By Paul Schwietering
In January, 1960, Major General Edwin Walker sweeps into one of the elementary schools on the base he commands. During World War II he became a daring commando officer, parachuting behind enemy lines to lead bloody night raids. He rose quickly through the ranks. He ended the war with a chest full of medals and a reputation as one of the finest, most reliable men in the military.
Walker enters the school and is escorted to the cafeteria, where two hundred people are assembled for a Parent Teacher Association meeting. Everyone is expecting “a version of the usual America and apple-pie homilies” that go with an address to little children. The auditorium grows quiet as Walker begins speaking in his “loud, flat Texas monotone.” He tells the children and their mothers that some 60 percent of the U.S. press is already controlled by Communists. The leading journalists – Walter Lippmann, Edward Murrow, and Eric Sevareid – are “convinced Communists.” The wary parents in the audience begin to turn and murmur to each other.
Walker presses on as the families stare at him: The Communists are relentless, ready to topple America. People at the very top have subversive sympathies. Even former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and President Harry S. Truman are “decidedly pink.”
By April 1961 General Walker has developed a “pro-blue” education program for his division that is identical to the teachings of the John Birch Society. He brings in Birch-affiliated speakers for “patriotic” lectures, and he recommends his soldiers read The Life of John Birch by Robert Welch. The book is stocked in dayrooms throughout the division. The Twenty-Fourth Division’s newspaper, The Taro Leaf, reprints articles from the Birch Society’s official magazine.
By now, it’s not just the rank and file soldiers who are looking at him. Walker has already been warned – twice – by the European Commander, General Bruce C. Clarke, to stay clear of political proselytizing.
During the buildup to the 1960 election, Walker became even more agitated about the direction of America. Despite pleas from his subordinates, he used his “Commander’s Column” to urge his men to vote for conservative politicians.
American newspapers were publishing exposés of the John Birch Society for weeks when Walker’s antics hit the press. Overnight, General Edwin A. Walker becomes the most controversial man in the American military. By now, European Commander Clarke is appointing a special Inspector General to investigate the allegations against Walker. Clarke then receives a phone call from the Secretary of the Army. The Secretary (at Kennedy’s insistence) orders Clarke to relieve Walker of command – immediately.
Clarke complies and sends news to Walker that he is being reassigned to staff duty at Clarke’s army headquarters.
The army plans to transfer Walker to a post in Hawaii.
Walker calls a press conference and announces he is resigning. He chooses Dallas as his new home and calls a press conference to announce his choice.
At the press conference, he rails against the media and rants that the international Communist conspiracy will “include the takeover of American churches and schools.” He advocates that nuclear weapons should be taken away from civilian control and control of them given to Generals.
Walker begins to give speeches around Texas. He is asked to address a meeting in Dallas of the “National Indignation Convention” by telephone. (He was already in Odessa, Texas to give a speech that evening.) In his speech he rants that “the press in the United States were the willing servants and propagandists of the Soviet Union.”
Although it didn’t become apparent until later, Walker’s popularity was at its peak at this point. Shortly after his speech to the “National Indignation Convention” he decided, against the advice of his political supporters (Senator John Tower, R., Texas, Senator Strom Thurmond, R., South Carolina and Congressman Bruce Alger (R) of Dallas) to run for Governor of Texas in 1962. They told him that Lyndon Johnson’s protégé John Connally would beat anyone in Texas that year, and Walker should wait until 1964 to run for the Senate. Walker wouldn’t listen, and finished 6th (in a six-man Democrat primary), losing to Connally.
Walker continued to make speeches to gradually declining crowds. Most of his more prominent supporters (Thurmond, Tower, Alger) no longer returned his calls and he began to fade from the political scene. As Walker contemplated his dwindling prospects as a viable candidate for public office, he decided he would use his influence with his supporters to encourage them to disrupt political events of those with whom he disagreed.
Paul Schwietering is a former Democratic state central committeeman for the 14th state senate district.