The subject of this year statement is Col. Conrad “Connie” Walker one who was given a unique nickname among the Army chaplains that have served in the U.S. Army since 1775: He is also known as “The Leapin’ Deacon”.
Walker was born in Herrick, Illinois on March 2, 1932. He attended the University of Washington in Seattle. While a student, he was a guard for the Washington Huskies football team and won amateur titles in heavyweight boxing. After graduation, he married Joan, a marriage that lasted sixty years. He rejected recruitment to play professional sports in favor of a call to the ministry. He entered Luther Theological Seminary. After ordination, his first pastorate was at Shiloh Lutheran Church in Elmore, Minnesota. After service in the Minnesota National Guard, the church asked him to consider serving as a chaplain in the U.S. Army. Though it meant a reduction in salary, Walker accepted the challenge. His wife later recounted that the church made the request of him because he had been a football player and a boxer, thus they believed that he was better qualified to take more abuse than other pastors considering military service.
In September 1962, he began his military career. After completing chaplaincy training at Ft. Hamilton, New York, he had further training in Airborne, Ranger and Pathfinder schools at Ft. Benning, Georgia. In Vietnam, he served as the Chaplain for the 101st Airborne Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He held the status of Master Parachutist, having made more than 600 jumps with the troops, including one combat jump. Thus, the birth of his nickname, “The Leapin’ Deacon”.
On June 29, 1966, he joined a relief platoon on the way to a battle. During this battle, he helped the medic remove wounded soldiers from the direct line of fire, despite enemy machine gun fire filling the area. His daughter later stated, “I just remember swimming at the pool with him as a child and seeing those divots in his side and not realizing they were bullet grazes.” For his life saving efforts in that battle, he earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with Valor, the Legion of Merit and a Purple Heart.
After his time in Vietnam, he served with the U.S. Special Forces in Thailand, as the Command Chaplain for U.S. forces in Korea, the 21st Support Command in Germany, the 1st Calvary Division at Fort Hood, Texas and the U.S. Fifth Army at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. Col. Walker retired from active duty on November 1, 1990. He then took a civilian pulpit as the Senior Pastor at MacArthur Park Lutheran Church in San Antonio, Texas and established the Worldwide Retreat Ministry in 1995. In 2004, his life story, The Leapin’ Deacon-The Soldier’s Chaplain, was published. Gen. John Vessey, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote the forward for the book.
Walker died May 25, 2014 from Agent Orange related illnesses. He is survived by his wife, five children, twenty- two grandchildren and fifteen great grandchildren. He was interred with full military honors at Houston National Cemetery on June 5, 2014.
As America honors our nation’s veterans this year, we do so during a continuing pandemic. Do not let that fact stop you from thanking any and all veterans for their service, not only on Veterans Day, but each day of the year. You may not be the first person to thank the veteran for his or her service, but the veterans will not grow weary from hearing the “thank yous” from grateful citizens who recognize the value of the service that they provided. The cost of freedoms Americans enjoy have not been gained freely. The cost could range from the divots in Col. Walker’s torso, to those who have lost limbs, the ability to walk or their very lives, all for freedom.
As a society, we must be cautious in our ongoing efforts to fight COVID-19 so that in the name of public health and safety, the freedoms the veterans paid for so dearly are not eroded or destroyed. If measures to combat COVID-19 do permanently lessen national freedom, such acts would profane the noble sacrifices of the American veterans who spent nearly two and a half centuries giving their families, descendants and complete strangers they never met the freedoms that make it worth living in America. President Ronald Reagan, a World War Two veteran, may have summed up the situation best when he said “If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on Earth”.
William E. Plants
URG Chaplaincy Coordinator