Smyrna’s Major Walls & Pearl Harbor both impacted Middle Tennessee: Viewpoint Mike Sparks

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It’s often said that, “you can judge a man’s character by how he treats those who cannot offer him anything in return.” Major James “Jim” Walls certainly helped many who couldn’t offer much in return. The “Major” touched many lives—including my own. Growing up next door to him and his wife Sally I had the opportunity to witness them always willing to help others. He gave me my first job at 13 years of age making $1.50 an hour as an Omni Hut busboy.

Image of a young Air Force Serviceman James F. Walls

Walls was a devoted family man, patriotic military man dating back to Pearl Harbor and a gifted oriental food-style chef, which brought national culinary awards and attention to Smyrna as a result of his opening the now-legendary Omni Hut restaurant in 1960.

Many may remember Major Walls always wearing his Hawaiian shirt owning and managing the Omni Hut restaurant for decades. Sadly, the iconic Omni Hut restaurant closed its doors after 58 years on October 2018 due to a shortage of workers. My hats off to Polly Walls-Balahani, the daughter of Major Walls who worked extremely hard to keep the Omni Hut doors open.

Smyrna Mayor Mary Esther Reed talks with Polly Walls-Balahani at the Major James Walls Memorial Highway naming with Lance Lee and Rutherford County Sheriffs Department Chief Deputy Keith Lowery in the background.

The Major also owned the Smyrna Country Club, which was the former officer’s club at Sewart Air Force Base, the Woodshed restaurant and other business ventures. He touched countless lives by giving them their first jobs. Local folks like Trish Nash, Mayor Bill Ketron, Commissioner Wayne Blair, Ricky Potts, and countless others in our community, possibly 1000 or more young men and women learned work ethic at a young age. Something our country needs desperately today.

The Major was not only a visionary—but also a product of what Tom Brokaw called, ‘the greatest generation.’
Tom Brokaw spoke of Major Wall’s generation;

“They married in record numbers and gave birth to another distinctive generation, the Baby Boomers. They stayed true to their values of personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith.”

Many may not know that Major Walls was also at Pearl Harbor when it bombed on December 7, 1941, ‘the day that would live in infamy.’
I recall Major Walls telling me many stories as a young boy and Pearl Harbor was one of them. I would often ride along with him, his wife Sally and his son Lonnie and Brooks Walls. Needless to say, those stories and experiences as a young boy are priceless today.

Sign of James Walls Highway with Rep. Mike Sparks and former Tennessee Governor Bill Hallam
Rep. Mike Sparks and former Tennessee Governor Bill Hallam celebrate the highway naming for Major James Walls Memorial Highway along Murfreesboro Road Lowry Street highway 41.

 

Picture are Trish Nash and Rutherford County Clerk Lisa Crowell at the highway naming celebration

 

On March 12, 2012, Dan Whittle of the Murfreesboro Post, (who has now gone to be with the Lord), wrote about Major James “Jim” Walls and Dan knew him and Sally personally. (Well, come to think of it—Dan knew everyone personally).

Dan Whittle with his trusty camera

“Amongst the biggest, longest-felt local impacts was when Sewart landed Maj. James “Jim” Walls as a pilot of C-130s in 1957, and after his distinguished 20-plus years in the military, Smyrna was where he established family roots.

“Sewart Air Base brought more talent and quality people, as exemplified by Maj. Walls residing here, than any other singular event in our notable towns’ history,” said Smyrna Town Manager Mark O’Neal. “Although Maj. Walls was 92 and had been seriously ill, the family and community can never be prepared for the loss of someone the measure of Jim Walls.”

Walls was a devoted family man, patriotic military man dating back to Pearl Harbor and a gifted oriental food-style chef, which brought national culinary awards and attention to Smyrna as a result of his opening the now-legendary Omni Hut restaurant in 1960.

Appropriately, the major’s survivors, led by wife Sally Walls, will open the Hut’s doors to the public Sunday from 1-4 p.m., for  visitation and personal remembrances of a man who impacted his home community and the world.

