The Firing Of Gen. Edwin A. Walker
Wednesday - September 22, 2010
I’ve had some great stories in 50 working years in journalism. Most important to me was getting Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker fired from the U.S. Army. He was a clear and present danger in that Cold War period in Europe when his brand of activism could have triggered a hot war - which I think is what he wanted.
It was 1961, and the headline story in the Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt, Germany, had my byline accusing Walker of politically indoctrinating his 24th Infantry Division troops at Augsburg and promoting a “first strike” against then-communist Czechoslovakia.
Walker was a convert to the John Birch Society, a communist-conspiracy, GOP-oriented, extreme-right-wing group. (Before the Birchers we had the Liberty League and now we have Take Back America.)
Walker had Birch literature inserted in books at the base library. His base newspaper ran stories that praised conservative, Republican members of Congress while pointing out the “softness” of liberal, Democratic lawmakers or candidates. His sub-commanders recommended OK candidates for Congress for soldiers to vote for absentee.
Walker had brought German avid anti-communists to speak to his brigades about the need for a pre-emptive strike against Soviet armies to the east.
All were activities against the Hatch Act, a federal law prohibiting federal employees from active participation in partisan politics.
An accusation that serious against an American point man in Cold War Europe from a 50,000-circulation paper with bathing-suit girls on its covers might be taken as a gnat biting an elephant. Instead, the story hit the fan and ignited a congressional firestorm. Time and Newsweek weighed in with stories about our story and pounded on the Hatch Act violations.
That was a serious problem for the Defense Department. To demand that Gen. Walker resign was to acknowledge that things had gotten out of hand in his command, and why wasn’t that known.
Somebody in Washington worked it out. Walker was asked to resign his German command and reminded of the criminal penalties if he chose to fight. He was briefly reassigned to Hawaii as assistant chief of staff for training and operations, Pacific Army Command, and then resigned that position four months later saying: “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.”
Walker entered the race for governor of Texas and finished last among six candidates in the primary. He led pro-segregation efforts in Mississippi. You might remember him in news photos, his old Army sword in hand, standing in front of the Confederate soldier statue in Jackson and swearing that no blacks would ever go to a white college there.
In 1976, he was arrested in Dallas for homosexual contact with an under-cover policeman in a public bathroom.
Walker shot and killed himself at age 83, in 1993.
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