The following story has been verified and authenticated.
It is true.
Affectionately known as “The Godfather of Houston Street” by many in downtown San Antonio, Walter Stovall, a World War II veteran was the consummate gentleman to everyone he encountered.
I had the honor of crossing paths with Walter in 2008. As neighbors at the Majestic Towers above the beautiful Majestic Theater, he and I would often set across the street outside the Gunter Hotel several times each day. It was a privilege to listen to his war stories, learn about his philosophies and takes on a life that he abundantly lived for almost 92 years. Walter died on June 2, 2014.
My favorite stories were about World War II.
“At first I was sent to the European Theater during the war. For a time I drove a motorcycle in General Patton’s unit. I saw him often, but mostly from a distance. Once, in a line up standing in attention he called on me to give him my name and number. I was so scared, I could barely say my name and I had to make up some numbers because I forget my serial number because of my fright. He grinned and acted like it was all okay, but I have always thought he knew that I was afraid and couldn’t remember that number.”
Walter later went to the Pacific Theater and recall the day of February 3, 1945 as if it were a few years before. He had just landed from parachuting with almost a thousand other troops.
“MacArthur called on our Colonel Haugen to Tagaytay Ridge (Philippines). We were going to meet up with the 188th Glider Infantry Regiment and march into Manila. I am not sure how I survived that day. All I know is that every day since, has been a gift. I thought I was dead.”
“We were spread out and I had my machine gun and full pack on,” Walter recalled. “I was the second person in the line and I guess we were fairly far apart or more of us would have been killed.”
“This is it–am I dead? I must be dead.”
“Something exploded near us and I thought to myself, ‘This is it–am I dead?’” said Walter. “”I must be dead.”
Walter chuckled when he told the story, but his face remained serious.
“I looked down and my leg had been hit, there was blood all over,” he described. “I reached down and didn’t realize what was going on but apparently some blood colligated.”
“I grabbed the mass of blood and said ‘My God, they shot my privates off.’” Walter laughed, as if to conceal the memory. “Well, if that was the case, I might as well have been better off dead.”
Although relieved his “privates” were intact, Walter lay dying with blood spewing out of a leg vein.
“A medic or someone came over and used my boot lace to tie the vein together,” Walter said. “They kept pressure on it and the next thing I am in a kind of make shift hospital closer to the beach area with shrapnel in my leg and body.”
“I looked around and there were men without eyes, or legs or arms,” Walter said in 2011. “I still have pain to this day, but I learn to live with it, especially my sciatic nerve.”
The first thing I noticed about Walter was his debonair manner. It was not unusual, when he recognized a beautiful lady walking his direction, to rise up stylishly out of his Gunter Hotel chair to greet her. At least a half dozen times a day he would gently reach for a lady’s hand, gently bow his head and kiss her fingers.
“…this may be hard to believe, but one of the horrible things I ever saw happened right here.”
Walter became something of a surrogate and noble grandfather to me. He gave advice and told stories with such moving messages, I swear it was like I was there with him as he relived much of it. Most important, we became extraordinary good friends. Once, during a poignant moment of revealing some horrors he dealt with and witnessed in World War II, with tears in our eyes, Walter told me he loved me. We sat still for several minutes until we could both regroup.
“But Jack, this may be hard to believe, but one of the horrible things I ever saw happened right here,” he broke the silence.
“Here?” I was puzzled. “Do you mean like here? Here at the Gunter?”
“Well, I was sitting here. It was October 8, 2004 (Walter could always remember dates) and I needed to go to the restroom. I decided to walk across the street to go back upstairs (In the elevator. Walter lived on the 11th floor. I lived on the 7th),” Walter explained. “I walk like I always do and one of the waiters outside the Houston Street Bistro waved at me. I smiled and wave at him as I made it across the street. I stepped up on the sidewalk and was about to open the door when I heard what I thought was a car wreck—a crash.”
“I grabbed the door but turned around and didn’t see anything that looked like a car crash, but I did see something unusual. It was something laying in the middle of the street, just about two feet long. It wasn’t there when I walked it just a few seconds before. I couldn’t figure out what it was but I needed to go to the restroom so I went on up the elevator.”
“I looked out and saw police and fire cars down there. They had traffic closed off.”
“After I finished my business I could hear sirens out my window, facing Houston Street. I looked out and saw police and fire cars down there. They had traffic closed off. I thought maybe it had something to do with that crash I heard and whatever that was laying in the street, so I went back down.”
Walter, who knew just about everyone in that part of downtown, saw a policeman he recognized and asked him what that was in the street.
“It’s an arm.”
“An arm?” Walter was stunned. “Where did it come from?”
“From up above,” the officer pointed up. “Up there?”
“Is it real? Did someone throw it out of a window?”
“Yes. It’s real, Walter. The body is on top of the marquee. The arm fell in the street.”
Later, Walter learned it was the body of one of his neighbors.
“I knew her as Lin,” Walter rubbed his chin. “Her name was Linda. She was just 47 and had only lived here a few months. She was a newlywed and would come down often to smoke. She was a pretty girl and smiled—said ‘Hi’ each time I ran into her. I saw and her husband Duane quite often and they were always pleasant. But we heard she drank a lot and some of the neighbors could hear them arguing every now and then.”
“At first there were rumors they were fighting and maybe she was pushed out,” he continued. “But later we learned they were arguing over money problems and she was drunk. She opened the window and stuck her leg out like she was going to jump to get his attention. She wasn’t even fully clothed. He was across the room when she maneuvered herself out to the window ledge and fell. It was fourteen stories! They lived on the 14th floor, just a few stories above us.”
“But she had a curse when it came to men.”
“I talked to a friend of hers later that knew something about her. The newspaper said she was an Army doctor, but this friend said she ran a café at a bookstore they worked at together for three or four years. They all thought she had stopped drinking for at least a year before she met Duane. They were married at the end of June, the 25th, I think. The woman said she was quite a jokester, very smart and outgoing. But she had a curse when it came to men. Her relationships didn’t last long.”
Walter appeared to be uncomfortable as he continued.
“I know you’ve heard the same stories that I have about the Majestic Theater and the Gunter Hotel being haunted,” Walter was serious. “We’ve talked about them: The lady up on the sixth floor. And the magician ghost (“Zoroastro”). Or that ghost woman in the second floor opera seats (Magdalene). But, I will tell you. Not too many of us, the residents, or the staff here, will venture out on that Twilight Terrace outside the second floor behind that Marquee.”
“There was blood dripping from that arm and it flowed into the storm drain. If you go down to the basement to that room across from the laundry area, that’s where they say they see her. I don’t open the door to that room. It’s right next to that storm drain.”
Walter sat back in his chair. He took off his sunglasses, looked me straight in the eyes, and grinned, “Did you like that story?”
I smiled, “Yes sir. I did.”
“It’s true, you know,” he whispered with the grin still on his face. “Very true.”
All I could do was nod.
“Maybe that’s what I will do when I go away,” he laughed as he looked at the Majestic Theater marquee. “I like this place. Maybe I’ll stick around.”