Captain Walter R. Lawson
of Osceola county, FL

This is one of those interesting times when I've been given a donation by one site visitor and a researcher a few days later requests a lookup by one of our volunteers on the subject of the recent donation!

In this case, site visitor Nickey Neel, who is unrelated to Capt. Lawson, sent in an obituary with a few notes. Then Daniel Bowling, who's wife is a grand niece of Capt. Lawrence, contacted us to request information on the Captain's marriage record. Though we haven't found his marriage record, Daniel has graciously donated many further notes and all the photos contained herein.

Thank you to both Nickey Neel and Daniel Bowling for their generosity in donating the material to make this really nice Memorial page!

- Lisa Slaski

Source: Orlando Sentinel, Sunday, April 22, 1923



Dayton, O., April 21 – Four men were killed almost instantly and one other injured probably fatally this afternoon when a Martin Air Service Bombing Plane nose-dived into the great Miami river here.

The dead are:
Captain W. R. Lawson, pilot, Langley Field, Va.
Technical Sergeant Bidwell, Langley Field, Mich.
Civilian U. M. Smith, bureau of standards, Washington, D. C.
The injured: Technical Sergeant F. B. Shaw, Selfridge Field, Mich.

Smith died after the accident at the Miami Valley hospital. All five men suffered fractured skulls.

The accident occurred as the men were taking off for Langley Field after having been here for several weeks. The big plane left the ground heading south, but owing to a heavy wind, witnesses said, it was evident the pilot realized that he could not clear the Herman avenue bridge just south of McCook Field, and sought to turn his plane to avoid crashing into it. The strong wind caught the machine and twisted it into a nose dive which ended in the river.

All the men in the plane had parachutes on their backs but were unable to use them on account of the suddenness of the fall, the plane being only a short distance from the ground at the time it dived.

The crew was plunged into the water, most of them out of the ship as the bodies were seen to surface one by one.

...[rest of article is contained verbatum in the next article with some additional material]

Source: Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, Ga., Sunday Morning, April 22, 1923

...[earlier material in this article is very similar to above]

Brigadier General William Mitchell, assistant chief of the air service, and Major L.W. McIntosh, commandant at McCook Field, were the first air service officers to reach the scene.

General Mitchell immediately appointed a board of investigation.

Shortly after the accident he took off for Washington, D.C. As he passed over the scene of the disaster he dropped flowers. He will make a report on his arrival in Washington.

Washington, April 21.--Brigadier General William Mitchell, assistant chief of the army air service, who arrived here tonight from the scene of the airplane crash at Dayton declared Captain W.R. Lawson, who was killed, was the "greatest bomber officer in the service." He directed the bombs which sank the battleship Alabama and the former German battleship Ostrifiesland in the bombing tests off the Atlantic coast, using the machine wrecked today, and accompanied by the same crew, three of whom were killed. Captain Lawson was awarded the distinguished service cross for acts of heroism in action near St. Mihiel, France. The records show that while convalescing from wounds he volunteered for a mission requiring a flight over the enemy lines within range of the anti-aircraft and machine guns. His home address was Kissimmee, Florida.

Walter Ralls Lawson ca. 1914
(Click on Image to See Full Photo)

Source: New York Times, 22 Apr 1923

Lawson Had Fine War Record

Special to The New York Times.

WASHINGTON, April 21, - Captain W. R. Lawson, killed in an airplane accident at Dayton today, had a remarkable record during the World War and received the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in action. He served during part of 1919 as Chief of the Civil Operations Section in the office of the Chief of the Army Air Service.

He was born on Oct. 25, 1893, at Glenn Alter, Ga. His home was at Kissimmee, Fla., and he is survived by a wife and two children. He was a member of the Alabama National Guard when the war started. He went overseas with the Rainbow Division. In February, 1918, he was detailed to the Air Service and served as Operations Officer and Aerial Observer until November, 1918.

