observer, 91st Aero Squadron, Air Service, A.E.F.
Date of Action: July 30 & September 13, 1918
General Orders No. 21, W.D., 1919


The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to Walter Ralls Lawson, Captain (Air Service), U.S. Army, for repeated acts of extraordinary heroism in action near St. Mihiel, France, July 30 and September 13, 1918.

Captain Lawson showed rare courage on a reconnaissance far over the enemy lines when he continued on his mission after being seriously wounded by antiaircraft fire.

On September 13, although he was still convalescing from his wound, he volunteered for a particularly dangerous mission requiring a flight of 75 kilometers within the enemy lines. Because of weather conditions he was forced to fly at a dangerously low altitude and was repeatedly fired on by antiaircraft and machine guns. He successfully accomplished his mission and returned with important information.


  • DATE OF DEATH: 04/21/1923

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