Walt Huss was one of Sonoma County's best-known World War II veterans, a former B-29 tail-gunner accompanied always by his memories of being downed over Japanese-occupied Manchuria and imprisoned, and by the reverence he bore for the nine fellow crewmen who died.
Huss rarely missed public salutes to veterans, and was present less than a month ago at Santa Rosa's "Avenue of the Flags" Memorial Day observance.
He died Monday at the age of 91.
In late 1945, he was an emaciated, 22-year-old Army Air Corps sergeant when Russian troops liberated the prison camp at Dairen at the end of the war in the Pacific. Once he was physically able, one of his first acts was to visit the families of each comrade who was killed when a kamikaze fighter pilot rammed their Superfortress on Dec. 7, 1944.
"He felt duty-bound to do that," said one of Huss' two daughters, Jackie Hallerberg of Forestville.
He befriended some of his fallen buddies' relatives, including the twin boys born to the wife of flight engineer Charles Krueger shortly before he perished in the downing of the bomber.
The death of the new father was particularly painful to Huss, his daughter said. He spent the last 70 years connecting fallen crewmen's kin and the general public to the reality of war and the sacrifices of those who answer the call to serve.
He would ask, when he spoke in public, that Americans not forget nor give up on soldiers missing in action. He was sharply aware that his parents and two sisters suffered in Ohio upon learning just two days before Christmas of '44 that he had been downed and was missing.
"He was very tender of heart," daughter Hallerberg said. She noted that her father was happy, charming and successful, but she imagines how much more joyful he might have been had he not lost so many brothers at arms and endured nearly 10 months of misery as a prisoner of war.
"I think the experiences he had, none of us know what that is like," Hallerberg said.