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Department Secretary,
Hook & Ladder Co.

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Halesite Mourns Loss of Honorary Chief and 73 Year Member Walter Lockwood

Monday, August 16, 2010

The officers and members of the Halesite Fire Department mourn the loss of one of their most senior firefighters and much beloved members, Honorary Chief Walter J. Lockwood. At his death this past Saturday, Walt was among Halesite’s longest serving members with nearly 73 years devoted to the fire department.

Walter Lockwood, known fondly by Halesite’s members as “Uncle Walkie”, hails from one of Halesite’s oldest families. His father, Frank, was Captain of the yacht August Heckscher used to commute to New York City. His mother, Tekla, was governess to Heckscher’s children.

Walter attended Halesite Grade School, located on what today is O’Hara Place (formerly School Street). He joined the Hook & Ladder Company in 1937 and soon became one of the department’s most active members.

Shortly after joining the department, Walt was recognized for an attempted rescue of a 21-year old service man. The individual was overcome by gas fumes when checking a basement meter. After pulling the man out of the house without any regard to his own safety, Walter attempted artificial respiration. In recognition of his selfless efforts, Walter was awarded the McAuliffe medal—the department’s highest honor.

In 1957, Walt was elected Sergeant-at-Arms of the Halesite Fire Department. He served faithfully in this position for more than 50 years—a department record. As he grew older, Walt would never back off from his responsibility to maintain order during department meetings. You would periodically here his booming voice reminding members to stand when speaking or to remove their hats while the meeting was in session—each time with immediate effect.

During his lifetime, Walt’s service was not limited to the confines of the Halesite Fire District. He also served his country in World War II as a member of the Coast Guard. In 1941, the U.S. Coast Guard issued an emergency call for privately owned boats to be used for patrol duties off Long Island Sound and neighboring waters. One of the people to answer the call for privately owned vessels was F. Rogers Ketcham, another Halesite firefighter. Ketcham donated his 48’ Alden motorsailer, GOBLIN, to the cause. Incredibly, Walter Lockwood was later stationed on this ship as a Coxswain along with Leo Bilzi, the brother of a fellow member of the Halesite Fire Department, Bill Bilzi.

Uncle Walkie recalled that when they weren’t patrolling their assigned waters around New York Harbor and Graves End Bay, they would either swim or fish for sharks. It wasn’t uncommon for them to catch sharks ranging from 6’ – 8’ long. It was also aboard GOBLIN that Uncle Walkie made two U-Boat sightings. The first turned out to be a whale, but the second was a bona fide enemy U-Boat patrolling about 90 miles off the coast of Fire Island. He notified authorities and a torpedo plane was dispatched from Mitchell Field.

In 1953, Walt was among a group of Halesite firefighters that built a replica of the Nathan Hale Rock to honor the Town of Huntington’s Tercentenary. The department marched with it during the celebration’s parade. The replica, built using 1 x 2’s, fitted with chicken wire and covered with stucco, had an uncanny resemblance to the actual rock. After the parade, the replica sat behind the old fire house for a few years, looking even more realistic as it got older. Visitors to the firehouse often thought the rock had been moved there, giving many of the department’s members, including Walt Lockwood, quite a chuckle.

For Walter, the Halesite Fire Department was a family affair. His wife, Ruth, was a member of the Ladies Auxiliary and three of their sons became members of the department: Doug, Richard and Bryan. His daughter, Donna, is a current member of the Ladies Auxiliary and is married to Frank Grasso, who became Chief of the Halesite Fire Department in 1983.

Over his more than seven decades of service to the Halesite Fire Department, Walter Lockwood has been a permanent and memorable fixture of the Halesite community. He will be greatly missed.




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