“It’s never too late to honor a member of the greatest generation,” said John Hanisee, Chief Warrant Officer IV when approached by the family members of Bill Wilson. John recently conducted a military service honoring the late Navy veteran, his wife “Mama Lou,” four daughters and extended family at the Rosehill Cemetery in Tyler.
“Bill died due to injuries from a vehicle accident in 1971,” said Dale Hedrick, whose wife Laura is the oldest of the four daughters. “The family was caught in such grief at the sudden loss that honoring his service to the country never entered their minds until later when they attended military services of friends.
“They felt bad for not giving Bill the honor he deserved.”
In actuality, they knew very little about his service other than he served in WWII on a submarine – Bill, like many veterans did not talk about the war. In order for them to have a military service, the family needed to produce his records, and they had none. As the years passed, each time an attempt was made to obtain his records, the family was told to produce his DD2-14 discharge papers. He had none.
“Finally,” said Dale, “We discovered that WWII veterans were not given DD2’s upon discharge and went strictly by their social security numbers.”
Bill’s social security number and other information were provided by J Mitchell at Rader Funeral home for the family to fill out the requested form to obtain his military records.
It was November of 2018 when the Wilson family received a large stack of Bill’s papers from military headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri and the family learned he was far more than just a radio man serving on a submarine. He was part of the commissioning crew of the USS Cutlass (SS-478) a tench-class submarine built for the US Navy in 1944.
His daughter, Karen Wilson, took great pride in researching the medals Bill had received and learned that his medals were given more toward the area served than the individual accomplishment. She also learned that he had seen action. Bill had been awarded the American Area Campaign Asiatic Medal, The Pacific Campaign Medal, Victory Medal and the Qualifying Submarine Insignia.
The records were taken to John Hanisee CWO4 and he, at first glance, determined Bill Wilson deserved to be honored with a military service. The date was set for 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019.
“The records were very interesting,” said John. “For him to become First Class E6 within three years and the clearance he had was impeccable. I felt honored to provide the service to a family I had grown fond of over the years.”
So, it was on the coldest, windiest day of the year, more than 20 family and extended members arrived to give honors to the husband, father, grandfather, friend and military man. Daughters Laura Hedrick, Karen Wilson, Vickie Benbow and Linda Hill sat beside Mama Lou Harrison as John conducted the services. Gavin Clarke from the University of Texas played “Taps” with the United States flag flying in the background. A U.S. flag flown over Washington, D. C. was sent by Congressman Louie Gohmert, and a Texas flag flown over Austin was sent by State Representative Travis Clardy. Both were presented to Mama Lou during the service.
“It was so nice to be able to do this with Mom,” said Laura. “She kept life going for us after Dad died and the service is now a treasure to us. Yes, it was cold, but it was worth all the extra effort. It was just so, so special.
“Also, very special to me was having other military men seeing the importance of it especially my brother-in-law Bill Hedrick and my youngest sister’s uncle wanting to honor another service man. It was a good kind of closure and more like a celebration instead of being sad. We are just so lucky and so blessed. It was a beautiful tribute and so moving with the playing of the taps and John letting us know we were Dad’s legacy.”
For Karen, “What an opportunity to honor Dad and acknowledge other men and women who have sacrificed for our freedom,” she said. “The service became an inclusive thing beyond us as a family. It allowed us to re-create childhood memories and talk about joys and struggles throughout our lives. We all felt blessed by being born into this family and into this country,” she said.
“We are so grateful to John for conducting the service and Dale for setting it up and the men who surrounded us to protect us from the wind,” said Laura. “It caused us to look back on our lives with sadness but fondness and now has come full circle. Life just doesn’t get any better than that with four sisters, mom and an extended family.”
Stories like this reminds one that it is never too late to say “I’m sorry” and never too late to say “I Love You.”
May His Love and Laughter Fill Your Hearts and Your Homes Throughout the Week. In the meantime, we may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 903-984-2593.