Friday, November 25, 2011

Sutton's First WWII Casualty - Marine Sgt. Merritt C. Walton

Merritt C. Walton's Biography and the Unique Honor for Sutton’s First WWII Casualty

Area newspapers reported in January, 1943 the posthumously awarding of the Navy Cross to Sutton’s first casualty of World War II, Marine Platoon Sergeant Merritt C. Walton, sometimes known to his family as Cecil Merritt. He received the award for valor displayed on August 7, 1942 on Gavutu, Solomon Islands when he led an attack on a Japanese machine gun position that threatened his platoon’s right flank. The attack was successful but Sgt. Walton was fatally wounded.

The Navy Cross was only one of two honors, the lesser one I believe, that the Navy bestowed on this Marine with Sutton connections. More on that other award in a moment.

Marine Platoon Sergeant Merritt C. Walton (18 Dec 1916 - 7 Aug 1942), Sutton's first casualty in World War II
Sgt. Walton was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1916 and lived there until 1933 when he and his mother moved to Sutton to be near relatives. He lived in Sutton until joining the Marines in early 1937 after spending the prior summer working on the Fort Peck Dam at Ft. Peck, Montana.

The first active duty assignment for Sgt. Walton was a three year hitch with the marine garrison in Shanghai, China. He spent much of 1940 at Mare Island on the north edge of San Francisco Bay before duty at Lakehurst, New Jersey. The beginning of World War II brought him to parachute training at Quantico, Virginia, a short tour in North Carolina and then off to the South Pacific and the battle for the Solomon Islands.

Sgt. Walton visited his mother and relatives in Sutton during Christmas, 1941. Area relatives included his mother, Mrs. Clara Olson, a sister Mrs. Floyd Schwab in California and his grandmother Mrs. Zenah Walton of Edgar. Sgt. Merritt Walton’s family connection to Clay County comes from his father Cecil Cullen Walton who was raised on the Marshall Township homestead of his father, also named Merritt Walton. The older Merritt Walton’s own father, Isaiah Walton was the family patriarch, born in Maine, lived in Indiana and came to Edgar late in life. He is buried in the Marshall Union Cemetery about a mile north of Merritt Walton’s homestead. A number of Isaiah Walton’s descendants lived in Nuckolls, Fillmore and Clay Counties and do still today – your author among them.

Sgt. Merritt Walton’s fatal encounter on Gavutu occurred just seven months after that Christmas visit to Sutton on the Allies’ first offensive on the island. The award of the Navy Cross was an appropriate recognition of the bravery of his actions that day. The Cross is a highly ranked medal in the hierarchy of Navy medals. But that “other” award is truly noteworthy.

It may require some personal military experience to fully appreciate the honor that the U. S. Navy granted to Sgt. Walton. The United States Navy saw fit to name a ship, a World War II John C. Butler-class destroyer-escort, the USS Walton after Sutton’s first World War II casualty, Marine Sergeant Merritt C. Walton. Yes, the Navy named one of their ships after a Marine. Sure, the Marines are part of the Department of the Navy, but, personal experience speaking here; it often takes a soldier or an airman to remind seamen and marines that they are parts of the same organization.

Is the USS Walton the only Navy ship, or the only ship overall, to have a Sutton connection? I can’t think of another.

The Walton was launched on 20 May 1944 in Orange, Texas with Sgt. Walton’s mother present and sponsoring the ship. The destroyer was commissioned on 4 September 1944. The ship served briefly as a school ship at Hampton Roads, Virginia before heading to Bora Bora and the Solomon Islands. Her first active wartime duty was in late January, 1945 as escort to merchantmen ships bound for the Philippines. Escort duty continued through the end of the war. After the end of the war, the Walton had the honor or transporting discharge-bound veterans home arriving in San Pedro, California nine days before Christmas, 1945.

She was decommissioned until the Korean War when she was re-activated and was assigned to Pearl Harbor for a second career as destroyer-escort throughout that war. The Walton became a school house again after the Korean War, this time for Naval Reserve personnel.

Final decommissioning came on 20 September 1968. In her final act of service to the country, this time as a target ship she was sunk on 7 August 1969, the 27th anniversary of the death of Sergeant Merritt C. Walton.

