Four broth­ers, all WWII vet­er­ans, are all in their 90s

Lodi News-Sentinel - - LOCAL/NATION - By Théo­den Janes

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. — Per­haps the quick­est way to start an ar­gu­ment with the Dal­ton broth­ers is to sug­gest that — be­cause they all served in the U.S. mil­i­tary dur­ing World War II — they might be he­roes.

It also might be the quick­est way to bring them to­gether.

“Oh, no,” says Ru­fus Dal­ton, shak­ing his head solemnly. It seems he’s been wait­ing to get this off his chest.

“Speak­ing for my broth­ers, let me say up­front that we’re not four he­roes. The real he­roes are those that gave their lives dur­ing the war ... We’re just four guys that out­lived every­body else. And we were just part of the uni­fied na­tional ef­fort to take three dic­ta­tors out and put the world back in shape again. So, we’re not he­roes.”

On this af­ter­noon, just three weeks shy of Vet­er­ans Day, Ru­fus sits next to Harry, Bob and a framed pho­to­graph of Jim in the liv­ing room of Bob’s home in Char­lotte’s Wen­dover-Sedge­wood neigh­bor­hood. (Although the photo makes it seem like they’re pay­ing trib­ute to a de­parted loved one, it’s just that Jim lives in At­lanta and isn’t as mo­bile as his sib­lings.)

Harry lets a few sec­onds of si­lence hang in the air, then begs to dif­fer with Ru­fus.

“But see, that’s the modesty of my broth­ers,” says Harry, youngest of the four at 91. “They’ve al­ways been my he­roes. I’ll tell you that.”

Ru­fus, 94, chuck­les as he slaps Harry’s right knee three times. He says, qui­etly: “Thanks, Harry.”

“Grow­ing up be­hind these three broth­ers,” Harry con­tin­ues, “it was quite a chal­lenge to me to mea­sure up.”

Ru­fus leans close to his baby brother: “You mea­sured up good.” Fi­nally, Bob, the el­dest at 97, chimes in: “Still mea­sur­ing up.”

It’s a ten­der ex­change — and

a re­mark­ably im­prob­a­ble scene: Four Char­lotte-born and -raised broth­ers, all in their 90s, all of whom were on ac­tive duty when WWII ended more than 73 years ago — and all of whom have out­lived al­most every man they knew who served in that war, save for the ones they’re re­lated to.

Fewer than 500,000 of the 16 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who served in the Sec­ond World War are still liv­ing, ac­cord­ing to U.S. De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs statis­tics. The VA es­ti­mates 348 of them die each day.

In fact, Ru­fus says, this sum­mer he be­came the sole sur­viv­ing mem­ber of the Army’s 100th In­fantry Di­vi­sion, which en­tered WWII via the beaches of Mar­seilles, France, in Oc­to­ber 1944. He knows, be­cause he’s been the un­of­fi­cial cor­re­spon­dence sec­re­tary for his com­pany since the turn of the cen­tury.

Ru­fus is also the un­of­fi­cial cor­re­spon­dence sec­re­tary for his fam­ily. Upon learn­ing that the Ob­server was in­ter­ested in writ­ing about him and his broth­ers, Ru­fus wrote “a brief bio­graph­i­cal sketch” of their lives, along with de­tailed in­di­vid­ual dossiers on all four, as well as an­other on their stil­l­liv­ing younger sis­ter: Sally Robinson, also of Char­lotte.

And it’s clear that each Dal­ton si­b­ling is in­ter­est­ing enough to merit a story at least as long as this one. Some snap­shots, from old­est to youngest:

Bob landed in France in 1944 as a pla­toon leader in the Army’s 8th In­fantry Di­vi­sion, suf­fered a grue­some leg wound in ar­tillery fire that Septem­ber, then re­turned to ac­tion as a cap­tain with the 29th In­fantry Reg­i­ment be­fore be­ing hon­or­ably dis­charged af­ter the war as a ma­jor. Later in life, among many other ac­com­plish­ments, he was a tex­tile ex­ec­u­tive and pres­i­dent of the Char­lotte Sym­phony Orches­tra.

