A retired engineer widely considered as one of Bartholomew County’s most well-known and respected veterans has died at the age of 96.

John C. Walter, a World War II pilot who survived almost three dozen bombing missions into enemy territory, died early Tuesday at Four Seasons Retirement Center in Columbus, said Jim Sellers of the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum.

After Walter’s delivery of the keynote address during May’s annual Bartholomew County Memorial Day ceremony, the mother of Vice President Mike Pence, Nancy Pence Fritsch, described Walter as “a phenomenal man.”

Spending much of his youth in Daviess County near Vincennes, Walter joined the Army Air Corps and trained to become a pilot. After arriving in England in September, 1944, Walter completed his 35th and final mission flying a B-17 on March 10, 1945.

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Wartime memories included in Walter’s book, “My War”, published in 2004, include the death of his co-pilot on his first mission, as well as the death of his navigator on the 10th mission.

“He saw some horrible, horrible things,” retired U.S. Air Force Major Gen. Mark Pillar said.

After being discharged from the military at the end of the war, Walter worked a short time as a shoe salesman before using the GI Bill to enrolled in college.

With a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Southern California, Walter accepted a job offer from what was then Cummins Engine Co., and moved with his first wife, Barbara Smiley Walter, to Columbus in 1949.

During his career with Cummins, Walter wrote many technical papers and served as chairman of the Cummins Technical Publication Policy Committee.

While Pillar said Walter’s design innovations will likely be his greatest legacy, he is best remembered as the man who hung the “Exploding Engine” display, created by Rudolph de Harak, in the lobby of the Cummins World Headquarters.

Ten years after retiring from Cummins in 1983, Walter began volunteering for the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum, Sellers said.

He designed the museum tower, which holds the DCB-224 Double Drum Rotating Beacon, as well as partitions and display cabinets for exhibits. A conference center at the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum is named for Walter.

Barbara Walter, who married her husband in July 1944, died at the age of 77 in April 1999. They had one son, Gary Walter, now a retired Ford Motor Co. engineer residing in Dexter, Michigan.

Within a year of his first wife’s death, Walter married Ruth Braswell, but she died in June 2009.

Following the publication of his book 13 years ago, Walter became a member of a panel of community writers whose opinions were published weekly in The Republic.

Last week, Walter was placed in the rehabilitation unit of Four Seasons after falling and breaking his leg, Sellers said. But those who had visited him in recent days, including Pillar, said he remained cheerful, alert and talkative.

Sellers recalls Walter as a good friend and an extremely talented man who has made invaluable contributions to both the museum and his fellow veterans.

The museum’s new artifacts and restoration center, which should be completed this spring, will be dedicated to Walter, Sellers said.

John C. Walter

Who: John C. Walter

Born: Washington, Indiana

Age: 96

Military branch: Army Air Corps

Flight missions: 35

Occupation: Engineer at Cummins, retired

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.