Was it a pure coincidence that the ship was sunk on the anniversary day of the death of her namesake? Perhaps, and I’m sure that official Navy archives would not indicate anything to the contrary. But I also can’t help but speculate that some Navy Lieutenant with a sense of history, and maybe a sense of humor too, tweaked the gunnery practice schedule so that the hull of the USS Walton would be the target on August 7th. As one who was an Air Force Lieutenant that day in August, 1969, I hope something like that really happened and I salute that Lieutenant, real or imagined.

The complete story of the USS Walton can be found at several online locations. Try these first: and

Then through the wonder of 1940's home movies, check out the USS Walton and its crew on ...

And for a better and extensive look at the men who served on the USS Walton, visit the ship's web site at    where you will find dozens, no hundreds of photos taken by crew members during the life of "our" destroyer.

As a distant relative of Merritt Walton, I was very familiar with the story that the USS Walton had been named after Merritt Cecil Walton but I’d associated him with Minnesota and Fillmore County. It came as something of a surprise to find local papers describing Walton as Sutton’s first casualty of World War II. I am proud to include the story of my distant cousin in our collection of Sutton’s veterans, especially as we can make the connection with the destroyer – that definitely adds to this story.

Sgt. Walton’s citation for the Navy Cross reads as follows:

“For extraordinary heroism as member of the First Parachute Battalion, First Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Gavutu, Solomon Islands August 7, 1942. Although fully aware of his extreme personal danger, Platoon Sergeant Walton voluntarily proceeded  to reconnoiter the position of a hostile machine gun which threatened his platoon’s right flank. After skillfully spotting the weapon’s location, he courageously participated in a daring attack and realized success in silencing this deadly menace before he died of fatal wounds.

“Platoon Sergeant Walton’s unflinching determination and unconquerable fighting spirit were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country.”

USS Walton, DE-361, John C. Butler Class Destroyer-Escort named for Sutton's First WWII Casualty, Sgt. Merritt C. Walton here pictured in San Francisco Bay on 7 May  1967 as the flagship for the annual blessing of the Fleet.     

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sutton High Yearbook Collection

Display of Sutton High School yearbooks from 1912-1981 - not complete.
You can help us meet our  goal of a Bigger Collection.
Growth of the  Sutton Museum's yearbook collection has stalled with 28 books. The museum would like to offer a near-as-possible complete collection for public display and use. Such a collection is good for remembering classmates, finding Mom and Dad or grandparents and settling bar bets.

The museum has annuals from Sutton High School for the following years: 1912, 1917, 1922 (senior pictures), 1929, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1935, 1937, 1946, 1947, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1968, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1981.

These are available at the museum for your enjoyment. We would appreciate donations to fill in the gaps and to add annuals from the most recent 30 years. If you have copies gathering dust that you would like to see begin a new life in the public eye, please contact us or stop by the museum on Sunday afternoon.

Yes, we know that the war years of the early 1940's precluded printing actual yearbooks. The last issue of The Mustang newspapers those years featured pictures of the senior class - the closest those classes came to a yearbook. The Class of '46 made up for those years with one of the most ambitious yearbooks from Sutton High - right up there with the 1912 yearbook, probably my favorite. That 1912 was dedicated to the new high school building built that year which that graduating class just missed.

Friday, November 11, 2011


It was a short war for Lt. Hall Gray Carney. His unit arrived at Attlebridge Airfield northwest of Norwich in Norfolk, England in March, 1944 and flew its first mission on March 22nd, an assault on Berlin which was the longest initial assault by any unit in the European Theater.

First Lieutenant Hall Gray Carney, B-24H Bombardier
Five days later on the 27th day of March, Bombardier Carney was again in the nose of a B-24H on his second mission of World War II. The pilot of crew N-405 was Prosper F. Pinto with B-24H aircraft 42-52562. The other pilot was Robert J. Mogford with crew N-514 and aircraft 41-29364 – Stardust. I have not found the “name” of the first aircraft and numerous “Stardust’s” flew in the war.

These two aircraft were about tenth in the take-off sequence. When they reached the assembly point about ten miles off the end of the runway, in the midst of the jostling to get in formation, the two aircraft collided with the loss of all 20 airmen.

I’ve not determined which of the two aircraft Lt. Carney was in, nor have I documented with certainty that he died in this crash. He did die on that day and the unit did experience the loss of those two aircraft and 20 men on that day. Updates to follow as we learn more.

