Wednesday, January 8, 2014

William "Bill" Walton: A Charmed Life - Fascinating Historical Bio on WWII Journalist!

World Battlefronts: Parachute Landing in Normandy

The night before D-Day, few of the paratrooper comrades of TIME Correspondent William Walton tried to sleep. After midnight they turned out, climbed into EUR-475. They were the spear head; some of them would not live to see that day's dawn. Walton, a qualified parachutist attached to the outfit, crawled in with them, was soon over France. He cabled:
I plunged out of the plane door happy to be leaving a ship that was heading toward flak and more Germans. The jump was from such low altitude...
William "Bill" Walton:

A Charmed Life
By Mary Hackett

Edited by Mary Claire Kendall

London was teeming with fascinating people such
as attractive and self-assured Martha Gellhorn, the
third and current wife of Ernest Hemingway, who
would also become a close friend of Bill.
A writer will always write and when William Walton went to report on many activities in Europe, he also wrote letters home to his family. He had always thought of writing his own biography, but thankfully, the family, and, in particular his sister-in-law Mary Hackett saw that his letters could be turned into one of the most interesting books sharing American history from a journalist's viewpoint...
Those who will want to travel with him into the war years will certainly have the opportunity. I think the
As he stood, he surveyed the once peaceful
and picturesque rural area of Normandy,
looking in horror at the blight that blanketed
the land: houses and barns now riddled with
holes; trees reduced to scattered fragments;
equipment smashed to pieces. Bill said the
fate of the dairy herds, one of the war's
signature images, was even worse--stinking
black and white cows, sometimes one lonely
cow, often scores, lying lifeless in fields.
It was a disheartening scene, one that he
could not have imagined...Most of Bill's
exposure to war had been viewed from an
aircraft flying high over a city, not on the
ground where up-close images of
extensive carnage and flattened structures
were forever seared in his memory.
thing that made the most impression on me regarding his desire to do all that he could to keep America informed
English: Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway ...
English: Martha Gellhorn and Ernest Hemingway with unidentified Chinese military officers, Chungking, China, 1941. Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
was to accept an invitation to train as a paratrooper. He jumped so that he was already there by the time the ground troops showed up!

But not all was about the war... Bill became close friends with Ernest Hemingway and his wife Martha Gellhorn, shown at the left...Hemingway even saved Bill's life, but there were many times for social gatherings as well.

One personal interest caught my attention--Bill was there when the most wanted gangster, John Dillinger was killed, and rode with his body to the Cook County morgue. {Me, I'm related to the Dillingers and had a John Dillinger in my family who always got picked on--LOL} Bill..."noticed that Dillinger must, at some point, have attempted to fie or burn his hands in an effort to eliminate identifying fingerprints...This reporting coup gave Bill his first national recognition. His byline, "by William Walton," would soon begin to appear in many more publications..."

Another little tidbit I enjoyed was that when, in June 1946, Bill stood to receive an honorary degree he gave a little [payback] speech... "he noticed that most of the faculty seated before him were those who had voted to kick him out almost 20 years earlier...At the end of his speech, to express his displeasure with the school's heavy-handed discipline so many years before, he turned his backside to the assembled crowd and bowed. Later, he commented to his family, "There was a very nice shape to that!"  To me, that's why we enjoy reading about people's lives, don't we?!

The body of John F. Kennedy in repose
 in the White House on November 23, 1963.
William Walton helped research the funerary
decorations for the room and the dressing
 for the catafalque.

I became fascinated with Walton's love of the outdoors and his painting activities, which became a little more well known when Bill became friends with John F. Kennedy and his family to carry through even to helping with the arrangements for his burial. There is quite a bit covering that time and his friendship with Jackie afterward Kennedy's death. "(1949-1960)"

Life, for whom he had also worked, took his friendship with Kennedy to write an article about his paintings. in "Life" in 1961. At first when you read somebody is an artist and a friend of Ernest Hemingway, et. al., don't you just wonder where somebody gets all that talent, LOL! I don't know about you, but you must begin to admire this man, don't you think?!

