Joplin tornado hits close to home for Tinker Sailor

  • Published
  • By Lt. j.g. Matt Pelonzi
  • Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron THREE
The tornado that tore through Joplin, Mo., on May 22 destroyed more than 8,000 homes and killed more than 150 people. Thankfully, devastation on the scale is rare, but for one Sailor assigned to the 'Ironmen' of Tinker's Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron THREE, the tornado hit close to home.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Walker and his wife, Hannah, are from Joplin. The couple was in their car driving from Joplin to Oklahoma City when the killer tornado bore down on their hometown. The instant Petty Officer Walker realized a massive tornado was headed straight for his hometown, he turned around and drove back to Joplin, arriving shortly after the tornado destroyed the city.

As soon as the tornado passed, the couple began receiving text messages from friends and family asking for help. Miraculously, none of Petty Officer Walker's family or friends were injured in the tornado, but many lost their homes and all of their belongings. In fact, nearly all of Hannah Walker's family lost their homes in the tornado.

Petty Officer Walker worked with a mortuary assisting in transporting victims and preparing funerals. He transported victims of all ages -- from 18 months old to over 90 years old.

"It was a heartbreaking experience," he said.

Since then, Petty Officer Walker has organized two volunteer groups with the assistance of fellow Ironmen at VQ-3. After the tornados hit the Oklahoma City metro area on May 24, Petty Officer Walker and Petty Officer 1st Class Randal Hamm organized a group of volunteers from the squadron to drive to Purcell and help victims of a large tornado. A few weeks later, the petty officers and five others drove back to Joplin to spend several days volunteering in the cleanup effort. They spent their nights at Petty Officer Walker's home in Joplin while assisting in the cleanup.

Petty Officer Walker planned to make another trip back to Joplin this month with more Sailors to continue helping the victims of this disaster.

"As devastating as this all is, it's good to see people acting like people toward each other," he said, regarding all the volunteers, supplies and support that has poured into Joplin from all across the country. Motivated by his connection to his hometown and dedication to serve, Petty Officer Walker plans to continue volunteering his time to help the victims of these tragedies for the foreseeable future.