Please check the comment below for updated and further information. Thanks to the contributor.
Lt. Carney’s crew had trained for months and months in Mississippi, Texas, Colorado, Kansas and New Mexico. They were members of the 784th Bombardment Squadron, the Red Squadron of the 466th Bombardment Group (Heavy) in the 8th Air Force. The group took the nickname of the “Flying Deck” with the 784th being the Clubs. They began their move to Attlebridge in February with the 62 aircraft flying the southern route with the loss of one crew en route.  The ground echelon was transported to England on the Queen Mary.

There is another potentially important detail about the crew of “Stardust” on the 27th. The regular pilot and one of his crew were sick that day and Mogford’s crew was assigned to Stardust for the mission. We can surmise that the crews had trained together for all of these months, likely mostly in their assigned aircraft. They had certainly developed a level of cohesion working together that gave them confidence in flying the aircraft and operating the numerous systems onboard. They certainly had learned a lot more five days earlier in that first long combat mission. On take-off for their second mission these men could have been at the peak of the ratio between confidence and actual skill. They were trained, “experienced” and confident they could face any flying challenge. They were not. They were trained. They were not experienced; they had only seen dozens of flying challenges that first mission compared to hundreds a crew would face over time.

Whether the confidence and skill levels of these new crews played a factor in the mid-air collision, we certainly cannot say. But understanding something about how these 20 men came to be at that point over the English countryside that morning helps us to visualize Lt. Carney’s last moments.

This is NOT Lt. Carney's crew and he is not in this picture. We would like
to have that picture though. The B-24H had ten crew members: Pilot, Co- Pilot
two Bombardier - Navigators, Engineer, Radio Operator, Nose Gunner, Tail
Gunner and two Waist Gunners. This is Crew #651 of the 466th Group with
Paul "Red" Evans - Pilot and Aircraft Commander.
Lt. Carney was the bombardier sitting in the nose of the plane surrounded by windows and a clear view of the airspace before and around him. That vantage point had to provide a spectacular view, the best of any crew member’s. But everyone knew that if the plane ever encountered a problem, the bombardier would be the first one there.

The loss of these two crews only compounded the tragedy of the month. The 466th had lost two aircraft and crews in that first Berlin assault, again to a mid-air collision. Those four losses plus the earlier loss in transit cost the unit five planes and 57 men.

The 466th Bombardment Group had four squadrons, the 784th – Lt. Carney’s, the 785th, 786th and the 787th. Squadron aircraft carried a distinctive two character identifier – the 784th aircraft were marked with “2U.” The Group Commander was Col. Arthur Pierce.

First Lieutenant Hall Gray Carney carried the name of two of Sutton’s founding families. He was born in August, 1919 to Samuel C. and Margaret Carney. This Sam Carney had grown up in Sutton but lived in Evanston, Illinois for a time where he had met his wife. Sam Carney was back in Sutton in 1930 and a bank president

That Sam Carney was the son of Samuel and Eugenia Carney. The older Samuel Carney was an early arrival in Sutton and took over a hardware business from Isaac N. Clark. Eugenia was the daughter of Hosea and Ann Gray. Hosea and Eugenia’s older brother John M. Gray were the very early arrivals in Sutton. John M. Gray and his wife Emma were Hall Gray Carney’s uncle and aunt. The Sutton Historical Society can claim the connection in that John and Emma built both houses of today’s museum.

The Sutton Historical Society asks the town and residents of Sutton, past and present, to join us in recognizing the life and the death of First Lieutenant Hall Gray Carney, a brave son of our town.

We also invite comments, corrections or additions to the story of Lt. Carney. Together we can ensure that present and future Suttonites will know and remember this fallen hero and others as we add to this collection.

-     Written with respect and admiration on Veterans Day, 2011 by Lt. Col. Jerrell R. (Jerry)Johnson, USAF, ret.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Nebraska's Fallen Heroes Marsh

The Nebraska Memorial to the service men and women from Nebraska killed in the Southwest Asian wars.

Ours with Sutton and Clay County connections

Linda Tarango-Griess 

Army Sgt. 1st Class Linda Ann Tarango-Griess, age 33, was killed on July 11, 2005 in Sumarra, Iraq will serving with the 267th Ordnance Company of the Nebraska National Guard.

