|Veterans In Focus|
Mr. Fred T. Wilson, 16th Infantry, 1st Division
By Tom Gudmestad
|Over There! Magazine - Winter 1990|
There are individuals for whom the poignancy of human experience during the Great War years, 1914-1918, evolves into a "somber lodestar." For these people the greatest, most lasting compensation, is to discover good companions among the everdwindling ranks of the surviving combatants. From these aging veterans, through their patience in the face questioning, their generous spirit, their sense of continuity through the generations, a 'orm of absolution is offered for our many sins and forgettings.
Among these survivors is Fred T. Wilson of Mamaroneck, N.Y. whose existence a capricious yet kind Fate disclosed.
Born and raised in Mamaroneck, Fred studied civil engineering at New York University and then following his father's example, he went into banking in 1915. When the U.S. declared war on Germany in April 1917, Fred was accepted into the Officers Training Camp at Plattsburg, N.Y. In August he received his commission as a Second Lieutenant and proceeded almost immediately overseas. To his abiding satisfaction, he served with Company B, 16th Infantry of the 1st Division A.E.F. until being wounded at Soissons, July 18, 1918 - an action in which he earned the Distinguished Service Cross.
The two American divisions engaged at Soissons - the 1st and 2nd - suffered some of their heaviest casualties of the war there. Unusually terse, the history of the 16th Infantry records of Wilson's battalion that, "It was with the greatest difficulty and heavy losses that the First Battalion finally made its objective, the Paris-Soissons road. That road lined with tall trees was a veritable dead line ... Never before nor since has the 16th suffered such heavy losses in the same length of time."
After five days of constant fighting the regiment was relieved; of the 1100 men who went over the top on the morning of July 18 with the 1st Bn., there were only 30-40 survivors. In the 16th Infantry, 204 men had been killed and 1530 were wounded or missing.
Fred Wilson returned to the 1st Division after the Armistice and an extended convalescence in hospital. He was appointed adjutant of his 1st Bn. and served with them throughout the occupation of Germany, returning home to Mamaroneck with a well-earned DSC and French Croix de Guerre. Subsequent congressional legislation in the 1930's authorized the Silver Star and Purple Heart decorations and as a result of his wartime wound and commendations, Fred Wilson received a Purple Heart and two Silver Stars.
Fred married his neighborhood sweetheart and during the inter-war years he prospered in the world of banking and finance. But in 1942, with another world war under way, he accepted an Army commission as a Major and spent the next four years in Transportation Corps and General Staff Corps embarking American troops for foreign theaters. After the close of hostilities, Fred returned to his banking career, leaving the Army with the rank of Colonel.
Widowed now but living on his own and enjoying a remarkable independence, Fred Wilson is the finest representative of his thoroughly grand generation. Soft spoken and understated, generous with his time and priceless memories, he prefers to reminisce about the old 16th Infantry rather than his own gallantry.
In November 1990 Fred celebrated his 95th birthday, the center of an extended and devoted family and not long after he gathered a further accolade when the commanding officer of the 16th Inf. made him a "Distinguished Member of the 16th Infantry Regiment."
In May 1990 when I was preparing for another trip to the battlefields in France and Flanders, Fred wrote to me with a simple request: 'Approach the Paris-Soissons road for me." I did so and picked for him a scarlet poppy from the clusters which splashed the young spring wheat in the fields near Missy.
Prior to leaving for France, I telephoned Fred and asked him to tell me again, in detail, about his experiences at Soissons. There was a long pause and he said softly, "God was good to me that day."
|Reprinted with permission.|