Colonel Walter Rudolph Walsh died April 29, 2014, just a few days short of his 107th birthday. He was the oldest living United States Marine, the oldest living FBI agent and the oldest living Olympian. I write this with the heaviest of hearts, because he was also a friend.
Col. Walsh was born May 4, 1907, in West Hoboken, NY. After law school he joined the FBI where he was involved in the capture of Art Barker, son of the notorious Ma Barker. Two years later he was part of the shoot-out that killed public enemy #1, Al Brady.
In 1942 he joined the Marines and served in the Pacific. While pinned down by a sniper Walt drew his 1911 and killed him with a single shot. The distance was 90 yards. His marksmanship was well noted. Col. Walsh held several shooting titles and represented the USA in the 1948 Olympics.
He was a decorated Marine, a noted FBI agent and an Olympian. The best way he could be described is: What other men aspire to be, Colonel Walsh would achieve in disgrace. Everything he did, he did well.
Every year since 2006 Col. Walsh, Major Jim Land who is the founder of the modern Marine Corps sniper school, Jim “Horse Collar” Smith who was on the original team of Edson’s Raiders and Major Jim Warner who spent five years in the Hanoi Hilton and a few other Devil Dogs would gather to celebrate the Marine Corps birthday. We would get together to honor the Corps, drink a beer and tell war stories.
Jim Smith, who joined the Marines in 1939 was the only man we knew that could call Col. Walsh a “boot” – it was Jim’s way of teasing the Colonel about him not being the man in the room who was first in the Corps.
That would lead us to the conversation about when we joined the Marines. We would always mention that a 78 year-old man who was alive when Col. Walsh was born lived at the same time as our founding father and 5th President, James Monroe.
When anyone would mention Col. Walsh’s name he would bust out with “What did you just say?” Then one of the senior statesman in the room would loudly respond, “Walter, turn up your damn hearing aid.” Which would then cause him to fiddle with the contraption in his ear and he would join the conversation.
When it was Walt’s turn to tell a story about his time in the Corps the room would always fall silent. Every man there knew they were listening to living history. We would talk honestly, openly and reverently of our tragedies, triumphs and fallen comrades. Walter was a humble man, he spoke little of his triumphs. He told us stories that made us proud to be Marines and Americans.
Walter Rudolf Walsh was a man of many talents but most of all he was a good man.
Rest in peace sir.