Lewis Walt was a tough-as-nails Marine – a soldier’s soldier who would go on to become CSU’s highest-ranking alumni: a four-star general who rose through the ranks to become the second in command for the U.S. Marine Corps.
But his daughter, Joy Witte, remembers her father in a different way. Sure, he was a strict, no-nonsense dad, but he also had a softer side she came to love.
“My dad was very strict but he was also very kind and loving,” she said from her home in Sandy, Utah. “He loved fishing, and he loved the mountains of Colorado. I could out-fish him – I loved it and he hated it. Those are the times I cherish with him.”
CSU will honor Walt and fellow former Colorado A&M athlete John Mosley on Saturday at Military Appreciation Day when the Rams take on Minnesota at Hughes Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m.
Much has been written recently about Mosley, the Denver native who died earlier this year at age 91. He was the first African-American student-athlete at CSU in the post-1900 era, and he went on to a distinguished 25-year military career that included a stint as a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.
Walt grew up on a farm in central Kansas before moving to Fort Collins, where he played sports and was elected class president at Fort Collins High School. He had long dreamed of attending CSU, where he earned a degree in chemistry and was elected student body president.
Football leads to military career
It was at CSU, Witte said, that her father discovered his two loves: football and the military lifestyle. Even though he had won at state football championship at Fort Collins High, it was at CSU – playing for legendary coach Harry Hughes – that he fell in love with the game.
“Dad learned discipline from football,” Witte said. “The game was really hard for him at first, but he discovered that he loved the regimen of football. That really led him to his life in the military.”
Walt was a three-year starter on the offensive and defensive lines for the Rams and team co-captain his senior year. The played on Hughes’ last two conference championship teams in 1933 and ’34.
After graduating in 1936, Walt joined the Marines as a second lieutenant. He would go on to serve in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, twice earning the Navy Cross – the second-highest military decoration for valor given by the Navy, Marines or Coast Guard – a Bronze Star, Silver Star, Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal.
Though he was wounded in battle several times, Walt relished his role as a front-line commander. He was loved by his troops, Witte, said.
“I’ve met many of them over the years, and they all adored him,” she said. “He cared about his men – that’s what they would all say.”
From 1960-68, he advanced from colonel to four-star general and assistant commandant. His promotion in 1968 marked the first time the Marines had two four-star generals at the same time.
While Walt was known for his bravery, he also was known for his compassion. He was an advocate for what he referred to as “the other war” in Vietnam, and he worked with the Marines’ Combined Action Program to win over Vietnamese civilians. Marines under his command distributed 2.5 million pounds of food and 237,000 pounds of clothing in one year, and built hundreds of houses and classrooms.
“As rough as it was fighting the Japanese in World War II, Dad always said Vietnam was worse. He hated that war,” Witte said. “At the same time, he loved the Vietnamese people. In the end, he just wanted to serve his country and be at peace.”
Walt, who counted Hollywood legends John Wayne and Martha Raye among his friends and once was featured on the cover of Life magazine, died in 1989 at age 76.
His legacy will live on at CSU: Five current students are the first recipients of the Gen. Lewis Walt Memorial Scholarship, given to children of honorably discharged or active duty U.S. Marines or Navy corpsmen to fund their educations after high school.
Walt would be thrilled, Witte said, that current students are benefitting from his legacy. And he would be honored to be part of Saturday’s halftime ceremony celebrating all of CSU’s current and past military personnel.
“For him, this would be a 13 on a scale of 1 to 10,” said Witte, who will be on hand for the halftime ceremony honoring her father and Mosley. “He loved CSU. The fact that they would do this for him, well, he would be tickled pink.”
A few tickets remain
A near-sellout crowd is expected for Saturday’s game. Tickets are on sale online, by phone (970-491-7267) or at the McGraw Athletic Center ticket office.