The 608-feet-long General Nelson M. Walker, a P2 “Admiral” class troop transport (first named Admiral H.T. Mayo) was launched in 1945 as a troop carrier. Her berthing compartments on three deck levels could accommodate 5,000 troop passengers and during her first voyage from Europe carried that many former American prisoners of war back to the United States. She was moved to the West Coast and boarded troops for the invasion of Japan. After reaching Ulithi Atoll the Atomic bombs were dropped and the war in the Pacific ended, along with her wartime service. Coast Guardsmen, including Hollywood matinee idol Victor Mature, crewed the vessel during her World War II service.
The Walker, renamed in 1950 after World War II U.S. Army General Walker, killed in France shortly after the D-Day invasion, saw active service during the Korean War by regularly transporting American soldiers and Marines from West Coast ports to Inchon. The vessel was then crewed by Merchant Mariners. When the war ended in 1953 she had the distinction of returning home the first shipload of former American prisoners of North Korea. This event was so newsworthy television networks and news organizations covered its arrival live. Paramount News produced a story about the ship’s welcomed arrival.
After the Korean conflict ended, the Walker continued to transport troops to Far East duty stations. In 1957 she was transferred to the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) and two years later was moved to be moored in New York’s Hudson River National Defense Reserve Fleet.
During the 1960’s, as the war escalated in Vietnam, a means was needed to transport complete military units and some replacement troops to Southeast Asia. The Walker and sister-ships were taken out of “mothballs” and refitted for more service. By early 1966 the work on the Walker was finished in Baltimore and the ship embarked her first troops at Charleston, South Carolina, slipped through the Panama Canal and made her way to California.
During the remainder of 1966 and during almost all of 1967 she made numerous roundtrips to Vietnam from West Coast ports before being taken out of service in December, 1967. Thousands of soldiers and their units had been transported, along with thousands of Marines headed to Vietnam as replacements. During one return voyage the Walker responded to a distress call from the sinking cargo ship S.S. Rockport, and rescued over twenty crewmembers before the vessel settled to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.
The Walker was next moved to the Craven Point Army Deport, New York Harbor, where she remained for just over two years. The Maritime Administration decided to keep the ship in a state of ready reserve and placed the vessel in Virginia’s James River Reserve Fleet. If a natural disaster like a hurricane occurred, she could be used to house displaced persons. Everything on the Walker during her Vietnam service—from her mechanical plant components to troop compartment berthing units—was kept in place. Sheets and pillows remained on the bunks and Vietnam War published regulations and notices were still tacked to bulletin boards. The ship was a virtual time capsule.
By the 1990’s, she was still in the river, idle and quiet, awash in her history, waiting to be re-discovered in 1997.
Marking Time: Voyage to Vietnam is currently at Palm Springs Air Museum, Palm Springs California. It will be there November 1, 2015 through May 31, 2016,
Part of the Marking Tiime: Voyage to Vienam exhibit will be travelling to New York City whre it will be part of the New York Historical Society"s major Vietnam exhibit openning in 2017.