Robert “Bob” Dalton Jr. — a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and French Legion of Honour recipient who helped the Army liberate several areas of France after the 1944 D-Day invasion at Normandy — died last Thursday at age 97.
He was the oldest of four Charlotte-born and -raised brothers who served in World War II.
Last June, the U.S. Senate paid tribute to Dalton and his brothers Jim, Rufus and Harry, with the Congressional Record calling the their concurrent service in the war extremely rare.” Bob and Rufus, who were in combat from the front line, previously were awarded the French government’s highest order of merit for military and civil service: the National Order of the Legion of Honour, in 2011.
Within days of the taking of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, Bob Dalton landed there as a platoon leader in the Army’s 8th Infantry Division. In the months that followed, his unit forged west — leaving in its wake a series of liberated towns and cities, including Insigny, Saint-Lo, Vire and finally Brest on the country’s northwestern coast.
There, in September 1944, he was hit by artillery fire while diving into a foxhole and suffered a leg wound that put him in a hospital in England for two months. He rejoined his unit on the front line in France, survived fighting through Belgium and Germany, and by the end of the war was a captain.
But when asked about the war, he was always more likely to tell a story about his brothers.
His favorite: One of his responsibilities included helping to track the whereabouts of various units, and he used the resources available to him to plan surprise visits to Jim (who served behind the lines in a combat military police company with the Army) and — on the front line in southern France — Rufus.
“Rufus was having a piece of chicken when I opened the door,” Bob recalled during an interview with the Charlotte Observer last fall, miming like he was about to take a bite, then stopping, mouth agape. Rufus, who also participated in that interview, laughed and added: “I couldn’t believe it, that I would see my brother right in the middle of the line!”
Bob Dalton was born April 2, 1921, to Robert and Edith Dalton, who would have four more children — the boys, and then finally, a girl, Sally. The family lived in a new development outside of the city limits called Myers Park, 22 street-car stops from downtown and just a couple of blocks from the old Queens College.
Bob attended public schools in Charlotte, the McCallie prep school in Chattanooga, Tenn., and then North Carolina State College, where he participated in the ROTC program and earned a degree in textile manufacturing. (His father had made his career in textiles, having worked his way up from sales representative to a vice president job at Whitin Machine Works.)
Bob graduated from N.C. State as the war began to boil over, and almost immediately volunteered for the Army, heading off for infantry training at Fort Benning and eventually inspiring his three younger brothers to enlist.
With the exception of his military service and a four-year stint in Massachusetts (where he briefly moved to work a vice president job at Whitin Machine Works), Dalton spent his entire life in Charlotte.
He was a titan of the textile industry here. He was president and CEO of Cocker Machine & Foundry Co. of Gastonia in the late 1960s, and went on to start a firm that bought and sold textile companies in the U.S. and internationally. He also spent more than three decades as director of the American Textile Manufacturing Association.
But locally, he was best known for his philanthropy and community service. Among many titles he held at one time or another: president of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, president of the Charlotte City Club, director of the Arts & Science Council, director of Spirit Square, director of the Mecklenburg Chapter of the American Red Cross, director of the Good Fellows Club and school board member at a time when the system was taking its first steps toward integration.
Bob and Gwin Dalton spent 32 years living on four acres near Providence Day School, where they raised their daughters Millie and Dede. In 1995, they built another home. Among the touches that still decorate the couple’s 4,600-square-foot pink stucco home today are prints — hanging on the wall in a guest room — that Bob found buried in the snow in Belgium during World War II.
He remained full of life even near the end of it. He finally stopped driving in 2017 at Gwin’s behest, but during the warmer months, he continued his routine of grabbing an inflatable raft, slipping into his backyard pool and kicking his way from end to end for exercise.
When a reporter visited him at the house last fall, he sprung from his chair to greet his guest with a solid handshake.
As the interview neared its end, the reporter asked when Bob might be able to join his brothers Harry and Rufus for a longer conversation.
“Well, no matter what, let’s make the next day to get together as soon as possible,” Bob Dalton said, with a wide grin and a raspy chuckle — “’cause none of us are gettin’ any younger.”
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