The day before he was supposed to quit fighting the North Korean communists, leave Korea and go back home to his wife, Army Sgt. Walter B. Dixon went to the front line to collect a debt.
“I was going to go home the next day, but a guy owed me money, a lot of money,” said Dixon. “It was $500, which was really a lot of money in those days. He was on the front line, so I went up to collect it.”
As bad luck would have it, the communists attacked while Dixon was there.
“When I got up there we were attacked, and several guys got hit pretty hard,” Dixon said.
Dixon said he gathered up several of the injured men and helped them, led them, carried them, to a depression in the ground.
“It was a bomb hole,” Dixon said. “I put them there. One guy was hurt real bad. His legs were about blown off, so I put my field jacket around his legs.”
Dixon went back to the line and helped fight.
“A bomb strike came in and blew them all apart,” he said of the men he had tried to rescue.
And then the communists overran Dixon and the survivors and captured them.
“I was a POW from May 18, 1951, to Sept. 5, 1953,” said Dixon, now 85 and seated at a table in the Pulaski County Shrine Club where he visits just about daily with good friends. “I was in the Army 38th Infantry. I was due to come home on May 19, and I got captured on the 18th. I was going to go home; instead I was captured.”
And remember that field jacket that he wrapped around the legs of the wounded man? It was found later, and it led the Army to the wrong conclusion.
“They thought I was dead,” he said. “I was reported killed in active duty.”
He was a prisoner of the communists for more than two years. The Army thought he was dead. His wife thought she was a widow.
“I have my death certificate signed by President (Harry) Truman,” he said. “My wife got remarried and had a child, thinking I was dead.”
Dixon was released as part of what he said was called the “Big Switch," a major trading of prisoners of war at the end of the conflict.
”I was one of the last five to get released from our group,” he said.
He also got released from the Army, although he didn’t want to be.
Page 2 of 2 - “When I came back I was kicked out for being a private, but I was actually a sergeant,” he said.
It took him several months to get the Army bureaucracy to reinstate him, but even then it was at a lower pay grade.
“I spent 25 years in the military. I’ve been in three wars,” Dixon said.
Dixon also remarried.
“I came back home and married the woman who wrote my obituary. We’ve been married 58 years,” he said.
His wife, Aldine M. Dixon was a Poplar Bluff newspaperwoman who later went on to edit other newspapers, including the Fort Leonard Wood paper, The Guidon.
She was working for the Poplar Bluff News at the time she wrote his obit, Dixon said.
“She’s from Cape Girardeau. I’m from over by Sikeston,” he said.
Dixon continued serving in the infantry until just before retirement when he was reassigned to administrative duties for health reasons.
“I retired in 1970,” said Dixon, who has two Bronze Stars and seven Purple Hearts. He was at Fort Leonard Wood at the time, and he decided to stay in Pulaski County, close to the hospital and the commissary—and friends.
He spent 18 years in the insurance business and 12 years in the heavy equipment industry.
“I’m now 100 percent disabled,” Dixon said. “It’s hard to do nothing.”
What about being a prisoner? Where did the communists take him?
“That’s a long story. It starts here and goes there,” he said, pointing to different parts of the table.
Well, what was it like?
“My answer to that is what minute, hour, day, week, month, year do you mean?” Dixon said. “It’s difficult to explain. That’s why people won’t talk about it.”
He will speak publicly from time to time about Army life, military serve, patriotism and his experiences. He has several speaking engagements on his November calendar, including presentations in St. James and Waynesville.
Dixon has written his memoirs, as well as essays and poetry, to help him emotionally over the course of time.
His writings will also be of interest to his family.
“I’ve got three children and a whole bunch of grandchildren and great-grandchildren,” he said proudly.