With the release of Red Tails a couple weeks ago, I told of our search within the Company for other team members with ties to these fliers, and shared a couple. We have long known of Lieutenant Colonel James A. Walker who, like George Roberts, joined Wells Fargo when his military career ended.
James Walker was a Personal Banking Officer in Hayward, Calif., from 1965-1979. We corresponded with Walker himself several years ago—with Red Tails invigorating interest in the Tuskegee Airmen and their families, we wanted to connect with Walker’s family, both to get their recollections and to get their permission to share images and stories.
We recently did communicate with these wonderful people, and they have a wealth of memories about Walker and his service to Wells Fargo, and to our country!
“We had to fight in order to fight.”
James Walker was born in Manning, S.C., in 1918. He first took flight training at Hampton Institute and graduated in 1941. He trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field, one of 19 who graduated in the class of 1943, and finished second in his class.
Before Tuskegee, the Army had been very reluctant to train African Americans as pilots. Racial discrimination in America at that time was rigid, despite the abilities of people like Walker. “We had to fight in order to fight,” Walker said in a 1994 interview.
Walker was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group, whose major action was escorting bombers. Walker flew 80 missions; then, in July 1944, he was escorting a crippled B-24 bomber over Yugoslavia, when he was forced to bail out of his flak-damaged P-51 Mustang. He was met in a field by pistol-waving teenager.
Luckily, the youth was one of the good guys—partisans who helped him and other downed Allied fliers evade capture. Walker returned to duty after 39 days.
During the war, Walker flew 102 missions in all. He returned to Tuskegee as a flight instructor in 1948. He retired from the US Air Force as a Lt. Col. in 1964.
Military teamwork served Walker well when he joined Wells Fargo. He completed a bank management training program and became a loan officer in Hayward. When Wells Fargo began a Personal Banker program, Walker was in the first class to complete it, and the only African American in that first program. He continued with Wells Fargo in Hayward until he retired in 1979.
Walker was an active volunteer in retirement, including being named Hayward’s Senior Volunteer of the Year. He was active in the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., the organization of persons who had trained in that program and served their country. In February 2003, he was honored at an event at Wells Fargo Headquarters in San Francisco.
In 1994, Walker attended a convention of Tuskegee Airmen in Chicago. By chance, he met Aleksandr Zivkovic, who had immigrated to America in 1971. Zivkovic, as a teenager, had been a Yugoslav partisan fighting against the Nazis—and helping downed fliers escape and get back to duty.
Walker and Zivkovic had met 50 years earlier, in that field in Yugoslavia.