By Christine Baldwin, Librarian
Walter Cronin was born in New Jersey and grew up during the Depression. He dropped out of high school at 16 and joined the US Army on his 17th birthday (with his parents’ permission). When he took the aptitude test, Walter did so well, they had him take the officer Candidate Test. He passed this also, so was eligible to go to Officer Candidate School, after completing Basic Training (Fort McClellan, AL). (He never did apply for this school).
Walter’s first deployment was to Manila in the Philippines in 1946. His first assignment as an MP was to guard a daytime convoy. Another time on a very hot day, he and 2 other MPs were tasked to guard a vault. The other 2 stepped out and neglected to lock the cage where Walter was sitting. He got bored and started reading a book with his feet on the desk when he heard a “Hrmp, hrmp”. Looking up, Walter saw a full bird Colonel, the Port Commander, looking down at him. Needless to say, all 3 were put under arrest. So here was Walter, 17 years old and looking at a possible prison term. Whether it was the fact that Walter would see the Colonel and his family at Sunday Mass or someone just took pity on him; all charges were dropped. All Walter had to do was 10 days of hard labor. Walter returned to Camp Stoneman, CA for an honorable discharge in 1947.
In early 1951, Walter reenlisted into the Army for 3 years with the Army Security Agency, wanting to see action in Korea. He went to radio repair school at Camp Gordon, GA. While there he heard about an Infiltration Course and signed up. Not only did he complete the course, but he went through it 2 more times, including one at night. He was then sent to a listening post in Chitose, Japan supervising 3 radio repairmen. One adventure Walter had was climbing up the side of a volcano by Lake Shikotsu with a friend. It was a rough climb and the smell of sulfur became very strong. It felt like the volcano could erupt at any time. Losing track of time, all of a sudden it was night and they had to come down the volcano. All Walter could think was “I hope there are no black bears out tonight!” They finally stumbled into a small Ainu village and using the one phone available finally made contact with their company.
Walter heard about a new project called low level voice intercept (LLVI), which consisted of 3 radio repairmen and 3 Chinese translators from Formosa. He applied for this and in 1952 (one year after arriving in Japan), he got his wish and was sent to Korea. He ended up going to the front line with the 301 Communications Reconnaissance Battalion in X Corps. When he arrived, the whole mountain was on fire and the Captain in charge immediately put Walter in charge. Walter knew nothing about putting out forest fires, but there were some enlisted men who knew and they dug trenches to secure the fire. Next, Walter, along with a small patrol of GIs went to Heartbreak Ridge to put in a new enemy telephone voice intercept device. There were mine fields and napalm fields and in some places they were only 40 yards from the North Koreans. Unfortunately, as day became night, a full moon started shining. This, of course, this made the group easy to see, so they had to crouch down as they were moving. As he cleared the crest, Walter fell into a bunch of barbed wire, cutting him badly. They wanted him to go back, but Walter said no and the medic patched him up as best that he could. A couple of highlights for Walter was seeing Cardinal Spellman, Bob Hope and eating dinner with General George Patton’s son. Walter was discharged in January 1954.
Walter’s next career was working 36 years with IBM at their New Jersey branch. He worked in various areas such as repair key punch and sorter machines, helping customers in the Engineer area, and becoming a product field engineer. He got a promotion to work in San Jose, CA and he, his wife and 2 daughters moved there in 1964. But they didn’t care for the West Coast and Walter applied to work as a product assurance specialist in Poughkeepsie, NY. Walter had begun having problems with his eyesight as early as 1954. In 1967, he was diagnosed with Best’s Macular Dystrophy. He went to the local VA and got into their Low Vision Rehabilitation Clinic that supplied him with many visual aids. Walter was even featured on a VA brochure explaining these services. He retired and moved to Maryland in 1994 and his wife died in 1999. With family living in Maryland, Walter decided to move AFRH-W in 2009.