I spend a great deal of time skiing with my Grandpa Frank Walter. Many know he’s a bit of a folk legend out at Copper Mountain, Colorado, having been featured in newspapers and movies for skiing several million vertical feet and about 140 days a year into his late 80s. Fewer know that Grandpa was a Marine Corps fighter pilot having served in the Pacific and in Japan during reconstruction. Understanding the significance of WWII more and more as I got older, I’ve tried for years to learn more about Grandpa Frank’s wartime experiences. It’s been the, “He just won't talk about it” scenario common among many combat veterans. He’s always been vague and darted the questions every time I inquired. On two occasions he was actually more open to guests I’d brought out skiing, including my friend who’s half Japanese. He surprised us during a dinner by quoting off the top of his head, all these years later, the exact flight distance from his forward flight base to Tokyo.
Even after explaining the importance if I ever had kids of being able to tell them what their Great Grand Father did during one of the most significant events of the 20th Century, I really did not get much. “Bombing and strafing runs, participated in the Battle of Okinawa” and what kind of airplane he flew, an F4U Corsair, is about as much as he revealed.
One day after skiing last March I was upstairs in Grandpa’s office helping him fix things. He had made me a list of technical gadgets to look over, his clock radio, cable hook up, mobile phone, etc. I noticed a patch with a plane on it lying on his desk and asked about it. “Oh, during the war when someone was shot down and killed, I was transferred to VMF-113, which did not yet have an official insignia. That’s the one I helped develop.”
I suspected if I asked more he’d close up like in the past, but a light bulb went off in my head, “VMF-113.” Maybe that could tell me something. So I went on helping him with the cable box all the time repeating in my head, “VMF-113, VMF-113.” Once we were done I ran downstairs and googled VMF-113. The first hit was an entire Wikipedia entry with the history of Grandpa's squadron, Voluntary Marine Fighter Squadron 113. What surprised me even more was right there on the Wikipedia entry was the exact insignia upstairs on Grandpa’s desk (Link). Gave me a few goose bumps. I now have a better idea what Grandpa did during the war. It helps me appreciate his service even more. Surprising some of these guys still carry this stuff around mum all these years later. After a more than a decade of asking him directly, it took a random observation and question while crawling around fixing cable wires to uncover.