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In Memory Of My Friend, LTC James J. Walton, US Army

Posted by sportsmaven on October 15, 2008

Sitting in my home office, the mail was piling up on my desk, up to bottom of my monitor screen, as usual.  Catching up on the mail is always a task that loves my procrastination, but tonight, I was determined to get through the growing pile on my desk.  I was shocked and very deeply saddened when I opened my high school alumni mailing to find out that my classmate and good friend, LTC James J. Walton was killed in action in Kandahar City, Afghanistan on June 21, 2008.

LTC James J. Walton, US Army

LTC James J. Walton, US Army

LTC James J. Walton, US Army

Jim was one of my good friends at St. John’s College High School in Washington, DC, a private, all-boys Catholic, military high school.  We met during our freshman year in August of 1982 and we couldn’t be more of opposites.  Jim was as sharp a cadet at St. John’s, easily the most self-confident member of our class and the freshman with the most military bearing and pride.  I was the cadet that struggled with all things military.  Somehow, we managed to become friends.

Jim taught me how to shine my brass, “spit” shine my shoes, and finally, when that didn’t work, taught me the lesson of getting a pair of patent leather “inspection” shoes that I would keep in my locker and wear only to pass the daily morning inspection.  He taught me how to properly salute and chided me to learn my cadet knowledge.  Jim was destined to be our class leader and future Regimental Commander.  I recall that he wanted to be Cadet Colonel so bad, not for the rank itself, but rather to be in the best position to help and mentor fellow students in the way of being military.

Jim and I both had a common interest in music, he was in the Cadet Chorus and I was in the Concert Band/Wind Ensemble and the Regimental Band.  We used to hang out in the chorus hall, do homework, talk about the things we wanted to do with our lives.  Only Jim knew exactly what he wanted to do: go to West Point and serve his country in the Army.  Jim loved his time in the choir; he became the student director of the choir our senior year.

When we were seniors, Jim was named Regimental Commander, with the rank of Cadet Colonel.  I fondly recall the evening of our Commissioning Ceremony as cadet officers, Jim was beaming with pride and honor to have earned the leadership position of our entire regiment.  I was proud to be commissioned a second lieutenant in the Regimental Band.  It was due to Jim’s mentoring of my feeble military skills that I was able to achieve that level of rank.  He got me through the system.

The Regimental Band was the only battalion in the regiment that didn’t have a sergeant major.  I volunteered to assume that position for the Regimental Band, taking a voluntary demotion from lieutenant to sergeant major.  I did it because I believed it was an opportunity to be special; there were only 4 sergeant majors in the entire regiment, while there were dozens of ordinary lieutenants.  It also allowed me to be glued to the hip of my best friend in high school, John Shaw, who was our battalion commander, making my final year at St. John’s a military breeze.

When word moved up the chain that I took a demotion, Jim found me and said “DeCesare, only you would take a demotion to try to make yourself look good.”  We both got a good laugh out of that one.  One day, I volunteered to be Officer of the Day, an assignment that took the serving cadet out of classes for the day to be an aide to the military instructors and school administrators.  When I went to the Military Office to report for duty, Jim laughed at me, asking me if I had a test today and needed to skip class.  Even though we were friends, Jim was pretty relentless on us in morning officer’s inspection.  He would demand that we lead by example and that started with appearance and attitude.  He expected the officers of the regiment to lead with dignity, honor, and sense of duty.

When graduation week came, we all knew that we would be moving on to our next phase in life.  The day before graduation, we took our class photo at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington DC.  The Cadet Colonel is the centerpiece of the photo, standing in the middle of the front row with Brother John Herron, our school president.  It had rained that morning and we were unsure if we were able to take the picture, but the rain broke and we gathered as a class on the marble steps of the Shrine to take one last photo.  It would be the second to last day we would all be together as classmates.

On graduation day, we re-assembled at the Shrine to go through graduation ceremony.  It was the last time that we would all wear the uniform at St. John’s.  Jim, like so many other occasions, led the officers of the Class of 1985 into the ceremony, with his perfect military demeanor, white sash, chest full of medals and ribbons, 3 diamonds signifying the rank of Cadet Colonel on his shoulders.

After the ceremony, we were milling outside the Shrine, taking pictures with family, friends, and classmates.  I remember Jim and I hugged, glad that we made it through, sad that our days at St. John’s were coming to an end.  I knew Jim was going on to bigger and better things at West Point, while I was off to a vastly different life at Virginia Tech with two of our other classmates.  That would be the last time I would see Jim Walton.

While my initial memories of Jim have always been about his impressive military manner, my most fond, treasured, and lasting memories of Jim had very little to do with the military.  My memories were of his strength of character, kindness, dedication, compassion, honesty, and loyalty to his friends and family.  Jim loved helping people, especially his friends.  He was selfless in that regard.  I loved that we shared a like of music, the playfulness of the Senior right to cut in the lunch line and sit at the Senior Table.  We endured schoolwork, Brother Albert’s monotonous typing class, bonded for life with our classmates, and loved our school, it’s sense of integrity, honor and duty, and all it represented.

