REMEMBERING THE BEAST
By Sgt. Ethan E. Rocke
| | April 23, 2004
MARINE CORPS RECRUIT DEPOT SAN DIEGO, Calif. --
Without regard for what anyone watching might think, the drill instructors locked together in a tearful embrace. The news weighed heavy on their hearts: their best friend had fallen in combat.
Sgt. Scott McLaughlin and Staff Sgt. David Watts retreated to a vulnerable state of mourning as they met at the Locker Room here April 7, just hours after learning of their friend's death.
"He just walked up, wrapped his arms around me and held me in an embrace that leveled me. We both started bawling," said McLaughlin. Staff Sgt. Allan Walker, who served with McLaughlin and Watts as a 1st Recruit Training Battalion drill instructor just a few months ago, was killed by hostile fire April 6 in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. Sources in Walker's unit said he was killed as his platoon rushed to aid a squad of Marines in trouble.
April 10, headlines and photos of Marines in Iraq mourning fallen comrades ran front page in the Los Angeles Times. Aboard the Depot, it was a similar story as Walker's friends and family at 'Big Red 1' were still mourning the loss of their friend, who would have turned 29 the day before. That morning, four of his closest friends came together again to talk about the special man they knew.
McLaughlin, Watts, Staff Sgts. Andy S. Beavers and Leo Ruiz all consider themselves brothers to Walker, a man they remember as larger-than-life, proud Irish-American whose funny ears, bald head and enormous frame didn't seem to match up with his humble personality and adept intellect.
"He was the most loyal and genuine friend you could ever hope for," said McLaughlin, fighting back tears. "He'd give you his last dime if you needed it, and then he'd pretend it wasn't his last one."
Looking back on it now, McLaughlin, who everyone in the group agrees was Walker's best friend, said his and Walker's first meeting couldn't have been more poetically orchestrated.
"It was the first day of DI school. We were sitting in the classroom waiting while the instructors were taking us back to boot camp all over again, and in walks Allan an hour late," said McLaughlin. "From that point on, he never seemed to disappoint me with some sort of painful situation."
Walker's affinity for lateness became one of many trademarks by which his friends couldn't help but be charmed.
"We always knew he would never be on time," said Ruiz smiling. "It's not because he was lazy or didn't plan ahead. It wasn't a weakness. It was just Allan."
Although he had a reputation for being less than punctual, his friends all agreed he was consummate professional who led by example.
"He was the quintessential drill instructor," said McLaughlin. "He might not have looked like it, but man, if he didn't act like it and perform like it. He was so dedicated. The way he would lead his platoons and train his recruits was unique. He had this incredible desire to pass his passion to them. He believed in everything he taught them."
Walker's dedication to duty ran so deep he would often refuse to take time off from work to seek medical attention when it was necessary.
"He broke his finger once, and it was more twisted and contorted than anything I'd ever seen, but he wouldn't miss work to go to medical. He wanted to never let anyone down, and he never did," McLaughlin said, choking up with pride.
"One time, he had a stress fracture on his foot, but he refused to take it easy," said Ruiz.
"He'd never admit he was tired or hurt," Watts added. "He felt like he'd be letting you down."
According to Beavers, Walker's commitment to his job, friends and family was unwavering.
"If you called him and said you needed him, he would drop what he was doing, and he'd be there," he said. "If his drill instructors had something going on, he would stay on duty and send them home."
At 6 feet 2 inches and 250 pounds, Walker's intimidating physique earned him the nickname "The Beast," but his friends new him as more of a "friendly giant."
"There's no way he could ever look small, but he was so versatile in his personality," McLaughlin said. "He was very animated."
"The name (The Beast) was ironic because he was so gentle," said Watts. "He was 'Uncle Allan' to all the kids. He played Santa Claus for the battalion Christmas party, and he told my daughter 'I know your daddy, and if he doesn't start acting right, I'm going to put him on the naughty list.' She was pretty excited that Santa Claus knew her daddy."
It's no secret among those who knew him that St. Patrick's Day was Walker's favorite holiday.
"St. Paddy's Day was his Christmas," said Beavers. "He would volunteer for duty on
Christmas, but he'd say he had to have St. Paddy's Day off."
Born American, Walker's ethnic makeup was half Irish and half Scottish and both cultures glowed from his character, according his friends. He was big and physical - a rugby player who loved Irish beer and Irish tattoos. He even found, among the punk rock music he so loved, a musical subgenre that celebrates Irish culture.
According to McLaughlin, he and Walker fit together almost as perfectly as the punk music and beer they often shared with each other. "One of our favorite songs is Rancid's 'Indestructible,'" McLaughlin said. "That's what he was in my eyes - indestructible."
In addition to being an avid music lover, Walker also read a great deal. He often surprised friends and colleagues with his keen intellect and passion for reading and writing literature.
"He didn't look like the smartest guy, but he was so smart," said Ruiz affectionately. "He was always reading."
"He always had some obscure remark or quote to offer up," said McLaughlin.
While Walker often shared quotes or passages from his readings, he was very private about his own writings and seldom shared them with anyone, according to his friends.
"Allan had a box of personal stuff he gave to his friends back home. He told them that if anything ever happened to him, he wanted it burned. I'm guessing all his writings were in there."
Walker's modesty extended far beyond his writing, according to McLaughlin.
"If somebody told him he did a good job, he'd probably be the first one to say he could have done it better," he said. "He was never satisfied. He always demanded more of himself."
Walker's self-criticism motivated him to go above and beyond what was necessary in everything he did, McLaughlin said.
"When he was a J (an experienced drill instructor) and I was a senior drill instructor, he would always stand at parade rest when he talked to me," said McLaughlin. "I always told him he didn't have to do that, but he still did it. He was the most respectful person I've ever met."
Walker's respectful nature shone through in his interaction with his subordinates as well as with his leaders, according to McLaughlin.
"Allan took a sincere interest in every one of his recruits," said McLaughlin. "He remembered details about his recruits that amazed me. He would talk to a Marine on the Depot months after he trained him, and he could recall his name and hometown and all kinds of obscure little details that blew my mind."
The unique character and vast love of a man who affected countless lives has not been wiped away by his passing. Today, Walker lives on in the hearts and minds of those he touched so deeply.
"He was the funniest, brightest person I've ever met. No matter how angry or down I was, he could always say something and pick me up," said McLaughlin. "He affected me like no one else in the world. He was my best friend."
The Beast of Big Red 1 has gone now, but in death, his memory is as he was when he lived: larger than life. He was a Marine, and he died doing what he loved.
Trying to sum up Walker in just two words, Beavers pondered for a moment before finding the perfect description for his friend.
"Always faithful," he said.