Air University helps veteran achieve dream
World War II veteran Walter Bunker, left, greets the crowd at Xavier University's 176th commencement along with Xavier University President Michael J. Graham. Bunker, 90, is believed to be Xavier's oldest undergraduate to receive a degree. (Photo courtesy of Greg Rust, Xavier University)
Air University helps veteran achieve dream

special Courtesy Article
Air University History Office

6/4/2014 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- At 90 years old, Walter S. Bunker, currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio, had achieved a lot in his life.

He began college in 1941, served in the U.S. Army Air Forces between 1942 and 1944, had been a successful real estate businessman, had a wonderful and loving family, which by 2014 included a number of grandchildren, and had been retired for many years. However, the one thing he had not achieved was completing college to get a bachelor's degree.

However, through the joint efforts of Xavier University in Cincinnati and the Air University, Bunker proudly achieved his dream when he received his bachelor's degree in liberal arts with honors at Xavier's May 17 commencement ceremonies, making him Xavier's oldest graduate in its 183-year history.

In the audience proudly watching and cheering as he walked across the stage to receive his degree were numerous friends and members of his family, including a granddaughter currently attending Xavier.

During the first two years of World War II, Bunker had accrued 12 credit hours from the Cincinnati College of Music. Then, after enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942, he completed radio operator and maintenance school, flexible gunnery school and spent 31 weeks in the Aviation Cadet Program. By the time he had completed his flight training program, the Air Corps discovered that his vision was less than 20/20, so it sent him to navigator school. He served as a navigator for an AAF B-24 Liberator in England and flew a number of combat missions over Europe until his medical discharge in 1944.

After returning to Cincinnati, Bunker completed 35 credit hours at Xavier, 34 credit hours at the University of Notre Dame and four hours of course work at the University of Cincinnati by 1954. Then, life, family, work and health issues interceded, and he never had the opportunity over the next 60 years to complete the remaining course work for a bachelor's degree.

Now, at age 90, Bunker's dream to obtain a college degree, sparked by the death of his son in 2012 while he was attending Franciscan University in San Francisco reemerged. Having completed the majority of his college work at Xavier, he contacted the university for help achieving his dream.

After reviewing his college transcripts, Xavier granted him 52 hours of transfer credit for his non-Xavier courses and waived the requirement that mandates the last 30 hours be Xavier hours. However, in early 2014, Bunker was still 30 hours short of the required 120 hours for the award of a bachelor's degree.

Then, in late March, Dr. Mary Kay Meyer, director of Xavier's office of credential evaluation, turned to the Air University registrar for help in finding course information for Bunker's World War II training to see if Xavier could grant American Council on Education college credit for any of this training. Dr. Michael Masterson, the AU registrar, found Meyer's email among the many emails sent to AU's education support account and, in turn, contacted Dr. Robert Kane, the AU director of history, for help.

Having worked at the Air Force Historical Research Agency, also at Maxwell, before becoming the AU director of history, Kane believed that the agency should possess the official World War II histories that would include the course information ‒ title, description, objectives, and length ‒ that Xavier needed to determine if it could grant college credit for Bunker's World War II AAF training. After a diligent search of AFHRA's holdings, Kane found the needed information in various official histories and sent Meyer the requested information for Bunker's AAF training courses.

Based on this information, Xavier granted Bunker 54 credit hours for his World War II AAF training courses, more than enough to award him a bachelor's degree.

Meyer commented that Kane's research "made it possible for Walter to graduate" and thanked Kane on behalf of the Bunker family.

"It was my pleasure and honor to have been such a great help in the achievement of Mr. Bunker's dream after so many years," said Kane. "While preparing the Air University history is my primary function as the AU historian, I receive the most pleasure in helping individuals with personal requests such as this one."