People may think that the world will be a lesser place without Jim Walton, but I believe otherwise.  I believe that the world is infintely a better place because of Jim Walton.  As I look at that picture of our class, the Class of 1985 of St. John’s College High School, I see front and center, where he belonged, the indelible image of Cadet Colonel Jim Walton.  I also see the image of Jim Walton my mentor, my leader, but most of all, my friend.

8 Responses to “In Memory Of My Friend, LTC James J. Walton, US Army”

  1. visit said

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  2. MSG (R) Donald Murrah said

    I was fortunate to meet at that time CPT Walton at Dallas Recruiting Battalion and remember when he got promoted to MAJ. He was one of the few officers at Battalion who I had a lot respect for. I think that is due to his time in the Infantry. I remember one day I was at Battalion and CPT Walton walked up to me and said, if you weren’t Infantry I wouldn’t trust you. After he left Dallas Recruiting Battalion I would contact him every now and then, I remember him telling that after he gets back from this deployment he is going to retire. Well LTC Walton you retired, not the way we wanted you to and now you are home. See you on the high ground.

  3. Kevin August said

    I too was class of 1985 at St, John’s. I met Jim my freshman year and we quickly became good friends. I entered St. John’s late my freshman year (mid october) and felt a little uneasy as everyone had already established friendships. Jim went out of his way to make me feel welcome and it made my transition very easy. Jim has such pride in St. John’s, our country, his family, and his friends. He was always going out of his way to make people feel like they were part of something bigger and at the very least they could count on him to be there through thick and thin. We stayed close through our sophomore year and joined the honor/color guard together. I remeber at 8:00am every morning we would march and raise the American flag on the flagpole in front of the school. Then junior year Jim left for 6 months as part of the exchange program St. John’s had with another school in Belgium. I use to joke with Jim that he would not be able to stand 6 months at the other school because they were not a military school.

    Upon Returning for his senior year Jim was named Cadet Colonel. I remeber one of the first things he instituted (that had never been done before) is that whenever he would call the entire regiment (school) to “Attention” we would have to shout: “Duty, Honor, Country, SJC”. That sentiment I think best sums up the principles Jim believed in and lived his life by.
    As seniors we would discuss where we wanted to go to college. There was only one place for Jim – Westpoint. As we were going through the nomination/appointment process I was considering Westpoint, Annapolis, and other fine institutions and he would always say “The Naval Academy is good but it can’t hold a candle to Westpoint”. Although we drifted apart and I never saw him after senior year in high school, I realize that was my loss. I look back and wish I had stayed in touch but I also realize I was blessed to have known him and to have called him a friend. Every Memorial day I talk about Jim to my son (now 8 years old). He also has a hero braclet with Jim’s name. I hope Jim looks down from heaven and sees I am doing my small part to make sure he is always remembered and at the same time has a smile on his face as he hears my son say he wants to go to Annapolis when he grows up.

    God Bless you Jim – an American hero.

    Kevin August – St. John’s Class of 1985

  4. COL Thomas J. Ritz said

    Jim (Buzz)was my replacement in Kandahar City. He and I began to communicate weeks prior to his taking command. I got to know and respect him and mutual friends told me he was the right guy to replace me in the most active province in Afghanistan. The guys who remained after my departure spoke highly of his ability to relate to all the soldiers and spoke of how they respected him. I could tell from our conversations what a talented and dynamic officer he was. I will forever feel guilty that I did not extend my tour. I can’t help but think that has I extended this fine American would be alive today. I pushed hard for Jim to replace me because he was the right guy and could handle that very dangerous and difficult job. Jim you and your family are never far from my thoughts and prayers. Rest in peace my brother. I will take pause on 21 June and remember you and respect your memory. All of the “Road Hogs” miss you.

  5. Sean Stockton said

    I enjoyed reading your piece on Jim and echo all of your sentiments. I graduated in ’84 and didn’t know Jim as well as you did. I too loved the military aspect of St. John’s as did Jim. I remember every time I would see Jim in the halls or during drill after school, I got the sense that he knew where he was going in life. He always greeted me with a smile and always looked so professional. When I heard the news of Jims passing I took out my yearbook to remember what he looked like when i knew him at school. It brought back a flood of memories for me and my thoughts and prayers go to his wife and family. I became a teacher to help people and Jim became a soldier. I honor Jim in his sacrifice to keep us safe here at home. God bless you Jim and thanks for your service to our country.

  6. Julian With said

    I just wanted to write and say Thank You for the kind words about Jim, He and I served together in Iraq and we quickly became friends. Everything you said about him in your story is completely true, if Jim has taught me nothing else he has taught me to be a better human being and to always strive for the best. Thank you very much for the kind words about a great friend

    Sincerely,
    Julian F With

  7. Don Walton said

    Thank you.

    While we all miss Jim terribly, it is still comforting to be reminded of him by reading the words of others who had the good fortune to know him over the years. Thanks for taking the time to give him this tribute.

    – Don Walton (Jim’s brother)

    • Charlie Ugaz said

      To my good friend LTC Jim Walton US Army (St. John’s ’85)…you took me home from St. Johns & now you found your home in Arlington. My prayers are with You, Don & your whole family. -Charlie Ugaz (SJC’84)

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