A Firsthand Look at War

Edwin “Snake” Walkup

Helen Walkup Cairns, who grew up in Marion County, has published her father’s diary, in which he recounts being a B-17 pilot during World War II.


Eighth Army Air Force pilots of the B-17 Flying Fortress flew some of the most dangerous missions during World War II. These brave aviators, many of whom were novices, came from all over the U.S., including a young man from McIntosh, a small town in northern Marion County.

“They were tasked with flying their war machines into some of the most heavily fortified airspaces in the world. The German Luftwaffe attacked them relentlessly on every mission and the skies were filled with antiaircraft fire. The missions were long and hazardous, but were critical to the war effort,” writes Charles V. Ickes II, a retired U.S. Air Force major general, in the foreword of Daddy’s Diary: The War Journal of B-17 Pilot Lt. Edwin “Snake” Walkup.

Edwin Walkup, standing in center, with his B-17 crew. Photos courtesy Helen Walkup Cairns.

Helen Walkup Cairns lovingly transcribed her father’s handwritten diary, in which he faithfully recorded his impressions—and exploits—from May 19th through December 7th, 1944, during which he was a pilot or copilot on 35 missions.

Edwin F. Walkup received his unusual nickname when he was a tall and thin 14-year-old and resembled what one McIntosh resident called a Snake Doctor, a dragonfly-like bug. Walkup, the son of a farmer and homemaker, attended local schools as well as the University of Florida and Stetson University, where he played baseball, football and ran track, and earned a degree in economics and business administration.

Mary Elizabeth and Edwin Walkup

He joined the U.S. Army Air Corps cadet training program in July 1942 and earned his wings in July 1943. He got a pass home to McIntosh so he could marry his longtime sweetheart, Mary Elizabeth Harrison, on August 1st, 1943. In 1944, he was bound for England.

“Airplanes flying over woke me about 0400 and from then until now they have not stopped. At any time, you can see some of them. Saw swarms of P-38s and B-26s and large formations of 17s and 24s. From this I thought that something was up,” Walkup writes on June 6th, 1944, which came to be known as D-Day. “About noon we heard the invasion is on and landings are being made in Northern France. Orders came out and from now on we wear our 45 pistols, gas masks and helmets at all times.”

Walkup’s writings range from the seriousness of war to his bad luck at shooting craps and adjusting to life and the language in foreign lands.

After the war, Walkup remained in the Army Air/U.S. Air Force for another 11 years. He and his wife had two children, Helen and Edwin Jr. Once they settled down in McIntosh, he began a long involvement as a town councilman and civic leader, including with the McIntosh Lions Club.

He was well known for his gardening abilities, especially with cucumbers and tomatoes.

“My parents were ever-present and supportive. They were the parents who drove the cheerleaders to games, had the slumber parties, had the family reunions and the church picnics,” recalls Cairns. “We had dinner together every night. During the fall, we went to Gator games and dove hunting. Always to Sunday School and church on Sundays. When Daddy came home from work, he changed clothes and went out to his garden to pick the ripe vegetables or tend to the citrus and camellias he grafted.”

She has fond memories of summer visits at her mother and father’s lake house on Island Lake, near the Ocala National Forest, and says her children “adored them.”

“He did talk some about his military service, but I did not listen as well as I should have,” she shares. “He had taken a lot of movies during the war and during the airlift and would show them to us. I doubt he talked about feelings, at least if he did, I do not remember it.”

It was after Walkup died on November 28th, 1996, that his wife found his diary.

“I promised her I would transcribe it,” Cairns notes. “Thanks to her for helping me with Daddy’s handwriting, interpreting some of the words and clarifying various things.”

“His writing was clear, direct and succinct,” writes Ickes. “I found Snake’s diary to be highly informative and entertaining. He had a great sense of humor and like most of the junior aviators I knew, he had a belief that he knew how to do it better. He pulled no punches and captured the essence of what it was to be in the midst of war as a B-17 pilot.”

Mary Elizabeth passed away on March 2nd, 2015. Edwin Jr. died on March 27th, 2018. Cairns currently lives in Orlando.   OS

Daddy’s Diary: The War Journal of B-17 Pilot Lt. Edwin “Snake” Walkup is available through Amazon.

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