He received the Distinguished Service Cross for repeated acts of heroism in action near St. Mihiel, France, from July 10 to Sept. 13, 1918. He showed unusual courage in a reconnoissance flight over the enemy lines, when he continued on his mission after being seriously wounded by anti-aircraft fire. On Sept. 13, 1918, while still convalescing from his wounds, he volunteered for a particularly dangerous mission requiring a seventy-five kilometer flight over the enemy lines. Because of weather conditions he was fored to fly at a low altitude and was repeatedly fired on by anti-aircraft and machine guns. He successfully accomplished his mission and returned with important information.

When he returned to the United States after the armistice he served as instructor at the School for Aerial Observers, at Post Field, Fort Sill, Okla., from Dec. 1, 1918, to April, 1919. Since November, 1919, he had served continuously at Langley Field. At the time of his death he was commanding the Twentieth Bombardment Squadron.


Source: Dayton Daily News, 21-22 Apr 1923

Wreck of Bombing Plane in River

21 Apr 1923

Bomber Demolished in River Plunge

22 Apr 1923

22 Apr 1923: Completeness of the destruction effected when the Martin bomber fell into the Miami river near the Herman av. bridge Saturday afternoon, causing the death of four air service flyers is shown in the picture on the left with the bridge in the background. The other picture was snapped by a Daily News photographer as the big plane was in an almost vertical position in the process of removing it from the river.

Camera Story of Dayton's Greatest Air Tragedy  

No. 1 is a close-up of the tangled mass in which the flyers had been seated. It had just been pulled to the shore when the picture was taken.

No. 2 shows the position of the ship in the river about 150 feet north of the Herman av. bridge, and about 60 feet from the east shore.

No. 3 The third picture illustrates the course the aircraft followed in its fatal plunge, as described by witnesses. Capt. W. R. Lawson, the pilot, had evidently foreseen he could not clear obstructions at the southern end of the field in the face of the wind, and attempted to circle about for a landing. In the fall the tail of the ship swung around toward the east bank.

No. 4 Brig. Gen. William Mitchell, assistant chief of the air service, is shown in the fourth picture. He was at McCook field and, among the first to arrive to help pull the dead and injured aviators from the wreckage.

No. 5 The size of the large twin-motored bomber may be seen in the fifth picture. This type of ship is one of the heaviest in use by the army flyers.

This photo is an earlier (abt 1900) photo with his two sisters.
From L to R : Effie Clifford Lawson, Walter Ralls Lawson & Florrie May Lawson

Family photo ca. 1903
(Click on Image to see Full Photo)
L to R: Walter Ralls Lawson, Mary Ellen Ralls Lawson,
Florrie May Lawson, Frank H. Lawson, Effie Clifford Lawson

Notes from Nickey Neel:

Lawson, W. R. – (Walter R. Lawson) – b. 10/1893 d. 4/21/1923 – s/o Frank H. Lawson & Mary Ellen Ralls. His sister was Florrie Mae Lawson that m. Raleigh Lewis "Roll/Ral/Rollie" Overstreet.

The Fourth Alabama

Construction on the Fourth Alabama (BB-8) began on December 2, 1896. She was 374 feet long and belonged to the ILLINOIS class of battleships. She possessed 16 ½ inches of armor plating and carried four 18-inch surface torpedo tubes, four 13-inch guns, fourteen 6-inch guns, sixteen 4- pounders, and four 1-pounders. She served primarily in the West Indies but made a brief tour of the Mediterranean and sailed for a short time with the Great White Fleet. She was decommissioned on November 3, 1908, and placed on the reserve rolls. On July 1, 1912, she was recommissioned and served in the North Atlantic before being relegated to training duty. During World War I, BB-8 served as the Flagship for Division 1, Battleship Force, Atlantic Fleet Training. On May 7, 1920, she was decommissioned for the second time and used for target practice.

