SALT LAKE CITY — At 101 years old, Sidney Walton has lived a long and fruitful life. But one of his most defining attributes was serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, which began when he was just 21.
Today, few members of the “greatest generation” remain alive to tell their story, but Walton, who served during every year of the great global conflict is on a nationwide quest to share his message of patriotism to a country in need of a morale boost.
Born Feb. 11, 1919, in New York City, Walton joined the Army in March 1941, nine months before Pearl Harbor, “to kill Hitler.”
He was a corporal in the China, Burma, India Theater in the 34th Infantry, 8th Division. After the Army, Walton graduated from Yale with a degree in chemical engineering and was a geology instructor at Duke University.
These days, the centenarian is on a nationwide “No Regrets Tour” — a campaign to raise awareness about the dwindling number of WWII vets by visiting all 50 states and meeting with all 50 governors. The tour is so named because of a lifelong regret Walton has felt for missing out on opportunities to meet some of the last Civil War veterans during his younger years.
“I never did it,” he said. “(I regret it) terribly.”
“That’s why to make up for that one regret he is going out there giving every American an opportunity to meet a World War II veteran before it’s too late,” explained his son, Paul Walton.
The Waltons were greeted Tuesday by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert on the west steps of the state Capitol during a brief ceremony. Herbert presented Walton with a declaration thanking him for his service, as well an official Utah state commemorative coin.
“It’s great for us to be able to honor Sidney, as he’s honored us with his service. He does represent the greatest generation we’ve ever had,” Herbert said. “His example of service (shows a) loving of humanity, what makes America great and living the American dream.”
Addressing demonstrations that are currently taking place in Utah and nationwide, the governor said people like Walton have made it possible for Americans to have their voices heard.
“We fought for free speech. We fought for the right to assemble, we fought for the Constitution,” said Herbert, who served six years in the Utah National Guard. “But as he said, I support your right to protest. But you ought to do it in a peaceful way and not destroy and break the law by defacing property and the life, limb and personal lives of others that are being disrupted. That’s not the right way to do it. So that’s what he told me and I agree. He has it figured out.”
During his “No Regrets” campaign, Walton has met with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office and appeared on stage at the 75th Anniversary of D-Day in Normandy with President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron. He was also honored at the Super Bowl during the pregame coin toss.
Herbert said today’s youth can learn a great deal from people like Walton who put their country’s interests ahead of their own so others could have freedom.
“You’re never too old to serve. You’re never too old to be a good example. You’re never too old to teach. You’re never too old to learn,” the governor said. “He’s giving back and he’s learning along the way about the different sites that we have in this America that he defended. We probably could have a couple of Sunday school lessons on what we can learn from Sidney.”