SD Vietnam War Memorial Dedication Please Support the Memorial Soldiers, Heroes, and teachers information



In Memory of  U.S. Air Force Colonel

Walter Alfred Renelt

Wilmot, South Dakota, Roberts County

April 24, 1929 – November 20, 1969

Missing in Action in Laos, Southeast Asia


Walter Alfred Renelt was born on April 24, 1929, in White Rock, South Dakota, to Alfred and Martha (Roob) Renelt. He had four sisters, Margaret, Mary, Arlene, and Bernadine, and three younger brothers, Richard, Harold, and Donald. When he was almost ten, he moved with his family to Wilmot. He graduated Wilmot High School in 1946 and then went to the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, South Dakota, for about a year before joining the service.

Walter Renelt first entered the Air Force on April 19, 1949, and later “became a commissioned pilot and obtained his electrical engineering degree while serving his country,” according to his brother, Richard. He married Iris Ramsey from South Carolina on August 4, 1952, at San Antonio, Texas, and they had four sons: Eric, Don, Karl, and Mark. During the Korean War, he was a co-pilot and “was active in the Strategic Air Command and attained the rank of Colonel.” Some years later, Renelt was sent to Laos, Southeast Asia in March of 1969 with the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron stationed at DaNang Airbase, South Vietnam.

Colonel Walter Alfred Renelt was killed “during a combat mission 32 miles East of Chavane,” Laos, on November 20, 1969.” He was flying a Cessna 02 Skymaster with a “twin engine” and “a twin-tailboom,” which was mostly unarmed, only carrying smoke rockets. Further details about his mission are at

On 20 November 1969, then Lt. Col. Walter A. Renelt, instructor pilot, and 1st Lt. John R. Baldridge, Jr., pilot, comprised the crew of an O2A Skymaster, call sign ‘Lopez 11.’ Lt. Col. Renelt and 1st Lt. Baldridge departed DaNang Airbase at 1500 hours to conduct a single aircraft visual reconnaissance mission just west of the Laos/South Vietnamese border in a sector where communist forces were frequently known to be operating… At approximately 1652 hours, an Air Force Forward Air Controller (FAC) operating in the same area heard a transmission from Lopez 11 stating that they had been struck by ground fire and that an escort back to base was required… The FAC proceeded to the coordinates provided by Lt. Col. Renelt. When he arrived on site, he easily found the Skymaster’s wreckage with smoke rising from it. The FAC made several low passes over the crash site in an attempt to detect signs of movement, but found none. Likewise, he found no traces of either Walter Renelt or John Baldridge in or around the Skymaster’s wreckage… No one saw deployed parachutes on the ground. Later the 20th Tactical Air Support Squadron determined neither pilot had a parachute onboard the aircraft. … Daily attempts to reenter the target area were prevented by adverse weather and hostile ground fire. These efforts continued for 10 days without success. Finally formal search operations were terminated on 28 November 1969 and Walter Renelt and John Baldridge were declared Missing in Action at that time… Walter Renelt and John Baldridge are among the nearly 600 Americans who disappeared in Laos.

In 1970, while Colonel Renelt was still listed as missing in action, his wife, along with seven other women, traveled from Fort Walton Beach, to North Vietnam for sixteen days to “try to secure information about their husbands,” who were all listed as MIA. They traveled first to Laos where some met with representatives of the North Vietnamese Embassy. Then the women went to Bangkok where they held a press conference and then the six whose husbands were MIA in Laos went back there to see a representative of the Laotian government who told them that prisoners taken in Laos stayed in Laos and that he’d send on their husbands’ fact sheets to the headquarters. The eight women met up again in Rome and “were received in a private audience with the Pope,” where they “were assured that their problem received the Pope’s attention and that he prayed for their men, themselves, and their families every day.” After that they traveled to Sweden and met with the Swedish Red Cross before going to London where they saw the British Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs. They then returned home to Ft. Walton Beach.

Col. Renelt’s body was never recovered. He was carried as missing in action until July 12, 1973, the date “of receipt of evidence in HQ, USAF, that… he could not have survived.” At that point, he was officially declared killed in action and there was a memorial service in his honor on July 18, 1973.

Among Walter Renelt’s awards was the Air Force Medal with eight Oak Leaf Clusters. He is currently survived by his widow, Iris, and his four sons, Mark, Eric, Don, and Karl, and his brother, Richard.

This entry was respectfully submitted by Rebecca Humbracht, 8th grade, Spearfish Middle School, Spearfish, South Dakota, on March 30, 2006. This information was provided by, an application for a SD Vietnam Veteran’s Bonus, and photos and obituaries supplied by Nancy Minder and the Wilmont Enterprise. Additional information and profile approval by Richard Renelt, brother, Wilmont.


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