Notes from Daniel Bowling:

Walter's father, Frank H., moved to Orange Co., FL area in the early 1880's along with his brothers Appie and Gordon. Appie returned to Georgia but Frank and Gordon remained. After the death of Frank's father, James Henry in the mid 1880's, Frank's mother, Mary, and sister, Florence moved to the Kissimmee area. Mary died in 1887 and Florence died in 1888. Frank remained in Florida and occasionally traveled to Chattahoochee Co., GA to visit relatives and tend to business as he owned the old family farm. That would probably account for the fact that Walter was born in Georgia during one of those visits. Frank H. died in 1927 in Kissimmee and according to his will, Walter Jr., Thomas & little Elaine would have inherited 1/4 of his home place, stock and cattle. That would probably been a good enough reason for them to move back to Kissimmee.

In the 1910 Osceola County, Fl. census, Walter's occupation is listed as a telephone operator for the telephone company.
In the 1920 Virginia census, he and his family were living at Langley Field, VA in Elizabeth County.
In the 1930 census his widow and children are living in Kissimmee, FL.

Family photo ca. 1915
(Click on Image to Enlarge)
L to R: Walter Jr., May Elaine Rogers Lawson, Walter Sr.

newspaper articles:


American Legion
An informal meeting was called at this Post at 7:30 P. M. this date upon invitation of representatives of the Elmer J. Wallace Post of Fort Monroe, Va., and the Braxton-Perkins Post of Newport News, Va.

It was unanimously decided to organize a Post of the American Legion at this place to be known as the Colonel Townsend F. Dodd Post of the American Legion. Temporary officers elected as follows: Commander, Comrade Isaiah C. Davies; finance officer, Comrade Walter R. Lawson; Post adjutant, Comrade E. G. Costelle.

A charter was signed by the following: Comrade W. R. Lawson, Comrade N. G. Loupes, Comrade R. E. Boyd, Comrade R. C. McNalley, Comrade Hammer, Comrade E. G. Costelle, Comrade C. Haymes, Comrade Peters, Comrade I. C. Davies, Comrade McAlke, Comrade L. R. Cartier, Comrade Sharpe, Comrade Quiulivan, Comrade Sterling, Comrade W. Arnold.

November 3, 1920, motion was carried to make temporary officers elected on October 20, 1920, permanent for ensuing year (1921)

1922-Commander, Comrade Hamlin; Post adjutant, G. C. Dailey.

1923-Commander, Comrade L. D. Bradshaw; Post adjutant, Comrade F. L. Norris.

1924-Commander, Comrade H. A. Chapman; Post adjutant, Comrades H. H. Curtis to May 1st and C. E. Bergbom from May 1st.

Number of combat kills:
LAWSON WALTER R  1LT   91OBS      US      1       180927       OBSERVER      AIRPLANE
Letter from Walter to sister Florrie while he was in France during WWI

page 1

page 2

page 3

page 4

A World War I flying hero. Flew with General Billy Mitchell. Described by General Mitchell as "the greatest bombing officer of the war (WWI) and the greatest man in aerial bombardment in any country." Walter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Croix de Guerre. He was killed when his airplane crashed into the Miami River after taking off from McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio.

Lawson Army Airfield at Fort Benning, Georgia is named in his honor.

A window from the original Holy Redeemer Church, which is presently part of the Methodist Church on Church Street downtown Kissimmee is in his memory. This little red brick church, which could seat 175 people, was built in 1912. Built for the sum of $7000, the original church had no pews or electricity. This window was in the Sanctuary and was in memory of Captain Walter R. Lawson who died in 1923.

Source: Arlington National Cemetery

Name: Walter R Lawson
Death Date: 21 Apr 1923
Last known address: C/O Director Arlington, VA 22111-0000
Cemetery: Arlington National Cemetery
Buried At: Section Sw Site 2274

Source: Michael Robert Patterson's National Arlington Cemetery Website

The New York Times, of August 27, 1920, reported that Pilot Lieutenant O.G. Kelly and Observer Sergeant William Steckel of the Army Air Service won the aerial match at the National Matches at Camp Perry the previous day.

Probably flying the Air Service’s work horse, the DeHaviland DH-4, mounting Browning machine guns the airborne pair engaged targets on the ground, scoring 520 points out of a possible 800. Kelly was required to shoot at an upright target with his fixed machine guns, aiming the ship as if it were a rifle. He racked up an impressive 270 points out of 300. As Kelly maneuvered to keep the plane stable Steckel shot at a smaller recumbent target with a pair of flexible machine guns mounted on a Scarff ring, posting a score of 250X500.

In second place were Captain Walter R. Lawson and Lieutenant Leland Bradshaw with a 462. Apparently being in front of the guns wasn’t the only dangerous place to be that day as one of the aircraft was wrecked during the competition. Lawson came in second at Perry but the National Match experience was put to good use less than a year later.

“Tiny” Lawson found himself 60 miles off of the Virginia coast piloting a Martin MB-2 bomber, a squadron mate of Jimmy Doolittle. Slung beneath each of the six twin engine planes of General Billy Mitchell’s 1st Provisional Air Brigade were 2,000 pound bombs and below them lay the captured German dreadnaught Ostfriesland. Twenty-one minutes after the first bomb fell from the sky the Ostfriedland slipped beneath the waves, her hull split open by the excessive water pressure created when the bombs detonated underwater hard by her. The sinking proved, at least as far as Mitchell was concerned, that air power should be the nation's first line of defense.

Unfortunately the Fates dealt Lawson a pair of ironic jokers. Taking off from Dayton, Ohio’s McCook Field in 1923 he lost power and crashed into the Miami River. The Georgia native lost his life at the controls of the very MB-2 he piloted over the Ostfriedland.

The Army named the balloon landing facility at Fort Benning, in his home state, Lawson Field in his honor in August of 1931. After World War II the name of Second Lieutenant Ted W. Lawson was added to his, giving the parsimonious post war Army two memorials for the price of one. The second Lawson was author of Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, a memoir of his experiences as a pilot on the historic World War II raid lead by the first Lawson’s fellow pilot in the 1st Provisional Air Brigade, Doolittle. Just as Captain Lawson and Camp Perry are historically linked so, likewise, are the late captain and the Rattle Battle. Some of the nation’s finest National Trophy Infantry Team Match competitors train just a few miles from Lawson Field on Easley and McAndrews Ranges, for Fort Benning is also the home of the United States Army’s Marksmanship Training Unit.

NOTE: The Captain's son, Walter R. Lawson, Jr., Colonel, United States Army, is also buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Family photo ca. 1919
(Click on Image to Enlarge)
Children front row: Walter Ralls Lawson Jr., Joseph Edward Overstreet,
Clifford Overstreet, James Lawson Woodall & Mary Ellen Overstreet
Sitting L to R: Walter Ralls Lawson Sr., Florrie May Lawson Overstreet,
Frank H. Lawson, James Monroe Woodall
Back Row L to R: May Elaine Rogers Lawson, Thomas Rodgers Lawson,
Effie Clifford Lawson Woodall

The following is an article that appeared the Fort Benning Bayonet on March 26, 1958. The correct spelling of his birthplace is Glen Alta and he was born on the 23rd of October not the 25th.

Airfield Had Meager Beginning;
Named After Famed Georgia Pilot

Lawson Army Airfield, well known as a key Army air centre, has come a long way since it first employed as a landing place for observation balloons for the Infantry School in 1918.

Its early beginnings were so meager, in fact, that the field didn't even have a name during the first 13 years of existence.

A little over 27 years ago, Aug. 7, 1931, the modest little airstrip beside the Chattahoochee River on the Fort Benning reservation was designated Lawson Field in memory of Capt. Walter R. Lawson, a native Georgian and World War I flying hero, who was killed in a peacetime airplane crash in 1923 at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio.

