Profiles in Sacrifice: Pfc. Robert D. Watts

Drafted into the service in January 1942 at the age of 27, Pfc. Robert D. Watts, best known as Dalton to his family and friends, personified the American G.I. of World War II. Dalton, unmarried, was the oldest son with three brothers, all of whom served their country, and seven sisters. Dalton was raised in rural Florida during the depression where he learned to work hard and help the family. When time came to wear the uniform, he shipped out to Camp Blanding in Jacksonville, Florida for basic training. His service led him to Camp Wheeler, Georgia, a staging area in New Orleans, and then to Panama.

Dalton earned his glider badge in 1944, and then deployed overseas. As a member of the 550th Infantry Airborne Battalion, he fought through most of the major European campaigns of World War II, spending time in Italy, southern France, northern France, Belgium and Germany. Dalton’s last assignment was a transfer to the 17th Airborne Division, 194th Glider Infantry Regiment on March 1, 1945. On March 24, 1945 during Operation Varsity in Wesel Germany he was killed by automatic rifle fire after his glider landed.

In a letter written by Col. James R. Pierce on April 10, 1945, he extends his condolences to Dalton’s mother.

“Your son’s loss is deeply felt by his fellow soldiers and officers and I am sure that they join me in hoping that your pride in his record may in some part effect your great feeling of personal loss.” She chose to have her son buried at Netherlands American Cemetery.

Because he was not married and had no children, Dalton’s memory could have been easily forgotten. But in recent years, his nephew Mike Dawson has been working to honor his uncle’s legacy. “It’s important to keep your heritage in the forefront,” said Mike. “I’m afraid that if family members stop researching these heroes, then their memory will be lost.”

As part of his effort, Mike joined the American World War II Orphans Network in 2014. While the group was started by children who had lost fathers in the war, the group has expanded to welcome all family members who lost a loved one during World War II. Mike wanted to learn more about the uncle he never met. “My mom used to say he was a very hard working, very quiet, very stern, very serious man,” said Mike. “That’s about all I know about him on a personal level.”

Through his journey, he has connected with the adopter of his uncle’s grave. This Dutch woman has sent pictures from her visits to the cemetery, and Mike plans to meet her when he first visits Netherlands American Cemetery this month.

This Memorial Day weekend, thousands of Dutch citizens will gather at the cemetery, along with Mike and more than 50 members of AWON, to remember and honor the sacrifices made seven decades ago in the fight to liberate Europe.

Follow along  on their journey Memorial Day weekend via the ABMC website, Facebook, and Instagram as they return to Netherlands American Cemetery.

About ABMC
Established in 1923 by Congress, ABMC is a U.S. government agency charged with commemorating the service, achievements and sacrifice of the U.S. Armed Forces where they have served overseas since 1917. ABMC administers our nation’s overseas commemorative cemeteries and federal memorials. For more information visit www.abmc.gov, or connect with us on Facebook, Youtube or Instagram.