There's a strange appeal to his work as well as his life during the period from 1949 to 1960 when he traveled and spent most of his time painting... Although it doesn't quite come out and say it, but his trip to his final destination in Italy brought him together with Martha Gellhorn who was by then divorced from Hemingway, (Bill was also divorced by that time) writing to his sister:
...two met in Rome and "the room I took," as he described it, had "long windows and small balconies looking out on tiled roofs where chickens, cats, people, and flowers dwell in magnificent turbulence..." Italy stood out for its color. "Nobody had ever told me the color of Rome," he wrote, which is a "rich, organish tan, faded and blotchy, but very vibrant and much more alive than the cooler gray of Paris...One night they dined at a well-known and established restaurant, the next night at a charming sidewalk cafe where strolling musicians and splashing fountains enveloped them, making for a lovely scene. They returned to their hotel by horse carriage, which sounded so romantic, though Bill simply chalked it up as the last expensive transportation... Bill could not have been happier painting the beautiful vistas in the bold colors that came to distinguish his painting...
Going back a bit, I wanted to include at least part of Bill's words written on the occasion of Jack Kennedy's inauguration.
We slowly proceeded toward Constitution Hall amid the darnedest scenes of staff cars, clustered people wrapped to the eyes and torchlight flickering on the heavy snow. A beautiful trip... silver ribbons of snow swirling through the floodlights around the Washington Monument, and a snowy glow over everything and as we rode along, the inside lights on to display Jackie, she commented it was "so cozy with the world all shut out by the storm." Jack read Jefferson's first inaugural and at the end said quietly "Better than mine."
On the other hand, of course, there are not too many Americans who cannot cite Kennedy's last line: "Ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country." That night the overture "From Sea to Shining Sea" was played for the first time in public...

Mary Hackett and editor Mary Claire Kendall have presented us with an excellent review of the life of William Hackett! There is so much more that is included such as his interest in the arts, architecture, and of course, writing... This is well worth any historian's interest because of the personal insights in not only Walton's life, but all that he was involved with! It seemed to me only appropriate that I closed my overview with his obituary...
William Walton Is Dead at 84; Headed Federal Fine Arts Panel  THOMAS J. LEUCK  
Published: December 20, 1994 New York Times William Walton, who as chairman of the Federal arts commission presided over the construction and restoration of several of the best-known monuments in Washington, died in his sleep and was found on Sunday at his loft in the Chelsea section of Manhattan. He was 84.Although the cause of death was not immediately known, Mr. Walton had suffered a heart attack in 1993, his family said. A journalist, painter and close friend of President John F. Kennedy, Mr. Walton had a diverse career that reached its zenith from 1963 to 1971, when he was chairman of the Fine Arts Commission, which oversees public monuments and new construction on Federal land in the District of Columbia.He defeated efforts to demolish the West Front of the Capitol, oversaw construction of the Washington subway and presided over the restoration of Lafayette Square and much of Pennsylvania Avenue.

Mr. Walton, the son of a newspaper publisher, was born in Jacksonville, Ill. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin, he began a career as a correspondent for The Associated Press and Time magazine. In World War II, while working for Time, he was among a handful of correspondents who parachuted into Normandy at the start of the invasion on June 6, 1944...

Highly recommended for those who enjoy reading about the lives of those that were involved in our own lives, but we just...didn't...know him at the time. Now is your opportunity to meet a man with a charmed life (I guess I would say that definitely is true based upon the action he saw in WWII!)


About the Author

Mary Hackett, the author, is Bill’s niece by marriage Mary Hackett is the niece, by mar-riage, of William Walton. They developed a close relationship which was personal, and one of shared interests in gardening, art, archeology, Native American pottery, architec-ture, and the appreciation of books. The author has lived several years in the Orient and Mexico, and traveled widely. After he died, Bill's lifelong letters to his older sister were inherited by Mary and her husband. The letters, and many intimate conversations, are the basis for this book. She felt his life was so unusual, personally involving several presi-dents and many of the famous people of our history, that his story should be chronicled for others to know.

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