WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (KMOV.com) – Off historic Route 66 in southwest Missouri, a veteran celebrates the day he died every year.
May 5, 1951.
“That’s when I died,” Walter Dixon said sitting in his family room of his Waynesville home. The 90-year-old is a veteran of three wars.
He has copies of his obituary from 1951 and a tombstone marks his final resting spot in South Korea.
“I just enjoy life,” said Dixon, “because there’s so many people who don’t know how to live it.”
His years of sacrifice for his country date back to 1944.
He entered the military at 16 years old and served in World War II.
The tale of his death began during the Korean War.
In 1950 Dixon married his wife Agnes, but the newlyweds only shared a short time together before he was shipped off to serve.
In May 1951 in Korea, Dixon won some money in a poker game with fellow soldiers and he needed to get a money ordered signed to send home to his wife.
He marched up to a group of them.
“A bomb hit right in where they were,” Dixon recalled. “I took my jacket and wrapped it around this guy’s legs because they were bunged up,” he added.
Dixon continued to fight, but was captured.
His family was notified of the worst.
“I was captured, but they thought that was me in that hole because my jacket was there and these letters from my wife were in that jacket,” Dixon said.
A letter from President Harry Truman was sent to Dixon’s family telling them he was killed in action.
They even got a death certificate.
Meanwhile the young private was across an ocean fighting to survive.
“It’s just hard being locked in a place like that,” Dixon said.
He was held as prisoner of war for nearly 28 months.
For those two years, three months and 19 days, he starved. He said every minute of every day was different.
“I had to hang myself one time so I could get rid of a guard,” he recalled.
Dixon was released on September 5, 1953 as part of the Operation Big Switch.
After his 842 days as a POW he returned to the United States, but the family waiting to greet him wasn’t the same.
“She had remarried and had a kid,” recalled Dixon
Thinking Dixon was dead, his wife Agnes moved on. She had a new husband and a child and Dixon no longer fit into the equation.
“I said 'heck,'” Dixon recalled. “I don’t think that’s the word I used, but I better not say that right now."
He would soon find comfort in a familiar byline.
On a visit to Dixon’s hometown of Essex, Missouri, he ran into the woman who wrote his obituary.
“I went home to visit one time and she was there. I’d known her a long time. I’d known her as a teenager,” said Dixon.
Dee Fenton grew up next door to Dixon. Since she knew him she wrote his obituary for a local paper when he was declared killed in action in 1951.
Her byline changed when the two married in 1955.
“She always joked about writing his obituary again,” said Russell Dixon, one of the Dixon’s three children.
They renewed their vows every five years and those vows held strong for 61 years of marriage until Dee passed away in 2016.
After Dixon returned home from his years as a POW he then volunteered to serve in Vietnam.
Dixon continued to serve in the Army for 24 years. He helped to found the Drill Sergeant School at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.
He retired at Fort Leonard Wood in September 1970.
Dixon was awarded seven Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars for his service.
After all his sacrifices, he finds joy in taking a daily ‘road ride’ which is a drive along a country Missouri road with his friends.
He also enjoys writing poems about veterans and his time in the military.
Dixon throws a party every year on his death date.
“Enjoy every day and if you don't enjoy every day, you’re doing something wrong,” Dixon said.
This October Dixon celebrated his very real 90th birthday.