PORTLAND, OR – When Sidney Walton was growing up in New York, he had a chance to meet one of the few remaining people who had fought in the Civil War. He never did and it is a regret that the 99-year-old has carried with him since.
It’s a fairly lonely regret.
Walton has lived a full life. He spent five years in the Army, serving in World War 2. Walton married, and helped raise three children. He was a geology professor at Duke University and then had a second career as a chemical engineer for the Navy. He traveled the world, visiting dozens of countries with his son Paul.
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Sidney is now working to take care of that one regret.
“I said to Dad, you can’t go back in time to meet a Civil War veteran,” his son Paul tells Patch. “So, what can we do to take care of this?
“And he came up with the idea of traveling the country and give people a chance to meet one of the few remaining World War 2 veterans.”
Paul added a twist. They have been reaching out the governors of all 50 states to see if they would be willing to meet. Then, Sidney and Paul would travel to the state, meet the governor, and spend time traveling around the state meeting people.
On Monday, they were in Oregon meeting with Gov. Kate Brown.
“She was our 16th governor,” Paul says. “Last week, we were in Washington meeting with Governor Inslee. No one has said ‘no,’ though some take longer to respond than others.
“We hope to head to California next. We’re just waiting for Gov. Brown’s office to get back to us.”
The tour started last April in Rhode Island, where Gov. Gina Raimondo appointed him Honorary Brigadier General of the state’s militia. A few days later, they were in Massachusetts, where Sidney met Gov. Charlie Baker and was honored by the Red Sox on the field at Fenway.
“We’re actually going back to Boston next month,” Paul says. “The Bruins want to honor him at one of their games. The entire experience has been magical.
“Everywhere Dad goes, people want to meet him talk to him. It’s just evolved into this thing that we could have never dreamed of.”
HE WANTED TO KILL HITLER
Sidney enlisted in the army months before Pearl Harbor.
“It wasn’t our war at that time,” Paul says. “But everyone knew that it was coming. Dad saw what was happening and he wanted to be involved.
“He wanted to kill Hitler.”
Sidney never got that chance. When he was finally sent overseas, it was to what the military called the China Burma India Theater.
“In a big way, it was an assignment that made it possible for me to be here today,” Paul says. “He’d been in the infirmary with a broken ankle when the unit he’d been training with was sent Europe. They ended up at the Battle of the Bulge.
“He never heard from any of them ever again.”
Paul says that people seem to be drawn to his father – and other World War 2 veterans – in a way that seems to be a little different than other veterans.
“There is so much respect,” he says. “With World War 2, it was the last war that really threatened the homeland. It was a war where you never knew where you would end up fighting.
“I read so many of the letters that my Dad wrote from Fort Dix in New Jersey to his Dad in New York. They were filled with things like, I want to come visit you but I don’t know if my orders will come and when they do, I don’t know where I’ll be or when – and if – I’ll be home.”
Paul says that he thinks about these things a lot.
“I’m lucky to be his son, to have had the chance to learn from him,” he says. “And when I see young people today listen to him and the magnitude of the war and sacrifice sink in, you can see it on their faces.
“People today who are in their 20s and 30s, they know about September 11 and Iraq and Afghanistan and those were all awful things. But to live at a time when the entire world was at war, there’s no way that they can relate to that. Dad’s a bridge to understanding that.”
HE’S A CATALYST
Paul says that one thing that’s been constant over the tour so far is the absence of politics.
“No one wants to talk about the president or anything that’s happening with the Democrats and Republicans,” he says. “They want to talk about sacrifice and dedication. A lot of times they ask him what it was like then.
“Hopefully, they leave and want to go learn more about the war and what was happening in the world. It’s great that he can be a catalyst like that. But even if people don’t go and dive into history, at least they took time and listened.”
Sidney and Paul have been to 16 states and have 34 to go. Paul says they are relying on a lot of donations.
“We’re doing it pretty much on a shoestring,” he says. “We’re not doing it extravagantly, looking for cheap flights and depending a lot on the generosity of others. We have to be cost effective.”
To that end, they’ve set up a GoFundMe page where they’ve raised more than $17,000 and hope to raise more.
One date on the tour is set in stone. On February 11, Sidney will celebrate his 100th birthday at the White House.
“There’s a to-do list between now and then and beyond,” Paul says. “He wants to keep meeting people, giving them a chance to meet a veteran of a war that is distant history to them. He wants to give them the opportunity that he never took when he was a kid.
“We just want to continue the mission.”
Photos courtesy Paul Walton.