70 years after his death, Rock Hill fighter pilot given full military honors

Posted April 21, 2014 4:57 pm | Filed under Featured, Local News

DSC_4287Andrew Kiel | WRHI.com
A fighter pilot from York County finally received his full military honors Monday — some 70 years after he was shot down and killed during World War II.

Lt. Neill S. Walker died December 15, 1943. The body of the 22-year-old Rock Hill High School graduate was found by an Italian family among the wreckage of his plane. That family — who finally met the Walker family in person Monday — was in Rock Hill for the memorial service at Neely’s Creek Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church.

“It’s been an emotional day… just an amazing one-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Bobby Walker, a distant cousin of Neill. Bobby Walker and his cousin George Feindel searched for years to find the Italian family.

It turns out, Walker said, the family migrated to the United States in the later 1940s, about the same time Neill Walker’s body was returned to Rock Hill.

That family — the Gonzalez family — now lives in Canton, Ohio, and made the trip down to Rock Hill for the military ceremony. A three-gun salute, representing Duty, Honor and Country, preceeded the official presentation of a United States flag to two of Walker’s closest relatives who are now in their 80s. A flag was also presented to the Gonzalez family.

“It’s a closure for both of us,” Caroline Gonzalez said of the ceremony. “It’s like a big circle.”