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John L. Walters

The Baltimore Sun

John Linton Walters, a retired electrical engineer for the Navy who survived a Japanese attack that killed hundreds of U.S. sailors in World War II, died of throat cancer Wednesday at his home in the Mercy Ridge retirement community in Timonium. The former Annapolis resident was 83.

Born in Washington, he spent parts of his childhood in Ohio and Massachusetts before returning to the nation's capital, where he graduated from Eastern High School.

He enrolled in the Naval Academy with the Class of 1945 but graduated a year early so he could serve in the war, his family said.

Dr. Walters was aboard the USS Bunker Hill near Okinawa when two Japanese suicide pilots attacked the ship, his family said. The kamikazes attacked May 11, 1945, according to the Navy. The casualties included 346 men dead, 264 injured and 43 missing.

Amid scores of bodies, Dr. Walters, 21 at the time, lay wounded and semiconscious, according to an account he gave his family. He believed he would have died of smoke inhalation if a medic had not noticed him, his family said.

"He was out on the ship deck along with all the rest who they thought were dead," said his wife, Betty Walters. "And one of the medics saw his eyelids flicker."

Dr. Walters' name appears on a roster of sailors who served on the ship, said Edward D. Duffy, a Navy veteran who is helping to organize a reunion of Bunker Hill veterans this summer.

Dr. Walters later served on the USS Midway, attaining the rank of lieutenant commander before leaving the Navy in 1947, his family said.

He met his wife, the former Betty Piper, on a blind date on October 1947 in Massachusetts, where he was studying for a master's degree at Harvard University and she was studying at Boston University. They were married in June 1948.

The newlyweds moved to Los Alamos, N.M., where Dr. Walters conducted secret research for a government contractor.

In 1952, they moved to Baltimore so Dr. Walters could study at the Johns Hopkins University. He earned a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1959.

He worked for a firm on Long Island for three years before returning to Baltimore to accept a job as an engineer at Hopkins.

In 1970, he went to work for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington as a civilian engineer. The next year, he and his wife moved to Annapolis, where they lived until 2004.

"He spent some 30 years in the field of radar research and development, where he really contributed heavily," said one of his sons, Christopher Walters of White Hall. Dr. Walters specialized in radar jamming, which prevents an enemy from detecting the location of aircraft and ships, his son said.

In the late 1970s, he spent 18 months in Gaeta, Italy, working as a science adviser to the admiral of the 6th Fleet, his family said. He and his wife acquired a love for all things Italian, and they often incorporated Italian themes in family celebrations.

Dr. Walters retired from the laboratory in 2004, the year he and his wife moved to Mercy Ridge.

An avid sailor, Dr. Walters spent countless hours on the Chesapeake Bay with his wife and their five children. He also loved home-improvement projects and working on his Mercedes-Benz.

"He was quintessentially honest to a fault. He was unable to really be dishonest," Christopher Walters said.

A service is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at Mercy Ridge Chapel, 2525 Pot Spring Road, Timonium.

In addition to his wife and son, Dr. Walters is survived by two other sons, Richard Walters of Princess Anne and Michael Walters of Baltimore; two daughters, Gretchen Reed of Cockeysville and Kim Anne Walters of Shady Side; two brothers, Francis Walters of Silver Spring and Thomas Walters of San Francisco; 15 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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