Veteran enjoys trip of a lifetime

Posted Monday, Sep. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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More than a half century after the end of World War II, Kenneth Walcott talks about the good times -- hearing Gen. George Patton speak to the troops, the dog he befriended and the beautiful women he met in Europe. When asked about his trip with Honor Flight, the 90-year-old veteran has similar stories -- letters from schoolchildren, making new friends and dancing with beautiful women.

“That was the best trip I have ever had,” Walcott said of his trip to Washington D.C. “Everybody was so nice. The Air Force band played for us. The girls came and picked us out to dance. I got a real good one.”

Since 2005, the non-profit Honor Flight Network has taken more than 100,000 veterans to see the World War II Memorial. On Sept. 14, it was Walcott’s turn.

“He was one of the oldest ones, but he moved around better than all of them,” said Phillip Wilkins, 30, who went with his grandfather on the trip. “My grandpa was always the first off the bus and he always made sure to give one of the women a kiss.”

The veterans stayed overnight, taken to Arlington Memorial Cemetery and a lot of the memorials in Washington, were treated to a dance with Big Band music and received letters of appreciation from family, friends and schoolchildren on their flight home.

Walcott, who grew up in Valley Mills east of Waco, was drafted into the Army at age 21 in 1943, sent to Fort Knox, Ken., and later to Arizona for months of training for a then-secret outfit that had high-powered lights on their tanks to blind the enemy. With the United States at war, Walcott and his 740th Tank Battalion were soon on the way to Europe.

When asked about his experiences, Walcott talks about Beta, the little white dog that he and a friend picked up and befriended.

“After the war, we flipped a coin for him,” he said. “I lost and I had to loan him $99 to get him home.”

He talks about the time after the war, when he drove a truck transporting an Army band around Austria for seven months, and about the cute girls he met.

“We hear the good stories,” said Dorothy Walcott, his wife of 66 years. “He’s the biggest denier. When we get to heaven, there will be a line of deniers.”

Walcott also talks about hearing Patton speak after his unit landed in England.

“He said ‘you kill that so-and-so before he kills you,’” he recalled. “He didn’t say so-and-so.”

When pressed, Walcott admits that he does have some bad memories.

“I don’t tell her a lot about picking up dead bodies,” Walcott said. “I don’t tell her that.”

But some things are hard to hide, like landing in France on Utah Beach, right after the Allies landed at Normandy on D-Day. Walcott’s division went ashore and made camp in an apple orchard, then woke up to fighter pilots shooting at his tank. He crawled to the top and opened fire with a mounted machine gun, shooting down one of the planes.

He missed the start of the Battle of the Bulge after a tank engine he was replacing fell on his hand, landing him in the hospital for eight days. After being released from the hospital, he was assigned to drive a truck, supplying gas and ammunition to Patton’s Third Army.

The worst parts of the war, the ones Walcott doesn’t like to remember, were seeing the people who died the day before the end of the war and the day the soldiers liberated a concentration camp.

“We were going into this town and there were American soldiers on both sides of the road that had been shot,” said Walcott, who was in Czechoslovakia when the war ended. “I thought if they had made it one more day, they would have made it.”

“I remember more than anything the people in the concentration camp,” he said of the Ohrdruf concentration camp, the first Nazi camp liberated by U.S. troops.

“They had a long trench where they pitched them in and covered the bodies with lime,” Walcott said. “I looked in the shower, but we didn’t go in there. I saw the dead, bodies lying around. (The survivors) were skin and bones. They couldn’t get out of bed, they were so poor. “

There had been rumors about the concentration camps, Dorothy Walcott said, but until Ohrdruf was liberated the United States had no idea how bad the conditions were.

Walcott returned to Texas in 1946, met and married Dorothy and started working in construction. Their family, which grew to include three sons and a daughter, traveled around the country before settling in Fort Worth and later Arlington. Walcott went into business for himself, excavating and leveling lots.

These days, he enjoys working in his garden, spending time with his dog and teasing his wife. He likes wearing his Army cap “just so he can get attention,” Dorothy Walcott says.

“I think we’re at a stage where people realize the World War II veterans aren’t going to be around too much longer,” she said.

She and her family are glad that Walcott got to spend a weekend feeling appreciated for his military service.

“For veterans, it’s like getting something back for what they did,” Wilkins said. “It shows that the country does appreciate what they did.”

And he won’t ever forget it, he said.

“It was the trip of a lifetime to be with him and take care of him when he’s done that for his family,” Wilkins said. “Some day I’ll go back to Washington D.C., and I’m going to remember being with him.”

Amanda Rogers, 817-473-4451 Twitter: @AmandaRogersNM

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