Ray Charles Walker was a war veteran who served as a pilot during World War II. He flew over a dangerous path between India and China in the Himalayan Mountain range called ‘The Hump.’ During his years mostly flying across the world’s highest mountain range, Walker and his comrades played a key role in protecting China from Japanese invasions.
Walker did not speak much about his accomplishments in combat, and little was known when he passed away Nov. 8, 1966. However, there was one certain woman who had a strong desire to learn more about her late father.
“To my flying father who was more present than I ever imagined and to those who contributed the pieces to make his spirit come to life.”
These words were written by a local author as the dedication for her newly released book. Mary Clark was a curious daughter searching for answers about her father’s past. However, she finally found the answers she was seeking for the last five decades about her father, his life, and his time serving in World War II. After more than 50 years of mystery, Clark dissolved the ambiguity of her late father’s life in her newly published book Landing In My Present: A Father, a Daughter, and the Singular Himalayan Journey that Reunited Them.
“It started closer to 15 years ago where we had a Walker (family) reunion in Lubbock, which is something we do every year. My aunt brought me a cassette tape, and she met a pilot who flew with my father on his last flight over the Himalayas. She interviewed him and then gave me the cassette (tape),” Mary said. “My father died when I was 16 years old. He never talked about his military career or much at all in general, so I didn’t know a whole lot about it truthfully. So, I brought that cassette home to Paris, I transcribed it, and all of a sudden I was transported to where he was in India, what life was like there, and the conditions of flying were there.”
The burning questions about her father lingered for decades amidst her adult life. When Clark was able to begin her writing and traveling, she realized the greater meaning the experience was going to provide for her and her family.
“I couldn’t really do anything with that information at the time because I was still practicing law and doing a lot of other things,” Clark said. “Once I retired and (waited) even several years after that, I went back and looked at the transcription again. From there, I decided I was going to go to India and China to follow his footsteps. That started the physical journey, but I realized I still saw my father through a 16-year-old’s eyes. I needed to age him and age our relationship if it is possible that many years later.”
Once the ball was rolling, Clark got busy. She made calls and visits to family members and friends who could help her in her quest to tell her father’s story, and several moving parts and important aspects of his life came into a more clear focus.
“I reached out to an aunt that was still living, my brothers, cousins, friends, and others all for the first time. I started researching ‘The Hump’ and what all went into that operation. I started bringing a more complete description of my father as well as what he experienced. This book includes these intertwining stories of the history of ‘The Hump’ operation, the history of my father and our relationship, until the last part where it talks about the actual trip to India and China.”
While she continued to piece together the background information and timeline of events, Clark noticed that despite the short length of their relationship, she truly was her father’s daughter.
“I discovered I was actually a lot more like him than I thought,” Mary said. “It took hearing stories about him, but I also spent a fair amount of time just sitting and trying to bring back memories. I was observing him as an adult now, how he treated us, what his interests were, what he liked to do, and I found some really interesting connections. We both loved history, we both were matchmakers — there were just some small things I would read and think, ‘Oh, I’m like that!’ I never really associated those things, and it was a real joy. I was able to bring back memories of a much more fun father than I remembered, and my brothers and I talked about him for the first time in 50 years. I learned about his relationship with them and I definitely encourage any listener or reader to take time to go back over your life and observe the past relationships in your life.”
In the past, Clark said public grieving even within a household was an uncommon practice. However, Clark and her siblings finally sat down and talked about their father for the first time in about half of a century, and, to her delight, everything started coming back to the group of siblings with rewarding results.
“It’s truly amazing that we have never talked about our father,” Mary said. “I have four brothers and we never talked about him. What I discovered is that that was just the era — no one rally talked about the death of a parent. I found a technical term for it called silent grief. Of course, today if a parent dies, you would have grief counseling and you would work to help a child or even a parent deal with that grief. You really just shut down and you kind of stuff those feelings down. That’s what we did. When we started opening up, we had much more in-depth memories than we thought. We fed off of each other, which generated more memories. We had a much more complete picture of our father. When I sent the book to my brothers and then to the publisher, it was a cathartic moment for all of us because we could now look at our father more completely and differently. As I say in the end, I’m thrilled to have my father back in my life after feeling his absence for so many years. The sad part is that I was way late in starting this and was too late to talk to most of his contemporaries. I was lucky enough to talk to two ‘Hump’ pilots that he didn’t know, but I could at least get that experience. I was really, really late, but I was still able to get enough to give us some relief.”
Years of travel and deep investigative research can take its toll on even the most adventurous people, but the excitement never shriveled for Clark — each day was full of new discoveries and lucky surprises, which kept Clark fueled and motivated with the end goal in mind.
“A treasure hunt is what it was,” Mary said. “I don’t know if I think of it as coincidences, fortuitous happenings, discoveries — it just felt all along the way that this is where I needed to be and these things just kept happening along the way. Discovering the letters in the trunk — I didn’t even know my dad had a World War II trunk — finding out my cousin had a letter from my dad, finding out another cousin had very strong memories of my father and being able to find these two ‘Hump’ pilots were all incredibly lucky things. One of the pilots lives in Australia and I just happened to be flying into the city where he lives in Australia. It was so exciting to see a new piece of the puzzle fall into place. It was emotional, there were some hard times, but it was so exciting to see that picture get more complete.”
Clark’s purpose in writing and publishing her new book was to help her and those close to her late father gain closure, comfort, and a clear picture of what he experienced. In addition to this, Clark was educated in several other areas in terms of global history and the extent of the operations by each individual involved in the war.
“It’s called World War II because it was a world war,” Mary said. “We think of Europe and the Pacific, but my father was in Africa for some time, where he spent Christmas in Nigeria and holidays in other countries. He even made stops in India and the middle east. I had not realized all of the bases and participation of other countries were being used for this effort. I had not envisioned that and particularly India and China. We found out the people of India were pretty indifferent to our presence. They told us we could look in his base but not go in. Then when we got to China, we were treated almost like royalty. They were so appreciative of our efforts to help China in that war. There’s a monument there dedicated to the ‘Hump’ pilots, and the history is still taught and in their museums. It made me realize what a huge world effort it was — much more extensive than I thought.”
Seeing the world in this manner is something that will permanently resonate with Clark. With that, she hopes others can have the same positive experience as she did by taking the time to learn about and immerse themselves in their own family’s past.
“I think it’s important to not give up on recovering memories of your past and finding out more information,” Mary said. “You have to search for it sometimes, but it’s still out there and it can be so satisfying to find. Using things like ancestry.com is thrilling. You can even start closer to home and just ask family members questions or people that knew your family in the past, and you’re just going to find out the most amazing things.”
Clark published her 202-page book this year, and it can be purchased online on Amazon for $15.95 or through Hellgate Press for $14.95 per copy, respectively. For more information about Clark and her book, visit her website at www.marywalkerclark.com.