World War II veteran Sidney Walton is 100 years old, and he’s in a bit of a race.
Walton, who served as an Army infantryman in the Pacific Theater, is on a mission to travel to all 50 states and meet all 50 governors — and as many other people as he can along the way.
He landed in Raleigh on Sunday — North Carolina is his 22nd state — and met with N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper (and Cooper’s “granddog” Ben) at the Executive Mansion on Monday. He’ll visit more North Carolina cities this week, including Fayetteville, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, High Point and Blowing Rock.
Walton, a San Diego resident, visited The News & Observer office after leaving the governor’s mansion. He’s calling his mission the No Regrets Tour. When he was younger, he had a chance to meet a Civil War veteran and he passed it up. He said has regretted it ever since.
The number of World War II veterans is dwindling. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reported 496,777 Americans who served in the war are still alive — out of 16 million Americans who served. That number continues to decrease; the department said 348 veterans die every day, according to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
This week’s journey is not Walton’s first time in North Carolina. Walton spent a few years teaching geology at N.C. State and at Duke after the war, before pursuing an advanced degree at Yale.
In his travels, which included commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy earlier this month, Walton is accompanied by his son, Paul Walton, and Paul’s girlfriend, Amy Cowden.
“North Carolina’s support for their veterans is tangible,” Cowden said. “They reach out and touch him and say, ‘Thank you.’”
Cowden said a Fayetteville man heard Walton was in town and made the trip to Raleigh with his 12-year-old daughter. He wanted his daughter to meet a World War II veteran, Cowden said.
Paul Walton said his father’s travels are being funded by the veteran’s own pension, so they’re on a shoestring budget. They aren’t asking for donations, but there is a GoFundMe link on their website, GoSidney.com, which also chronicles all of his travels.
Paul Walton said he’s excited to share this experience with his father.
“It’s a beautiful message,” Paul said. “He wants people to know how few World War II vets are out there, and to give everyone a chance to meet one before they are gone.”
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