Waynesville community gives prisoner of war a second funeral
Walter Barton Dixon got full military honors Tuesday on the occasion of his second death.
As his flag-draped coffin was taken by a horse-drawn caisson from a memorial service at Waynesville's Faith Baptist Church to the Missouri Veterans Cemetery of Waynesville, he was greeted along the route by friends and mourners along the side of the road paying their respects to a true American hero who had endured a life full of twists and turns.
Dixon joined the Army when he was 16 years-old and served in three wars (World War II, Korea and Vietnam) earning seven Purple Hearts and a host of other honors.
But it was in Korea in 1951 that his life changed forever when he was wounded during a bombing attack.
"His clothes had 37 holes in them and both the heels of his boots had been shot off," explained Keith Prichard, who was representing the Secretary of the Army at the ceremonies.
Dixon though was more concerned about others during the bombing, wrapping his jacket around another severely wounded soldier which turned out to be a fateful decision.
"His field jacket with his name on it and letters to his wife in the pocket that ended up being with the deceased soldier is the reason he (Dixon) was identified as a killed-in-action soldier," Pritchard said.
Yes, that case of mistaken identity resulted in Walter being declared dead with a death notice signed by President Harry S. Truman sent to his family.
In reality though, Walter was alive. He would spend 28 months as a Prisoner Of War in Korea enduring the worst of conditions. He was the only one of the 400 men in his company who would survive the war and when he returned home everyone was surprised including his wife, who had remarried.
"He told me it was quite simple," Pritchard said. "One wife and two husbands and she'd already had a child with the other one. There was nothing to do but move on."
So Walter Dixon did move on. He would end up marrying the woman who wrote his obituary for the local paper, a childhood next-door-neighbor named Dee he had known since he was eight years-old.
They had three children and were married for 61 years until Dee passed away in 2016.
But Walter's love of life carried on. All you need to know about him and his sense of humor could be found on his business card read aloud at Tuesday's memorial service.
"Walter B. Dixon retired," said Faith Baptist pastor Danny Graves as he read the card. "Ain't got much, don't want anything, ain't mad at nobody, ain't running for nothing, waiting for the third of the month."
And then there was the form Walter filled out for the government asking about his time as a POW.
"It talks about 'Please describe your worst experience as a captive,'" Pritchard told the crowd. "And in his handwriting it says 'I always had fun.'"
It was that indomitable spirit that kept Walter going for 91 years...and two deaths.
"He was a soldier's soldier," Prichard said.
"He served his country in ways that are unimaginable," said Douglas Galick, a Command Sgt. Major with Ft. Leonard Wood's Army Engineer School. "It just goes back to the American fighting spirit and what we fight for."
"I think the only reason he passed is because he was ready to go," said Richard Dixon, one of Walter's three children. "He was always a fighter but I think he was ready to go see my mom."
Here's to Walter Dixon and a life well-lived.