FARMINGTON — Philip Harris Walters Jr., 97, passed away peacefully Tuesday, March 21, with family members around his bedside.

Philip was born in Wilmington, Del., on Dec. 1, 1919, the eldest of eight children born to Philip Harris Walters Sr. and Katherine Sawyer Walters. He graduated from Granville High School in New York State in 1938. At the time, the family was living in West Rupert, Vt., just across the border. The family eventually returned to live at the ancestral F.M. Sawyer Farm in Readfield.

He furthered his education at the East Boston School for Aircraft Engine Mechanics and at the Aero Industries Tech Institute in Glendale, Calif., for aircraft construction. He was working at Lockheed Aircraft in California when he joined the U.S. Army. He enlisted in the Air Corps in Los Angeles, Calif., on March 17, 1942. He wanted to become a pilot, but the Army decided he would be an engineer and top turret gunner instead. He served in the 15th Army Air Force, Fifth Bomb Wing 301st Bomb Group, 352nd and 353rd squadrons. They arrived in Italy in 1943. He flew in a B-17G Flying Fortress, with missions targeting Ploiesti oil fields in Romania and north into Germany.

While serving on his 47th mission, on June 23, 1944, their plane’s number three engine was hit, forcing them to ditch in the Adriatic Sea. After rowing ashore, they were taken prisoner by German troops. Taken first to camps, they were then moved by freight car to Stalag IV in East Prussia. They were next forced to march on foot between Russian and British troop lines, with many succumbing to starvation. Another POW from Maine later reported that Philip had carried him on his back for a portion of the march. On May 2, 1945, he was liberated by British Second Army and flown to Camp Lucky Strike in France and from there, transported by ship to Boston, Mass.

When he first returned to the states, he worked for a time in Florida, and then tried homesteading at the family farm in Maine. He next resumed work at Lockheed in California until returning to live in Readfield in 1953. He met Edith Hayes through his sister, Mary, her college roommate. He and Edith married on July 26, 1958, and made their home in Wilton, where they raised two sons, Kenneth and Thomas. He enjoyed raising a sizable vegetable garden until he was 86 years old.

After the war he achieved his dream of becoming a pilot, earning both private and commercial pilot licenses at the New England Aircraft School in Augusta. He owned his own float plane for more than 40 years. Beginning in 1953, he worked as a pilot for the Jay Woodlands Department of the International Paper Co. for more than 27 years. He retired in 1981 due to a health condition.

He was presented with a Maine Silver Star Honorable Service Medal for his courage and willingness to serve, at a surprise town meeting ceremony when Philip was 88 years old. Philip has also received the Selective Service Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Air Force Commendation and Achievement Medals, the POW medal, the  European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, The Good Conduct Medal, and The Air Medal, which was received on six separate occasions during his service. His unit also received a Distinguished Unit Citation Ribbon, Longevity Service Ribbon, Presidential Unit Citation and the WWII Victory Medal.

Always a humble and grateful man, he often remarked that he was thankful to have lived while so many paid with their lives for the victory we received. “I just happened to be lucky,” he said with his usual humility. Lucky he was, surviving not only the gunfire, plane wreck, prison camps and death march of World War II, but an astonishing variety of potentially fatal incidents stateside: being hit by a locomotive, involved in a serious automobile accident, a civilian plane crash, a five-day coma, and in later years, many serious and potentially fatal falls and illnesses. A man of few words and even fewer complaints, he appeared to compare each day’s problems with those encountered during his time spent on the march during the war.

Philip was a devout member of the Wilton United Methodist Church and held to simple Christian values and a clean lifestyle. He was well-known for recommending “drinking water, not booze.” His manners were also outstanding, and he was also known for unfailingly remembering to say “thank you” for the smallest of favors.

Many of his happiest moments were spent in airplane cockpits, which he captured in these heartfelt words: “I loved the flying game.”

He is survived by two sons, Kenneth and wife, Nancy, of Wilton, and Thomas of Industry and companion, April, of Jay; grandchildren, Caleb of Industry and DeAnna and companion, Josh, of Vienna; and great-grandchildren, Hunter, Summer and Dorothy. He is also survived by his sister, Katherine Pauline of Thousand Oaks, Calif.; his brother, Roger and wife, Marilyn, of Spokane, Wash.; sister-in-law, Joy of Readfield; and many beloved nieces and nephews.

Philip was predeceased by Edith, his wife of 55 years.

The family would like to express their deepest gratitude to the CNAs, RNs, and all direct care and nutritional staff of Sandy River Center for their kindness and compassion in Philip’s final years.

His family asks that remembrances and condolences be shared on his memorial wall at www.wilesrc.com.

Philip Harris Walters Jr.

Philip Harris Walters Jr.

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