Walter Echwald, Air Force officer

June 26, 2012

Walter Echwald, 90, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who survived a crash flying over the Hump in the China-Burma-India theater in World War II, died of pneumonia June 9 at his home at the Falcons Landing retirement facility in Potomac Falls.

The death was confirmed by a daughter, Valerie Hardy Johnson.

After retiring from the Air Force in 1965, Col. Echwald worked as a civilian manpower officer at the Pentagon until 1983.

Walter Echwald was born in Brooklyn and began his military career in the Army Air Corps in 1940. In 1944, his aircraft was shot down over Burma. He was rescued by friendly forces on the ground and carried through the jungle to safety. He was hospitalized for a year for treatment of his injuries and for malaria, which he contracted in the jungle. He was awarded the Purple Heart.

He had been a permanent resident of the Washington area since 1962.

Col. Echwald was also a civilian pilot and continued flying into his 80s. He was a flight instructor for private students and for the FBI and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

He was also a jazz trumpet player and performed for years at open-jazz nights at Pistone’s restaurant in Falls Church.

His first wife, Bennie Ruth Milstead, died in 1968 after 22 years of marriage. His second marriage, to Dorothy Emrich, ended in divorce. His third wife, Karin Zedalis, died in 2002.

Survivors include a daughter from his first marriage, Valerie Hardy Johnson of Richmond; two stepchildren, Kerstin Zedalis Reinecke of Alexandria and Army Command Sgt. Maj. Paul Zedalis, now stationed in Afghanistan; and two grandchildren.

— Bart Barnes

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