WWI Vet Feels a Bond with Soldiers in Gulf
By Andrew J. Skerritt, Staff Writer
Sunday, November 11, 1990
In uniform, 1919He was a dashing officer who wore high boots and a Sam Browne belt and packed a side pistol. He fought in the trenches "over there."

Fred T. Wilson of Mamaroneck is 95 now. It has been more than 70 years since he celebrated the end of World War I -- the war that was supposed to end all wars.

But on the eve of Veterans Day, his thoughts have poignantly turned to the unsettling fact that Americans have fought three wars since he bade a farewell to arms and are preparing to fight a fourth in the Persian Gulf.

"I think of those boys all the time," Wilson said of the troops assembled on the hot sands of Saudi Arabia.

Wilson's memories of serving as a soldier in France are still vivid, although names of places and fellow doughboys sometimes elude him. He was a second lieutenant in the Army's 16th Infantry Regiment, a proud unit whose battle resume includes Gettysburg and Antietam.

He spent his 22nd birthday in a trench he shared with British soldiers. He was fortunate to have made it to his 23rd.

On July 18, 1918, at Soissons, a soft-nosed machine gun bullet split the stock on the rifle he was carryIng and shattered the knuckles on ing right hand. He got a Purple Heart for his wound.

"I was very lucky," he recalled. "The rifle blocked the bullet from killing me."

His eyes lit up when he remembered another medal he received -- the Distinguished Service Cross. U.S. Army Commander General John J. Pershing personally pinned it on his chest.

"It was a terrifically exciting time," Wilson said.

The massive mobilization of American troops during World War I makes the Persian Gulf affair, so far, look like a small get-together.

More than 4.7 million were called. Countless soldiers never made it overseas because the war ended too soon.

Of the 116,000 who died, 17 were from Mamaroneck. They are honored at a war memorial at Tompkins Square, off Boston Post Road.

Wilson is not the only veteran who recalls the war. Other surviving World War I vets include Burton Meighan, Harry Sullivan, Jimmy Amoruso, Charles Stenman, Gordon Proctor and his brother, Beresford.

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs in Washington, they are among 90,000 surviving World War I veterans -- 7,000 in New York.

Veterans Affairs spokesman George Brown said 10,000 World War I veterans died last year, and with the average age of vets reaching around 95, the rate is expected to increase.

The oldest surviving U.S. veteran is 105-year-old Nathan Cooks, who enlisted in 1901.

Wilson was born November 4, 1895, 12 days before Mamaroneck village was incorporated.

In October, he was named a Distinguished Member of the 16th Infantry Regiment at a brief ceremony at Village Hall.

William S. Hathaway, honorary colonel for the regiment based in Fayetteville, N.C, said Wilson "epitomizes the citizen soldier."

"Since the days of the minuteman, it has always been the citizen soldier who has borne the greatest share of the burden in times of national crises," Hathaway wrote in a letter to Wilson. "You and your comrades of World War I helped set the standard for those of us who followed."

Wilson, a widower, still drives his Cadillac, cooks his own meals and goes shopping. He hardly ever misses his weekly Lions Club meetings. A founding member of the Mamaroneck chapter. Wilson was cited for his perfect attendance for two consecutive years.

From 1923 to 1929, he served three terms as the Mamaroneck village clerk-treasurer. Until 1975, Wilson was the chief operating officer for the Mamaroneck Federal Savings and Loan Association, which has since been renamed the Sound Federal Savings and Loan Association.

At the time of his retirement, Wilson remembered the Mamaroneck of long ago, in a time of peace. He spoke of barber shops, pool halls, vacant lots, feed stores, schools and carriage shops.

Nothing about war. Strictly Main Street stuff.

After exhaustively covering one side of the village's commercial strip in his narrative, the citizen soldier paused, and said: "Let me tell you a little bit about the other side..."

Copyright Gannett Suburban Newspapers. Reprinted with permission.

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