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In early November, 1948 at the Timpson, Texas railroad depot, friends, family, students, fellow veterans and local citizens gathered to welcome home the body of Sergeant Vernon B. Walters. After being reported missing in action in 1944 his remains were recovered from a gravesite near POW Camp O’Donnell in the Philippines four years later. A military escort accompanied the casket bearing his body that was flown to California and then to San Antonio. The escort then traveled by train with the remains to Shreveport and finally his hometown of Timpson. The Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel reported that a flight of Air Force planes overhead preceded the arrival of the train and Sergeant Walters was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery on November 3rd, 1948 with full military honors made up of American Legion members and the Timpson unit of the Texas National Guard.
Vernon Walters was born on October 26, 1921 and was the only son of J. B. Walters (1898–1963) and Claudie E. Brewer-Walters (1900–1985). His mother said in a 1982 Veterans Day interview with J. Lyn Carl of the Sentinel Staff “that her son attended Timpson High School graduating in 1937. He was never absent nor tardy during his 11 years of school and played on the Bear football team for three years”. After high school Vernon attended one year of college at the then Stephen F. Austin State College and then joined the US Army Air Forces on August 15th, 1939 at Barksdale Field in Louisiana. The next year, 1940 he was transferred to Savannah, Georgia.
There he met his future wife. The Timpson Weekly Times reported on June 2th, 1941 “Announcement has been received in Timpson of the marriage of Miss Mary Dorothy Taylor of Savannah, Georgia, and Sgt. Vernon B. Walters, in the U. S. Air Corps, 13th Bombardment Squadron, Savannah Air Base. The bride is a resident of Savannah, her parents residing in Millen, Jenkins County, Georgia. Mr. Walters is a well-known and popular young man of Timpson. The young couple are at home in an apartment in Savannah. Mr. and Mrs. Walters have the good wishes of Timpson friends.”
Sergeant Walters was shipped to the Philippines at the end of November 1941 and had been there only one week when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The last the family heard from him was a cablegram dated December 13th, 1941. After a three month battle the US Forces were surrendered at Bataan and Sergeant Walters was among the 60–80,000 Filipinos and Americans taken prisoner by the Japanese and forced to participate in what has become known as the “Bataan Death March”. It began on April 9th, 1942 and before the 80 mile march was over it is approximated that 2,500-10,000 Filipino and 100-650 American prisoners died before reaching Camp O’Donnell which was to be their prison. Vernon Walters did not survive.
The family received word from the American government in May, 1943 that their son and husband was missing in action. The cablegram read in part “The record concerning your son shows that he became missing in action in the Philippine Islands following the fall of Corregidor”. Following a review of his case after 12 months the government reclassified him as having died in service. When the camp was liberated a number of years later the family still did not know if he was alive or dead. The liberators found a cross with Sergeant Walters name on it and only then when the graves were discovered was the fate of their son and husband confirmed.
Reports showed that 2,800 men were buried at the foot of a cross at Camp O’Donnell that had been erected by American soldiers to mark the gravesite of their fallen comrades. The inscription read “Pro Patria – Erected to the memory of the American dead by their comrades, 1942. The words of a Lieutenant Colonel Bartlett about the cross had special meaning to Vernon’s mother Claudie. He wrote “The jungle grasses may hide the cross at Camp O’Donnell, but nothing need – or ever should – obscure the vast debt of gratitude we owe to the heroic men whose broken, tired bodies were laid to rest within its shadow.”
(Sources: Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel, 11/11/1982; David Pike; Timpson Weekly Times, 6/2/1941; Wikipedia.com, 9/2014;)