New Berlin War Hero to Rest in Arlington
Ceremony for Lt. Col. John H. Wilson to be held today
By Jaime North
Courtey of The Pennsyvania Daily Item
NEW BERLIN, Pennsylvania — Even as cancer took its toll on John Wilson's body, the retired Army lieutenant colonel never lost the sharp memory that enabled him to recite passages from books he had read years ago and recall vivid stories of his 32 years spent serving his country.
Among his more painful memories, according to his widow, were the faces of the men he lost in combat during the Vietnam War while in command of a rifle company with the 173rd Brigade Airborne Unit in 1966-67.
Those images haunted the 72-year-old New Berlin war hero up until his death six months ago, according to Christine Wilson, who will see her late husband receive full military funeral honors today when he is laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
Lieutenant Colonel Wilson was cremated upon his death from cancer on October 19, 2008.
“He remembered every one of them, even after he retired,” Mrs. Wilson said. “He often said how tough it was to lose a young person when you're a commander. It affected him for the rest of his life.”
Lieutenant Colonel Wilson's company suffered 34 casualties alone from one intense battle spanning two days during Operation Big Spring in February 1967.
More than 50 family members and friends — including a few veterans who served with Lieutenant Colonel Wilson in Vietnam — are expected to join Mrs. Wilson at the service, which will be one of 30 ceremonies held daily Monday through Friday at Arlington.
Nearly 7,000 funerals were held last year, according to a cemetery spokesperson.
Among the famous Americans buried at the historic cemetery are President John F. Kennedy and Army Lieutenant Audie Murphy, the country's most decorated soldier with 28 medals earned from serving in World War II.
Lieutenant Colonel Wilson, who battled liposarcoma for seven years, will be brought to the gravesite by a horse-drawn caisson and then honored by a casket team, a firing party, a platoon team, a military band and a bugler playing Taps.
Mrs. Wilson said her husband agreed to the Arlington service before his death.
“He knew (Arlington) is a historical place and felt it would be such a honor to be buried there,” Mrs. Wilson said. “Even though it's far away from here, I too feel it's such a great honor for him.”
Mrs. Wilson said her husband reconnected with some of the 173rd Airborne veterans 15 years ago at a reunion in Rochester, Minnesota. Before then, Mrs. Wilson said her husband often wondered what the men thought of him because he was such a tough commander.
“At least five of them came up to him and said they had patterned their lives after him,” Mrs. Wilson said. “They had so much love and respect for him. I know it made him feel better about things, even though there were many who didn't come home after war.”
Knowing the kinship veterans share will help Mrs. Wilson get through the service, she said.
“I have mixed feelings, because I want to have him here with me,” Mrs. Wilson said of having her husband buried at Arlington. “On the other hand, I'm so proud to have this honor for him. He was very patriotic, as I am, and going to Arlington would be emotional, aside from being there for this occasion.”
Mrs. Wilson added, “I'm going to draw strength in knowing he will now be with many of those men he missed every day.”
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard