Sidney Walton, 102, one of America's oldest WWII veterans, passed away peacefully at 7:04 am Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Santa Monica, CA, surrounded by his loving family.
Born February 11, 1919, by a midwife on Manhattan's Lower East Side, Sidney's first memory was of a horse-drawn fire engine. He grew up in Brooklyn and later the Bronx.
In March 1941, at 22, Sidney left City College of New York "to join the Army to fight Hitler," as he so famously said. He trained at Fort Dix, NJ; and was then stationed at Fort Jackson, SC; Fort Toccoa, GA; and Camp Sibert, AL. The Army sent him to Virgina Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg to train for chemical warfare. He graduated with a chemical engineering degree and eventually was sent overseas to fight in India, in the China, Burma, India (CBI) theater of war.
After the war ended Sidney returned to the U.S. and taught geology at Duke University. He later attended Yale for graduate work in geology. In 1953, on a blind date at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, MA he met the love of his life, Rena Bell from Bangor, ME, who was taking classes at Harvard.
Sidney and Rena married in 1954 and the following year their first child, Paul Adriel, was born at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. They later moved to Bangor, ME where Sidney worked at Dow Air Force Base, and they had two daughters - Judy Roanne and Eloise Lenore.
The family made the transcontinental move in 1960 to San Diego, California, where Sidney continued to work for the federal government as a civilian at North Island Naval Air Station. Sidney and Rena lived their California dream life until 1982 when Rena died of cancer. Sidney retired shortly afterward, but remained in San Diego with his children. He never remarried.
Starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Sidney began traveling with his son Paul, and later became recognized as one of the few remaining WWII veterans. Their travels led him to meet the Dalai Llama, Prince Harry, and even former President Bush Sr. at the Houston Rodeo.
In 2018, shortly after his 99th birthday, Sidney embarked on a new journey he called the No Regrets Tour, making up for a regret of missing a chance to meet Civil War veterans at the 1939 World's Fair in New York City. "That was the biggest regret of my life," he would often lament. The goal of the national tour was to visit all 50 states and meet all 50 governors to raise awareness of our veterans and give as many people as possible the chance to meet a WWII veteran before they're all gone.
Sidney met his first governor, Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island, on 4.24.18. On 9.28.21, just four days before he died, he met Governor Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma, his 40th governor. In between, he received an impressive array of honors that included meeting the President in the Oval Office, sitting behind President Trump onstage at the 75th anniversary of Normandy, the Coin Toss at the 2020 Super Bowl, the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Race, dinner with Gen. Mark Milley at his house in Virginia, and the 2020 Patriot Award for Unsung Hero. Even Fort Knox opened up for him.
He was also honored at the 2020 World Series at Washington Nationals Park, Boston Red Sox on the field at Fenway Park, L.A. Lakers center court, Dallas Cowboys 50-yard line, Boston Bruins hockey, Chicago Cubs on the field at Wrigley Field, and NY Knicks center court at Madison Square Garden.
Along the way Sidney was an honored guest at events ranging from the Westminster Dog Show to the Wash. D.C. Memorial Day Parade in 2019, to the Veterans Day Parade in 2019 in NYC, where he was pushed in his wheelchair by the Mayor up 6th Ave. In Nashville this year, John Rich dedicated a song to Sidney that aired July 4th in a national TV special.
Sidney was Best Man at his son's wedding in January this year - an event he'd waited 65 years for!
Sidney traveled the country in his unique, patriotically-wrapped Buick Enclave, which became an iconic image in photos.
Sidney during his Army days.