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Memories of Liberation

by Tim Bullard

Thaxton Dixon sat on his green John Deere mower Tuesday in Greensboro as the fall sunshine warmed the dry grass and the roof of his home, built by the same hands that put up the Riviera Motor Lodge brick by brick.

Dixon, the owner of the lodge, recently donated an American flag to the North Carolina town of Atlantic Beach, where it’s located, in honor of his late wife to remind those who forget to pledge allegiance to this country’s flag.

Birds sang as the 89-year-old veteran talked about his life.

“I was born in the twelfth month, the ninth day in 1917 in Alamance County near Burlington,” he said. He later served as a quartermaster in the US Army during wartime.

“I shipped out, I was inducted in 1942 from Fort Bragg. I went to Cheyenne, Wyoming,” he said.

“Well I was drafted,” he said. “I wouldn’t join the Salvation Army. They were wanting me to re-enlist. I told them I wouldn’t join the Salvation Army to play music and pick up money. I stayed there about three years. I was in riflery. I taught all the guys all the positions. I was the only one who made expert out of seventy-five guys. My father taught me how to shoot a rifle. He wouldn’t let me load it until we saw a squirrel. I was just a little kid. That was how I learned how to shoot a rifle. A man’s in trouble if he gets in front of me with a rifle.”

He was baptized and remains a member of St. Stephens Church near his home off Young’s Mill Road, where he raises turnip greens and collards.

“I’m an outdoor man. I love the outdoors,” he explained, pointing to his precious garden before walking inside to sit on the couch. “I love the inside.”

As he talks about his life, he learns forward, his tall, massive body crouched as he gestures with his large hands. On a kitchen wall is “The 10 Commandments of Golfing.” Before there was the military, he built houses.

“I’ve built four houses out here in this area,” he said. He also built the motel, he said, as he showed photographs on the wall of his wife, his parents and other family members.

Back to the Army.

Dixon’s commander picked him for a very special assignment: to visit the concentration camps and liberate them from the Nazis, sending him from one heap of human misery to another, where he witnessed things no person should ever have to see.

“After the war, [my commander] picked me out of about twenty or twenty-five guys. You weren’t supposed to have any arms,” said Dixon. “We had a jeep with a red cross on it. I took a carbine. I wasn’t going to take any chances. You understand what I’m talking about?”

He wears a hearing aid. And he does not mince words. It all comes back to him like it was yesterday.

“He didn’t know I had this. We went to the concentration camp. It’s where they sent the missile over to England. They had a railroad track. They had power machine guns about eight feet high and six feet wide. He got him one, and I got me one. I got mine back. The chaplain he made a bargain. I forget his name. So I made the barter.”

He traded a violin to the chaplain for the gun.

“People were starving to death, butt naked,” he said. “Women and children. They were up under what looked like a car shed. We left there and went to a big barracks. It looked to be seven-by-fifty feet long. It had a bed which wasn’t but about that wide.” He held his big hands close together.

“You would walk down, people laying on both sides. They would get up and walk, nothing but bones. You know your elbow bones and your knee bones are the biggest bones you’ve got. It was frightening. The chaplain, he had some candy. One of them said [a foreign word for candy]. The chaplain gave him a piece of candy. He ate it. After he ate it he died because his intestines were tender.

“We left there and went to another one. We went to a place they drilled them. We had an interpreter. They drilled them, and they fell down about 35 feet to cement. They were telling them they were going to take a shower, women and children. They’d drill them, and they’d fall down. It wouldn’t kill them. The walls had spikes. The imprints of human bodies were there. They would hang them where they couldn’t get up, and they’d die.

“We left there and went to a medical center. The chaplain was still with us. We went in there. Every part of the human body was in there in glass. I guess it was alcohol. The doctor kept it. They’d see a man or woman walking down the street limping. They’d get them and kill them.”

He stayed at another location, with the chaplain whom he was charged with escorting. Dixon slept upstairs by himself because he was black, he said. That is where he found the violin in the leather case. He brought a Luger, a rifle on a tripod and another gun home.

“What I saw over there, I don’t even have words to use. You wouldn’t think that human beings would treat other human beings that way. You see it on television. That ain’t nothing [compared to] what I saw. Just terrible. So I wouldn’t take anything for my experience, but I wouldn’t want to go through it again.”

It made him feel great to help the prisoners.

“Oh yeah. You know what I mean? I don’t care what nationality you are, I try to help people. You don’t take advantage of me or you just because of their skin or color. God created every man equal. Isn’t that what the Bible said? Why would I want to mistreat you because you are white or me because I am a black man? People ask me what my nationality was, and I say, “Hell, I don’t know.’ I say my daddy was a traveling salesman. He did a lot of getting around, seven girls and two boys.”

He laughs.

“Like today it’s frightening. They are showing everything they are doing in Iraq right now. There’s only so much they will let you see. It’s pitiful. You’d be surprised to know. When you are fighting, you get mad. You don’t mind shooting somebody if you are mad. Just control your temper. You should control it. A lot of people, they don’t want to be there.

“You see a lot of American soldiers being tried for mistreating those people. You see that on television. Right or wrong? People are angry. A lot of people are angry at America. Look at the news. There was something on television last night about something in Texas where they were going to send [illegal immigrants] back. I know it’s a law that if you come to this country you have to be a citizen. What’s going to happen to this country? There are a lot of drug dealers who come to this country. People let them get by. Money. See what I’m talking about? I call them duckies.

“You’ve got so many in this country. Before it’s over, there’s going to be a war right here in America. I hate to say it. I hate to say it. It’s going to be dangerous for a man to get out here and walk down the street.”

He built his motel 41 years ago, and he shot the points in surveyor’s terms for the town hall and for Canadian Lodge.

“I built four cottages,” he said. “Last month I donated an American flag in honor of my wife. They didn’t have an American flag. They had a city hall and didn’t even have an American flag. Everywhere I’ve gone they always have an American flag.”

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