Sgt 1st Class Linda Tarango-Griess' story is told by The Military Times here.

Killed in the same incident was Sgt. Jeremy Fischer, 26 of Lincoln and of the Karnatz family from south Clay County and Nuckolls County. Jeremy is buried in the Ong Cemetery.

Sgt. Jeremy Fischer of Lincoln and the Karnatz
family of the south Clay and Nuckolls County
Sgt. Fischer's story is here.

The Fallen Heroes Marsh memorial to Nebraskans killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars is at the Duck’s Unlimited Verona Complex southwest of Sutton. The memorial was dedicated in September, 2009.

Names of Nebraska's Fallen Heroes of recent conflicts.
The memorial is six miles west of Sutton on Highway 6 then two miles south on Road R to Road 315 and then ¼ mile west of the intersection of Road R and Road 315. The memorial is in an austere setting at a hunting location recognizing the interests of Adam Herold, the inspiration for the memorial.

Background information and the story of the dedication can be found at:   SORRY - BROKEN LINK. We're looking for a replacement. Any suggestions? Or additions?

The Memorial is 1/4 mile west of the intersection of Road R and Road 315, in a graveled area north of the road.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Walter Wellman - Sutton's Explorer

Have you ever associated Sutton, Nebraska with North Pole explorations? No? Come along with us as we peek through the haze of Sutton Past.

Among the more obscure heroes of Sutton Past is the near-forgotten Walter Wellman. Never heard of him? Well, you are in for a treat.

Walter Wellman (November 3, 1858 - January 31, 1934) was born in Ohio. His pappy brought the family west to York County, Nebraska after the Civil War to settle down on a farm on the frontier. Walter must have been dis-inclined toward farming as he slipped off to Sutton where he started his own weekly newspaper, very likely the town's first. Sutton was the age of a toddler that year, and Walter was only 14. Wellman published his first issue of the Sutton Times on Friday, June 20, 1873 - a "five column quarto" with nine columns of advertising and eleven of local reading matter according to a contemporary account by Dr. M. V. B. Clark.

But Walter soon outgrew our town, for seven years later he'd moved on to the Cincinnati Evening Post and later to the Chicago Herald. Then he decided that he should make the news rather than just report it.

Screen capture of the video at
In the 19-zero's, Walter and his Wellman Chicago Record-Herald Polar Expedition made a couple of attempts to fly airships to the North Pole. These efforts did not work out so well but were relative successes when compared to his next project to fly airships across the Atlantic. His airship America only suffered engine failure requiring rescue near Bermuda but the Akron exploded on a test flight and killed the crew of five, including one poor fellow who'd survived the America debacle.

The screen shot at the right is of a video at which shows our local hero visiting the memorial to S. A. Andree, a Swedish balloonist with similar ideas who failed, badly in 1897 in his attempt to reach the North Pole.

Wellman's Biography which has been summarized here is also at that "World News" link, though a challenge to locate your first time. You'll see it under "Biography" among other selections The video itself will be the top selection of videos at that link.
Walter Wellman wrote a few books on his adventures, three of which seem to available in used condition at from individual peddlers. Let me know what you learned if you succumb to that temptation.

Other references to our man Walter show up deep in the recesses of the Internet. New York's Sunday Magazine of February 5, 1911 had an article written by the man himself. No, no. Don't try to read the picture at the left. Better to follow the link, better, but not by much, actually.

But here is our pièce de résistance: a photograph - if only a picture of a picture of a picture in a newspaper - of our hero's Exploration Machine. Is this cool, or what? Kind of looks like a prop out of a 1960's comedic movie with Jack Lemmon.

Walter Wellman's airship America taken from aboard a ship somewhere out in the Atlantic.
Bringing you back to earth here, we're talking Sutton History. It's a tenuous connection, but it is a well documented connection.  

This last illustration is of the flight deck of the machine named America. It had two engines, a primary and a backup. Good plan there.

Flight deck of the America. Note the brave aeronaut at his command position and the crew out climbing around there in the distance. Do we still have opportunities for such adventures in today's world? I think not.

There is sometimes merit to the saying that, "History is only dry gossip" but that need not be so. There is often real, measurable entertainment value.

by Jerry Johnson
Sutton Historical Society
Comments welcome.