'Hero' Red Devils paratrooper from Gosport, commended by King Charles and United States army for bravery, given special send-off after tragic death during training accident

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A ‘HERO’ paratrooper commended by King Charles and the United States army for his bravery in saving others was given a momentous send-off following his tragic death.

Hundreds of people packed The Oaks Crematorium in Havant for ‘best of the best’ Dean Walton, Sergeant Major of the army’s world-famous parachute display team, The Red Devils, who performed an incredible display before landing on a field next to the crematorium.

Sgt Walton, affectionately known as ‘Waldo’, died on October 14 ‘doing what he loved’. The 36-year-old from Gosport was tragically killed after a mid-air collision during a training camp in Spain when his parachute became entangled with another jumper before he fell to the ground.

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Family, friends and military personnel from around the world attended the moving service for the ‘warrior’ and ‘modest’ dad-of one who served the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, known as 3 Para. The hearse entered the grounds of the crematorium to a guard of honour before Sgt Walton’s comrades parachuted down from the sky. Following the service, after The Last Post had rang out, a Guards firing party fired three rounds as the area fell silent to remember the distinguished servicemen.

Pictured is: Sgt Dean Walton meeting then Prince Charles.Pictured is: Sgt Dean Walton meeting then Prince Charles.
Pictured is: Sgt Dean Walton meeting then Prince Charles.

During the ceremony, tales of Sgt Walton’s heroism were told including how he ‘risked his own life several times’ when saving the lives of others. In Afghanistan, a member of the engagement support team was shot after they came under fire from the enemy. ‘Without any thought for his own safety Waldo ran out and retrieved the casualty,’ Royal Navy Captain Pat O’Brien, who saw Sgt Walton grow up after living next door to his family, said in his moving eulogy. Only later on was it realised that Sgt Walton had suffered a gunpowder burn to his eye that he ‘never fully recovered from’.

Sgt Walton joined the Infantry Training Centre in North Yorkshire in 2004 where he was identified as a ‘rising star’ before going on to join 3 Para in 2005. In December 2016 Sgt Walton passed the selection course and joined the army’s Red Devils Freefall Parachute Display Team before being promoted to Sgt Major. He remains only one of two Red Devils to ever jump onto the lawn of the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia - the headquarters of the US defence department. In 2021 he was voted outstanding Red Devil of the Year. ‘He was quite simply, the best of the best,’ Capt O’Brien said.

While in the USA on a training camp, a member of the US Special Forces freefall team had a ‘catastrophic landing’. ‘Waldo was first on the scene and provided life-saving first aid,’ Capt O’brien said.

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Tribute from the Red Devils of which Sgt Walton was a member. Funeral of Sgt Dean Walton, The Oaks Crematorium, Havant
Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 191122-37)Tribute from the Red Devils of which Sgt Walton was a member. Funeral of Sgt Dean Walton, The Oaks Crematorium, Havant
Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 191122-37)
Tribute from the Red Devils of which Sgt Walton was a member. Funeral of Sgt Dean Walton, The Oaks Crematorium, Havant Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 191122-37)

As a result Sgt Walton was awarded the US Army’s Commendation Medal for outstanding achievement and heroic service. He also received a letter from King Charles, then Prince Charles, who wrote: ‘You are not just an outstanding credit to the regiment but also to this country.’

Despite the incredible achievement his humbleness was perfectly illustrated by him not even telling his family. ‘Waldo was a modest man and nobody in the family knew anything about this until letters arrived at home and he simply said: “I forgot to say”,’ Capt O’Brien said.

While serving with the Red Devils Sgt Walton became a regular visitor to the US where he met his wife Shelby in January 2020. Despite difficulties with Covid and extended periods of separation Sgt Walton proposed in May 2021 - with the pair marrying on the same day. ‘Theirs was a long distance romance but a true love story,’ Capt O’Brien said.

Then on September 24, Sgt Walton became a dad to Stella who was born at Florida Orlando Hospital. ‘(Stella) was without doubt my best accomplishment,’ the proud Red Devil said after her birth.

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Tribute from the Red Devils of which Sgt Walton was a member. Funeral of Sgt Dean Walton, The Oaks Crematorium, Havant
Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 191122-38)Tribute from the Red Devils of which Sgt Walton was a member. Funeral of Sgt Dean Walton, The Oaks Crematorium, Havant
Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 191122-38)
Tribute from the Red Devils of which Sgt Walton was a member. Funeral of Sgt Dean Walton, The Oaks Crematorium, Havant Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 191122-38)

It was only eight weeks ago when Shelby and Stella came to England for the first time. They met family and friends and celebrated Stella’s first birthday.

However, the ‘trip of a lifetime’ was over far too quickly before they had to return to America. ‘Dean waved them off and kissed them goodbye at Heathrow before travelling down to Gatwick and then onto Spain (where the tragic accident happened),’ Capt O’ Brien said.

The grief from everyone was ‘eloquently summarised’ by Colonel Commandant of the Parachute Regiment Lt General Harrison, who said: ‘The brightest stars burn the shortest.’

A family statement said: ‘It is with a great sense of overwhelming pride that we have gathered to celebrate the life of Dean, who was sadly taken from us doing what he lived for, parachuting. Our heartfelt thanks to all those who have sent flowers and messages of condolence and, of course, the Parachute Regiment and airborne community who have provided such a magnificent backdrop for Dean’s funeral.’

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Mourners. Funeral of Sgt Dean Walton, The Oaks Crematorium, Havant
Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 191122-23)Mourners. Funeral of Sgt Dean Walton, The Oaks Crematorium, Havant
Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 191122-23)
Mourners. Funeral of Sgt Dean Walton, The Oaks Crematorium, Havant Picture: Chris Moorhouse (jpns 191122-23)

Capt O’Brien remembered first laying eyes on Sgt Walton as an 11-year-old asking for his ball back before watching him ‘grow’ into becoming a ‘hero’. He said: ‘Dean was an outstanding paratrooper. The word hero is often overused but in this instance is totally appropriate. He was truly a hero and did many heroic things. It’s a tragic loss and a void has been left that will never be filled. We will all feel it forever.

‘He touched people across the world including a lot of people in the special forces community and regiments. People were safer because of the work he did.’

Capt O’Brien said ‘we have all lost someone very special’ who ‘died doing what he loved’, before adding: ‘Rest in peace, brave warrior.’

A poem read by Sgt First Class Jerry Germany, of the US Army Special Forces, said: ‘You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back. Or you can do what he’d want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.’

A fundraiser to support Shelby and Stella has been set-up which has already fetched over $10,000.