Born: April 16, 1916
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Class: 1939 – USMMCC Cadet Officer
1937 – Pennsylvania Nautical School
Service: China National Aviation Corp.
Position / Rank: Navigator
Date / Place of death: March 8, 1944 / Camaguey,
Date / Place of burial: Unknown / Philadelphia, PA
Nautical School in 1937. Crew lists on file in New York show that Walter Zech signed
on aboard the MS City of Rayville on March 3, 1939 as Cadet Officer (Deck). He
subsequently served as Cadet Officer (Deck) aboard the SS Lightning in April 1940 and
the SS President Roosevelt in July 1940. On July 24, 1940 Walter Zech signed on
aboard the passenger ship SS Washington as a Junior Deck Officer on voyages that
returned to New York from the West Coast via the Panama Canal. According to the
“Philadelphia Evening Bulletin” on March 11, 1944 Walter Zech had raised his license
to First Mate. However, by July 1943 Walter Zech had completed a special course in
aircraft navigation at the University of Miami. After completing this course, he was
employed by Pan American Airlines before switching to China National Aviation
Corporation as a navigator ferrying aircraft from the U.S. to China via India.
On Tuesday March 7, 1944, he was serving as navigator on a China National Aviation
aircraft ferry mission of two aircraft which took off from Morrison Field (now known as
Palm Beach International Airport). The two aircraft were bound eventually for Calcutta,
India, via Caribbean Island bases, Natal, Brazil and across the South Atlantic to Accra,
Africa. On this trip the lead pilot decided to stop for refueling at Camaguey Army Air
Corps Base, Cuba rather than Nassau or Kingston, Jamaica
Newspaper accounts indicate that Zech’s aircraft had trouble immediately after take off
from Camaguey on Wednesday, March 8. Witnesses said that the plane attempted to
return to base but crashed on its approach for an emergency landing. All four of the
plane’s occupants, including Walter Zech were killed. Walter Zech was originally
assigned to the other aircraft but for some reason he apparently changed aircraft.
Walter Zech was the husband of Stella Zech and had a son, Walter Ray who were
living in Miami at the time of his death. He was the one of Ruth Zech Willis’ three sons.
Walter’s brothers were Stanley and Harry. Walter also had a sister named Erica.
According to the 1930 U.S. Census, Walter’s father died in the 1920’s, leaving his
mother a widow. The Census indicates that Walter’s mother was a school teacher.
According to the report of his death in the “Philadelphia Evening Bulletin” from March
11, 1944 Walter graduated from Philadelphia Central High School in 1934.