Jim sailed for Eu­rope in 1944 and served closely be­hind the lines in a com­bat mil­i­tary po­lice com­pany with the Army dur­ing the Rhineland and Cen­tral Eu­rope cam­paigns; he was en route to the Pa­cific Ocean theater when the Ja­panese sur­ren­dered. He moved to At­lanta 60 years ago, re­tir­ing in 1996 from Ca­raus­tar In­dus­tries, one of the coun­try’s largest man­u­fac­tur­ers of re­cy­cled pa­per­board prod­ucts, hav­ing served as pres­i­dent, CEO and chair­man of the board. (Though he was ab­sent from the in­ter­view, and wasn’t able to join via cell­phone or a video call due to dif­fi­culty speak­ing, his broth­ers brought his name up at every op­por­tu­nity: “We’re very proud of Jim. We re­ally wish he could be here, too,” Ru­fus said.)

Ru­fus en­tered the front line in the Vos­ges Moun­tains in Novem­ber 1944 as a cor­po­ral in the 100th. While his unit was en­gaged with the Ger­man Army, he took a piece of shrap­nel in the head — and re­turned to the bat­tle­field the next day. By the time the war ended in 1945, he had risen to first lieu­tenant. Among his many post­war ac­com­plish­ments: He helped found a tex­tile mill and a mi­cro­cir­cuits plant in Mooresville, and has spent half a cen­tury on the board of the North Carolina Out­ward Bound School.

Harry joined the Navy the day be­fore his 18th birth­day in 1945 and had qual­i­fied for the Naval Ra­dio School, but the war ended be­fore he’d fin­ished. So he served at the Shel­ton Naval Sta­tion in Nor­folk, Va., un­til he was hon­or­ably dis­charged in 1946. In busi­ness, he ran a sub­sidiary of brother Jim’s com­pany in Rock Hill, S.C. (where he still lives), even­tu­ally suc­ceed­ing Jim as pres­i­dent, and — con­tin­u­ing his fam­ily’s tra­di­tion of sup­port­ing non­prof­its — was chair­man of the Sierra Club Foun­da­tion for many years.

As a young girl dur­ing the war, Sally gob­bled up news­pa­per and ra­dio re­ports about her broth­ers’ com­pa­nies’ where­abouts, giv­ing her par­ents daily up­dates. She grew up to serve her com­mu­nity as pas­sion­ately as her broth­ers served their coun­try: A found­ing mem­ber of the Levine Mu­seum of the New South, she has served on the boards of the Arts & Science Coun­cil, the Char­lotte Sym­phony and the McColl Cen­ter — to name a few. (Her hus­band, Rus­sell Robinson, is a found­ing part­ner of one of North Carolina’s largest law firms, Robinson Brad­shaw.)

Ru­fus com­piled all of this with the idea of cel­e­brat­ing the en­tire Dal­ton fam­ily and their long lives of ser­vice, and even when asked more about the war, framed ac­com­plish­ments as a group. In an email, he listed war dec­o­ra­tions this way: “The broth­ers col­lec­tively re­ceived two Bronze Stars for valor, two Pur­ple Hearts for wounds in ac­tion, two Le­gion of Honor medals from France, and two Pres­i­den­tial Unit Ci­ta­tions, among a num­ber of bat­tle rib­bons.”

And though you can sur­mise which Dal­tons re­ceived which ac­co­lades from the de­scrip­tions above, Ru­fus re­peated dur­ing an in­ter­view: “Col­lec­tively, we as a fam­ily have these medals.”

Their fa­vorite mem­o­ries of wartime are about fam­ily.

Per­haps most no­tably, Bob, while work­ing with his out­fit to track the where­abouts of var­i­ous units, de­vised ways to make sur­prise vis­its to Jim and — on the front line in south­ern France — Ru­fus.

LORENA RIOS TREVINO/CHAR­LOTTE OB­SERVER

Ru­fus, 94, Harry, 91, and Bob Dal­ton, 97, with Harry hold­ing a framed photo of their brother Jim, 96, who lives in At­lanta. Ru­fus says the most com­mon re­ac­tions he gets from peo­ple once they learn he fought in WWII: 1. “Thank you for your ser­vice.”; 2. “What’s keep­ing you alive?”

COUR­TESY OF THE DAL­TON FAM­ILY

Bob and Ru­fus Dal­ton shortly af­ter re­turn­ing home from Eu­rope in May of 1946. They spent the last five months of their ser­vice, dur­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion af­ter the end of the war, in the same reg­i­ment, then came home on the same ship.

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