Capt. Lawson was born at Glen Alter, Ga., Oct. 25, 1893. He received his education in local schools and was mustered into federal service with the Alabama National Guard as a second lieutenant in June, 1916. A short while later he went overseas as an infantryman, but later became a pilot and served with the 91st Aero Squadron as operations officer and aerial observer. He also took flying instructions with the 41st French Escadrille.

Award DSC

During his participation in Meuse - Argonne and St. Mihiel Sectors, Capt. Lawson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for repeated acts of extraordinary heroism in action July 30 and again on Sept. 13, 1918.

Upon returning to the states in November, 1918, he was promoted to captain and assigned to duty at Post Field, Fort Sill, Oka.

He held this assignment until April, 1919, when he was transferred to Washington, his assignment with the Office of the Director of Military aeronautics was to assist in the reorganization of the Army Air Service. He was sent to Langley Field, Va., in October 1919 to attend the Graduate Field Officers School from which he graduated in January 192.

In September, 1920, he vacated his commission as a captain, Air Service, and accepted an appointment as first lieutenant, Air Service, Regular Army. He was promoted to captain that same month.

Early in April, 1923, he was sent to McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio, on detached service. On April 21, 1923, he was killed in aplane crash at McCook Field on take-off for Langley Field, Va. The large Martin bomber (a test plane) he was piloting dove into a nearby river during a sudden storm, killing Capt. Lawson and three other men.

Surviving Capt. Lawson are his wife, Mrs. Elaine Lawson, and three children. Today, Mrs. Lawson resides in Kissimmee Fla. Their son Walter, a U. S. Military Academy graduate at West Point, N.Y., is now a colonel. Thomas their other son, also is a West Point graduate and is teaching high school in Connecticut. Their daughter, Elaine, is married to an Air Force sergeant.

ca. 1919 photo of Walter with his
children, nieces & nephews.

Notes from Walter's son, Thomas Lawson:

from Dan Bowling: My wife had a conversation with Thomas Lawson last Tuesday and below are some notes from that conversation plus info from a letter of his written in 1990. - Dan

His mother, Elaine, claimed that she came to America to visit an aunt and study painting, but Thomas believed that she was a servant girl and the aunt/painting story was a cover-up because she was embarrassed. He never remembers his mother mentioning the aunt and she never did any painting.

Thomas donated his father’s saber to Lawson Army Airfield. He said it was on display there for many years but was not sure if was now.

His mother suffered a severe burn while they were living at Langley Field, VA and spent 9 months in Walter Reed. After her husband’s death she had to return to Walter Reed for further treatment. The boys, Walter Jr. and Thomas, were sent to boarding school and “little” Elaine went to stay with Aunt Beatrice.

His father met his mother while living in Alabama. His mom was Catholic and a very brave woman. She had a sister named Beatrice. Beatrice married a Canadian. After his father’s death they moved from Langley Field, VA to Birmingham, AL and then to Kissimmee.

Thomas was born in Montgomery, AL. He does not know why there instead of Birmingham.

While in the Alabama National Guard Walter went to the Mexican border abt. 1916 (Mexican Border War).

He did not learn to fly until he was sent to France and was temporarily assigned to a French aviation unit in WWI.

(From a 1990 letter) Thomas said that after his father graduated from high school he went to Birmingham, AL where he was associated with Mortimer Jordan in a fledgling automobile business and that his where his father met his mother.

(My note: CAPT. Mortimer Harvie Jordan was born in 1881 and was killed in France during World War I in 1918. He was also a medical doctor. I think he probably joined the Alabama National Guard along with Walter.)

American Legion Application
(Click on Image to Enlarge)
This application was made after
Walter's death and I do not know who filled it out.
Copyright 2007: Daniel Bowling, Nickey Neel, Lisa Slaski, and Anza Bast
Donated to FLGenWeb website of the USGenWeb project.