John Walton, mostly known as the 11th richest man in the world, died yesterday piloting an experimental aircraft.
Wal-Mart Heir John Walton Dies in Crash
By MELISSA NELSON, Associated Press Writer
Wal-Mart heir John T. Walton, who threw his considerable financial support behind efforts to educate low-income children, has died in the crash of a homemade, experimental aircraft.
Walton, of Jackson, Wyo., crashed shortly after takeoff Monday from Jackson Hole Airport in Grand Teton National Park, the company said. The cause of the crash was not known and will be investigated, officials said. Walton was 58.
"I think all you can say is he was just a good man and today, you grieve," Jay Allen, Wal-Mart senior vice president of corporate affairs, told The Morning News of Springdale.
Walton, one of three sons of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton and a member of the company's board, was a major advocate of school vouchers, supporting efforts to create taxpayer-funded ways for students to attend private schools.
Walton founded the Children's Scholarship Fund in 1998 to provide low-income families with money to send their children to private schools. The foundation started with $67 million from the Walton Family Foundation and benefited more than 67,000 children.
In March, Forbes magazine listed John Walton as No. 11 on its list of the world's richest people with a net worth of $18.2 billion. He was tied with his brother Jim, one spot behind his brother Rob, and just ahead of his sister, Alice, and his mother, Helen.
"I certainly have nothing negative to say about the man at all. He was a prince," said Walton's former wife, Washington County Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn. "He loved to build things. He loved motorcycles. He built his own motorcycle."
The plane he died flying was an experimental ultralight aircraft with a small, gasoline-powered engine and wings wrapped in fabric similar to heavy-duty sail cloth, officials said.
Joan Anzelmo, a spokeswoman for Grand Teton National Park, said rangers will investigate the crash, as is done with any major accident in the park. She said officials also notified the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board.
"Because this is a homemade, non-registered, experimental aircraft, at least today they told us there was not going to an investigation," she said.
She said Walton, "well-known and much-loved in this valley, died doing something that he loved to do."...
But what you may not know (and probably Charlie Rangel does not know) is that John Walton left Wooster College to volunteer for Viet Nam. But he didn't just volunteer for combat duty, he volunteered several times to be a Paratrooper and Special Forces Medic. He was assigned to Military Assistance Command - Vietnam - Studies and Observations Group (MAC-V-SOG).
Suffice it to say that many of the veterans of the SOG trained the next generation to fight the next wars in El Salvador, Panama, and Iraq. The men of MAC-V-SOG were my heroes. You can learn a bit more about MAC-V-SOG here.
In the extended section is an account of what actions John Walton did under fire to receive the Silver Star.
The Waltons: Inside America's Richest Family
ANDY SERWER / Fortune v.150, n.10, 15nov04
AT ONE POINT when I was driving with John down Highway 61, I tried to start up a conversation about his war experiences.
"So were you in combat?"
"Why did you go to Vietnam?"
"When I was at Wooster, there were a lot of people talking about the war in the dorm rooms, but I didn't think they under-stood it."
"So you volunteered and joined the Army?"
"What unit? What part of the Army?"
"I was in Special Forces."
"Really? Why did you do that?"
"I figured if you're going to do something, you should do it the best you can."
The conversation continued, deposition-like, until I gave up. Like many Vietnam vets, John is reluctant to talk about the war. Later I dug around and discovered that John's experiences were a whole lot more than just your basic tour of duty.
John was a Green Beret, part of a unit code-named the Studies and Observations Group, or SOG (cover for "special operations group"), a secret, elite military unit whose operatives would be disavowed by the U.S. government if captured. SOG often conducted actions behind enemy lines and in Laos and Cambodia. John joined the unit in 1968, right after the Tet offensive. On almost every mission there was a firefight. A particularly horrifying battle occurred in the A Shau Valley in Laos while he was assigned to a unit named ST (strike team) Louisiana. John was the commando team's No. 2 as well as its medic. One morning ST Louisiana was dropped from helicopters onto a ridge near the DMZ and was attacked by North Vietnamese army soldiers. In a memoir titled Across the Fence: The Secret War in Vietnam, fellow Green Beret John Stryker Meyer gives an account of that day: "Four of the NVAs rounds struck the tail gunner, wounding him severely. As Walton swung his CAR-15 [a sub-machine gun version of the M-16] toward the enemy soldier ... [his] rounds hit the NVA soldier and drove him back in the jungle."
The account goes on to say that Walton's commanding officer, Wilbur "Pete" Boggs, called in a napalm strike that landed yards away from John. Soon the six-man team was surrounded. One was dead and three were wounded. John tended to casualties, including Boggs, who was knocked semiconscious by shrapnel, and Tom Cunningham, who was badly hurt. "The knee got blown out and started hemorrhaging very, very severely. John Walton applied a tourniquet to my leg to stop the severe hemorrhaging," recalls Cunningham today. John called in two choppers for extraction. As the first Kingbee dropped in and lifted off with some of the men, the NVA intensified its assault. A second chopper was needed to get all the men out, but the landing zone was too hot to make it in. Walton and his team thought they were doomed, but suddenly the first chopper came back down, even though their added weight might make it too heavy to take off again. With the enemy advancing into the clearing, firing at the helicopter, and Walton trying to keep Cunningham alive, the Kingbee took off and barely made it over the treetops...
John Walton was a billionaire. But he also followed his passions of building things - motorcycles, airplanes, etc. He built schools and spent millions and millions on educating children. He volunteered for Viet Nam. He could have been an Officer and probably gotten his choice of assignments, but, instead, he served as a Special Forces Medic taking care of his men - putting their lives ahead of his own. And he lived his life the best he could and died doing what he loved to do.
Now, that's a legacy.