Walter Reca: Orphan

Walter Reca: Orphan

When Walter was born in September 1933, his family had no idea that in just a few short years he would be left fatherless. Walt’s father was in medical school, studying hard as an aspiring doctor. Walt was only 6 years old when his father Walter Peca, Sr. was electrocuted while working in Farnsworth, Michigan. The loss of one parent made Walt an orphan, and his family was shocked by the unexpected passing of Walt Sr.

The family lived with Walter’s grandparents, who were able to assist some in raising the children - Walt and his younger sister Sandy - after his father’s death. The grandparents spoke Russian and Polish in the home, which equipped Walter well for future international travel and his initial application to the CIA. The family was Catholics, and Walt would later say that he prayed nearly every day.

Even with the grandparents’ help, being a single mother to two children in the 1930’s was no easy task. Walt remembered his mother Jean fondly, but it was no secret that she couldn’t always offer her children the support that they needed. Money was usually scarce, and Walt was left unattended for long hours, which gave him plenty of time to get in trouble. When Walt grew up, he felt responsible for the care of his mother and sister.

Today, we know that losing one or both parents in childhood has a profound impact on a child’s emotional and mental health. Walt would have faced issues of depression, anxiety, juvenile delinquency, or substance abuse. In fact, in adulthood Walt was a heavy drinker and smoker, and he was known for being on the wrong side of the law.

Walter also had a soft spot for children who had grown up without one or both parents just like he had. He was always a mix of hard and soft, kind and tough. His experiences as an orphan contributed to much of his wild side, but it also softened his heart to his remaining family and other orphaned children. As for his father’s untimely death, Walt might say his own life had enough adventure for the both of them.  

Ready to dive deeper? Purchase the memoir D.B. Cooper & Me here.
See the evidence for yourself - watch the documentary "D.B. Cooper: The Real Story" here.

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