UPDATE: Spokane Police announced Friday morning they’ve arrested one juvenile male suspect in connection with the beating death of Delbert Belton. Updates on the arrest can be read here.
ORIGINAL STORY: An 88-year-old man who survived the Battle of Okinawa in World War II died Thursday after police say two teenagers beat him and left him for dead in his parked car.
Delbert Belton, nicknamed “Shorty” by his friends for his 5-foot-tall stature, was waiting for a friend Wednesday night at the Eagles Lodge on 6410 N. Lidgerwood St. Two men approached him in his car at random and beat him, police said. He was found with serious head injuries and was transported to the hospital, where he later died.
“I was going to surprise him last night and show up there, then I got the phone call telling me he was dead at Sacred Heart,” said Ted Denison, a friend of Belton.
Police launched a search Thursday for two black males 16 to 19 years old, releasing surveillance images of the suspects. Both are of average height and build and were dressed all in black at the time of the incident. One was wearing a do-rag. As of late Thursday, neither had been arrested.
The community was outraged by the beating, lighting up social media and news websites with angry and mournful comments for the man who friends say touched so many lives.
Belton was born and raised in Spokane before he joined the Army and was shipped to the Pacific Theater during World War II. Belton fought in the Battle of Okinawa, where he was shot in the leg, friends said.
“He put his life on the line for our country to come home and 60 years later? Get beat to death?” Denison said. “That’s not right.”
Alberta Tosh, Belton’s sister, said her brother “went through hell” during his years in the Army. Though she was too little to remember her brother going to war, she does remember how reluctant he was to talk about the bloody battle in 1945 that took the lives of more than 12,000 American soldiers.
“I know he came home shell-shocked pretty bad,” she said.
Belton spent 33 years working in Kaiser Aluminum’s Trentwood rolling mill, beginning in 1949 and retiring in 1982.
He was a skilled member of the Steelworkers union, said Dan Wilson, president of Local 338.
He remained active as a retiree and just last week dropped into the union hall, Wilson said.
Tosh said her brother lived a full and busy life. He loved to dance, repair old cars and was always surrounded by close friends and loved ones.
“He was a good guy who would help anybody if they needed help,” she said.
Lill Duncan was another close friend of Belton. He took her mom out on several dates just to keep her company. Duncan’s phone is filled with photos of the smiling Belton, sticking his tongue out with her daughter and holding a bouquet of flowers for her mother.
“He was so awesome,” Duncan said. “Anybody that didn’t get to know him missed out on a wonderful angel in their life.”
Duncan can’t imagine what drove anyone to kill her friend after his many years of helping and loving the people around him. Even up to his final moments he was giving, she said. He was waiting in the parking lot of the Eagles Lodge so his friend wouldn’t have to walk in by herself late at night.
“He laid his life down for our country,” she said. “He lived his life every day to make somebody else happy. It wasn’t all about him. It was about what he could do for everybody else.”
Denison knew Belton for about 23 years. The two met when Denison repaired Belton’s car. The pair found a shared passion for fixing old cars and have been close ever since. They’d visit for coffee almost every day, and when Denison didn’t return Belton’s calls he’d keep calling to make sure he was all right.
“After my dad passed away he was kind of like my dad,” Denison said. “I can’t fathom somebody doing this to him.”
Denison’s a veteran himself, serving in the Iran-Iraq War in 1988. They didn’t talk much about their wounds or their time overseas; it was too hard, Denison said.
“Being a vet myself, I don’t talk about stuff like that either,” he said. “It’s painful for him to talk about it.”
Denison occasionally teased Belton about his membership in the Eagles Lodge – it was for “old fogies,” he said. But the night his friend died, Denison was planning on visiting there for a round of pool. Timing didn’t bring Denison to the Eagles Lodge until police had surrounded the scene.
His best friend was gone.
“I don’t care who you are, you don’t beat up an old man,” Denison said. “You’re supposed to respect your elders, not beat them to death.”