Sgt. Kenneth M. Walter

Kenneth Maxwell Walter was born on Sunday, August 22, 1920, to Francis J. Walter and Mabel Walter in Newark, New Jersey. When he was 16 years old his mother died and his oldest sister Grace moved out the family home to live in Ridgewood. After graduation he worked in a hamburger restaurant called White Tower. Kenneth was inducted in the U.S. Army on October 8, 1940, at Fort Jay, Gouvernors Island, when he was only twenty years old. He received basic training at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and took part in amphibious training exercises at Edgewood Arsenal and Puerto Rico. Kenneth then participated in the Louisiana Maneuvers on May 11, 1940.

Sgt. Walter (right) and his best friend S/Sgt. Barbieri in southern England

He was assigned to Company K, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, and sailed for England on a ship called the Queen Mary on August 1, 1942. One week later the ship arrived in Beamister, England. Kenneth and the rest of the 1st Infantry Division then slipped out of Grenoch Harbor, Scotland, to participate in its first World War II invasion: Operation Torch.

On November 9, 1942, at Saint Cloud, Algeria, Company K was ordered to make a flank attack against an enemy position. “This company pushed forward against a superior enemy force, never giving ground, although subjected to terrific small-arms and supporting fire over a period of ten hours; captured important positions in the town and caused a number of enemy casualties,” according to the unit citation in General Orders No. 35 (1942) of the 1st Infantry Division. Kenneth and the men of the 16th Infantry Regiment successfully captured Oran, and then spent considerable time in training.

The dust of Tunisia had not settled, before the 1st Infantry Division began embarkation aboard transports, and sailed for a rendezvous outside Tunis to participate its second amphibious landing during the invasion of Sicily. The division fought fierce battles on the island’s tortuous terrain and confronted the Germans at the Battle of Troina in early days of August 1943. After the liberation of Sicily, they returned to England and participated in rigorous training programs to prepare them for their greatest challenge so far: the invasion of Normandy.

During this period, he met Eileen Bourke. She was an Irish lady from Dublin and shares her birthday with Kenneth. She served with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) as a batwoman of an English officer for eight months in 1943. This meant she was the officer’s personal assistant. Kenneth and Eileen got married on March 21, 1944, in the Church of St. Mary of the Angels in London.

Sgt. Walter’s grave marker at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery (Plot E, Row 12, Grave 62)

By the end of May 1944, the stage was set for the largest amphibious operation in American military history. Late in the afternoon of June 5, 1944, the troop laden ships sailed out from the English harbors. At 0300 hours the large armade arrived 25,000yds off the Normandy beaches and dropped anchor to prepare the landing craft. At 0325 hours the men of Company K were called to their debarkation posts on the HMS Empire Anvil. Immediately the boats took off for their rendezvous area waiting for the signal to head for Omaha Beach. At approximately 0615 hours six landing craft headed straight for “Fox Green” beach. After hitting the beach, the men of Company K were immediately pinned down my enemy machinegun and mortar fire, and heavy casualties were inflicted. Lieutenant Stumbaugh and Kenneth’s best friend, Staff Sergeant Nicholas Barbieri, quickly reorganized their assault sections and forced the enemy to withdraw. Kenneth was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for gallantry in action on Omaha Beach.

The 1st Infantry Division followed up on the St. Lo breakthrough, and then drove across France, reaching the German border at Aachen in September 1944. Just before midnight on October 3, 1944, while the men of Company K were in Eilendorf, the Germans laid down a heavy artillery barrage on the company position. The terrific artillery barrage knocked out all communications to battalion headquarters. When Kenneth’s squad was captured, “Sergeant Walter made a daring break from his captors and, despite coverless terrain and intense hostile fire, fearlessly attempted to reach his command post and furnish them with important information.” Sadly, he never made it. Kenneth was mortally wounded by a piece of shrapnel at the age of 24. He was posthumously awarded the Silver Star medal for his actions. Sergeant Kenneth M. Walter is buried at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery.

© Copyright 16th Infantry Regiment Historical Society