2008 Marine of the Year
Gunnery Sgt. William Dixon
Originally from Evansville, Ind., Dixon has a 7-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son. The 37-year-old says he wants to stay in as long as the Corps will have him.
WASHINGTON—Gunnery Sgt. William J. Dixon has laid many to rest at Arlington National Cemetery, but few taxed his soul like the burial of the 2-year-old daughter of a junior Marine.
The child's death plunged her Marine father and his wife into the darkest period of their lives. So Dixon took on a role much deeper than the funeral director for Marine Corps Barracks Washington, D.C.
"I really had to nurture [that family]. I created a comfortable environment for them to walk through the valley of death," he said. "It's personal to me because this Marine is my brother, and that means his daughter is like my niece."
Dixon has been the point man for the past two years for Marine burials at the nation's most sacred burial ground, ensuring that Marines, their spouses and children receive the highest respect when they are laid to rest.
Some days, it's just one funeral. But others, he has to direct up to six. Like any one who deals so often with the intense grieving associated with death, Dixon said the duty can wear on his spirit.
"Sometimes I take home some bad days and some hard times," he said. "But I go home and give that to my God and I pray. And I don't complain."
Yet the 37-year-old Evansville, Ind., native never wavers from his solemn duty.
"His job is a very difficult one—physically, mentally and spiritually," said Gunnery Sgt. William Price, a public affairs staff noncommissioned officer at the barracks. "But he's in and out of this office in his dress blues, staying busy, and always, always being professional and dealing with families with the highest levels of respect."
Price, who nominated Dixon to be Marine of the Year, said the gunny ensures each service is personal.
"When he dips to one knee and hands that flag to the loved one, he's not just going through the motions. He looks deep into their soul and says a prayer," Price said. "Basically everyone he meets, he touches their lives."
When he's not graveside, Dixon often volunteers his time to several Washington area charities.
Some days he works with children who have lost parents in the military through the TAPS program. TAPS, short for Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, is a way for Dixon to continue his work of helping people grieve and honor their loved ones, he said.
He also works with the area's less fortunate.
"People don't realize that you don't have to be homeless to be hungry and in need," he said. "There are a lot of people out there who have a home but are still in need."
After two tours in Iraq, Dixon said he would be willing to return again tomorrow, if needed. But he's proud to be doing his part in the national capital region.
"A lot of young Marines want to be out in the fight, but it's important to know that no matter what your job is in the Corps, it's important to the overall mission," Dixon said. "We've all got to do our part in our own way."
As for that young Marine couple who lost their toddler daughter to a chronic illness, Dixon has kept in touch with them and helped them recover. The couple is trying for another child.