Eulogy for Wally Blackwell

Rockville Memorial Church - January 19, 2009

By Lew Burke


My name is Lew Burke. As some of you know, I am a Member of the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association. Most of you here know Wally was President of the Group. I am here today representing the 398th. I'm here also as a friend of Wally's.

First, let me comment on Wally's time with the 398th. This includes Wally's war time and the years since Wally joined the Memorial Association.  Having consulted with the Group’s News editor Allen Ostrom for assistance with facts not well known to me, I can relate the following:  Wally joined the bomb group in England in July of 1944.  He flew thirty-five missions over Nazi occupied Europe. On one of these missions, he survived a crash landing in France. He finished his missions in December of 1944 and returned to the States.

I did not know Wally at the time so I cannot provide more details except this. Anyone who flew with the Eighth Air Force during World War II had to be good at their job. Being either naive or courageous was a prerequisite for climbing into a B-17 four-engine bomber after being briefed for a combat mission. In Wally's case, I am sure it was courage that allowed him to carry out his assignment.  (In my own case, I think I may have been more naive than courageous.) Wally became a member of the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association in 1985. In 1986, he became a Director and then Secretary in 1989. Our then President obviously recognized talent when he saw it.  After the passing of president Bill Comstock in 1996, Wally was elected President.

I can now convey some information that I personally know.  First, let me say that from the time I joined the Memorial Association I attended every reunion except one.  I, along with friends I made while overseas as well as others I met at reunions, looked forward to great good times while attending the annual get-togethers. We did not contribute to the management duties.  In my case, I knew Wally had become President.  Other than that, I knew little else. However, about a half dozen years ago some fool nominated me as a Director. There must have been a room full of fools because I was elected. It was then that I came to really know Wally.

During Wally's tenure, many great accomplishments took place. Let me name but a few. The Association dedicated a monument on property on the edge of our former air base at  Nuthampstead in 1982. The ground for this outstanding monument rested on a small tract of land donated by a generous English landholder. One of the accomplishments of Wally's office was the arrangement for the American Battle Monuments Commission to provide the upkeep in perpetuity for our sacred marker. It serves as a reminder of our service and especially for those who gave their lives to the cause of freedom for us and our Allies.  Wally and Treasurer Ralph Hall were responsible for this. It was not an easy task.  Ralph followed through and completed this even up until Ralph was at death's door. Wally inspired this sort of dedication. 

In 1997, Wally and Teedy attended the ceremony for the opening of the American Air Museum in  Britain at Duxford. There is a picture taken there that Wally has always cherished. Queen Elizabeth II who joined in the dedication was in the picture with Teedy and Wally. 

Many 398th accomplishments have taken place under Wally's tutorage. In the interest of time, I will not try to mention them all. There is one that we must credit Wally with above all others.  Wally brought the offspring of our generation into the 398th. He has inspired them to take leadership as well as helper positions. Those second generation types will carry on for Wally. I firmly believe the 398th Bomb Group Memorial Association will continue even after that generation turns over the torch to their heirs.

Wally had the great fortune to possess the art of knowing how to act and react with people.  There is a saying that we should lead, follow or get out of the way. Wally had the knack of knowing how to lead a mixed group of ol’ vets and the young among us. He led until we became inspired then he got out of the way. He heaped praise when deserved and gave a nudge when necessary. A favorite praise and nudge combined for dealing with our several lady workers was a written or physical “Hug.'' “Hugs” and “Tally-ho” were Wally's trademark endings of a conversation or e-mail.

In closing let me say that I think when Wally entered the Pearly Gates, St. Peter gave him a celestial B-17 to sit in. I can see him now opening and closing the throttle just to hear those four Wright Cyclone engines give off their unmistakable roar. My wish is that if I do manage to go though those Gates, Wally will let me sit in his co-pilot's seat.