Raydon Airfield Memorial Info Sign
Walter Carl Beckham was born on May 12, 1916, in Paxton, Walton County, Florida. He was the son of Walter Clifford Beckham and Susanna Nancy Wilkes Beckham.
Walter enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps as an Aviation Cadet in April 1941. After the completion of flight training at Cochran Field, GA, on 26 September 1941, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps and rated as a Pilot. As a fighter pilot, in December 1941 Beckham began flying his first missions over the Panama Canal and Ecuador.
In mid-1943, he was assigned to the 351st Fighter Squadron, 353rd Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force and arrived in the United Kingdom in August 1943. Beckham became a successful P-47 Thunderbolt pilot and claimed his first kill in September 1943; by October he was an Ace.
On 10 October 1943, then-Captain Beckham was piloting his P-47 Fighter in action over enemy-occupied Europe while serving as a flight leader on a mission escorting withdrawing bombers. CPT Beckham destroyed, at an unfavorable altitude, 2 enemy aircraft as a result of his aggressiveness and the viciousness of his attacks. Although almost out of ammunition and with a dwindling fuel supply, he then engaged 2 more aircraft. Using the last of his ammunition, he destroyed one of the planes and drove the other away from the combat area with a simulated attack. CPT Beckham's aggressive, courageous actions were an inspiration to his fellow pilots and earned him the U.S. Army's second-highest award for valor, the Distinguished Service Cross.
On 22 February 1944, Beckham was on his 57th mission when his P-47D fighter 'Little Demon' was hit by flak and shot down during a strafing mission over Ostheim, Germany. At that time, with 18 aerial victories, he was the highest-scoring Ace in the European Theater of Operations. Although Beckham bailed out successfully, he landed near Bergen-Neukirchen and was captured by the Germans. He remained a Prisoner of War until his liberation in April 1945.
After he was liberated in April 1945, Beckham remained in the U.S. Army Air Forces. in 1962, he earned a Ph.D. in Physics and joined the Air Force Weapons Laboratory as Chief Scientist, working on nuclear weapons. He retired from the Air Force in 1969 as a Colonel and continued to work as a nuclear scientist.
Col Beckham died on May 31, 1996, at the age of 80, in Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, New Mexico.
Medals, Awards, and Badges:
Distinguished Service Cross
Silver Star Medal with 3 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross with 4 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Air Medal with Silver Oak Leaf Cluster
Prisoner of War Medal
Army Good Conduct Medal
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Air Force Longevity Service Award with Silver and 2 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Croix de guerre (Belgium)
Army Air Force Pilot Badge
Distinguished Service Cross Citation:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Captain (Air Corps) Walter Carl Beckham (ASN: 0-430771), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving as Pilot of a P-47 Fighter Airplane in the 351st Fighter Squadron, 353d Fighter Group, EIGHTH Air Force, in action over enemy occupied Europe on 10 October 1943, while serving as a flight leader on a mission escorting withdrawing bombers. Major Beckham destroyed at unfavorable altitude two enemy aircraft as a result of his aggressiveness and the viciousness of his attacks. Though almost out of ammunition and with a dwindling fuel supply, he voluntarily engaged two additional aircraft. One of the planes he destroyed with the last of his ammunition and the other he drove from the combat area by simulated attack. The courage and aggressiveness of Major Beckham have been an inspiration to his fellow pilots and reflect the highest credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of the United States.
General Orders: Headquarters, European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army, General Orders No. 15 (February 11, 1944)
Congressional Gold Medal:
The Congressional Gold Medal, created by the U.S. Mint, is the highest civilian honor Congress can give on behalf of the American people. On 20 May 2015, leaders from the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate presented the Congressional Gold Medal to the American Fighter Aces Association at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center Emancipation Hall.
More than 60,000 American fighter pilots engaged in aerial combat during World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Of those pilots, only 1,447 earned the title of fighter “Ace” by downing at least five enemy aircraft. Colonel Walter Carl Beckham was one of them, having been credited with 18 aircraft shot down in aerial combat. At the time of the presentation of the Medal, only 75 of those Aces remained alive.
Source of information: www.findagrave.com