“Jim wanted to be cremated,” shared wife Sally Walls. “After his cremation, he gave me and the children the privilege of deciding what to do.

https://www.wgnsradio.com/article/47013/writer-humorist-dan-whittle-honored-

(Link above is of Historian Marty Luffman honoring Dan Whittle a few months before Dan passed away)

“Jim had a saying: ‘If it’s worth doing, it is worth a show,’” his wife noted. “Jim will be there, and he’ll love nothing better than to have his loved ones and legions of friends remember him at his beloved Omni Hut.”

Former Sewart Air Base Commander Steve Fitzhugh gave an interview back in the 1990s, explaining the military and personal friendship connection to fellow Air Force pilot Walls.

WGNS Bryan Barrett and I had the opportunity to interview former Sewart Air Force Veterans; the late Smyrna Airport Director Steve Fitzhugh (Rutherford County Sheriff’s father), Denny Taylor of Smyrna and Stan Hawn. Smyrna Issues Radio Show was helping to promote their reunion.

“At old Sewart, Jim and I were privileged to be part of the training team where air cargo troop and equipment deployment techniques were invented and refined, deployment techniques that remain in tactical use today by modern military professionals across the world,” Fitzhugh said.

On a more personal level, present-day Smyrna Airport Executive John Black quotes a “Walls-Fitzhugh legend,” born when they served together in the South Pacific.

“One of Col. Fitzhugh’s favorite stories was recounting when he and Maj. Walls shared flight duty, including lay-overs at various islands,” Black shared. “Steve liked to share that while he and most other pilots would be sharing drinks in bars and restaurants throughout the South Pacific, Maj. Walls was always found back in the kitchens…where the major learned and refined the tastes and dishes still served today at Smyrna’s statewide-famous Omni Hut.”

But, the Japanese nearly deprived Smyrna, and the world of Walls’ presence.

“Maj. Walls was on second floor of his barracks at Pearl Harbor, when he hollered down, asking a buddy about the loud noise,” former Sewart C-130 pilot J.D. Kennedy said.

“The buddy didn’t know exactly what was happening on that fateful Sunday morning (Dec. 7, 1941) but hollered back at Jim,” Kennedy continued, “that ‘We don’t know what’s happening, but live ammunition is flying all around us.’”

Sally Walls picks up the story, “when bullets started hitting the barracks at Pearl Harbor, Jim hit the floor, and scooted on his backside to safety.

“After the first wave of Japanese bombers, the major left the barracks, trying to get to his plane and crew, but when the second wave returned, targeting grounded U.S. planes, they had to retreat to a  bunker, where Jim helped load and fire a .50-caliber machine gun.”

The major gave an eye-witness account of the Japanese attack: “A Japanese plane flew past me at eye-level on second floor of my barracks, so close I could see both the pilot and the machine gunners’ faces.”

In a subsequent letter to his family in Iowa, Walls wrote, “We were caught totally unprepared, but men leaped into jobs and performed in an excellent manner. If another attack, it could only mean total defeat of the Setting Sun (Japanese military).”

From Pearl Harbor, Walls was assigned to Maui, the Phillipines and various other South Pacific islands, before attending flight school in California and ultimately finishing his military career at Sewart Air Force Base in Smyrna.

At his death at age 92 on Sunday, March 4, Jim Walls is best-known locally for the food and flavors served at Omni Hut, a legendary privately owned-and-operated eatery dating back to 1960.”

I recall my late WW11 father Sgt. Sam Sparks who was stationed at Sewart Air Force Base once tell me,

“Major Walls was the best C-130 pilot I have ever saw. I witnessed him fly many times at Sewart.” 

Bob Dylan once said, “Times They Are a-Changin,’ “as we go through our day today, this December 7, 2021 let us not forgot those like Major Walls, our fathers and grandfathers who fought to give of the freedom that we have today.