NO. 17807 • 21 May 1928 – 3 September 1967
Died 3 September 1967 in Vietnam, aged 39 years.
Interment: Forest Park West Cemetery, Houston, Texas
WEST OF PLEIKU near the Cambodian border, a helicopter crash on 1 September 1967 resulted in the death of Lieutenant Colonel Gail Francis Wilson. Gail had been in Vietnam less than a month on his second tour when the accident occurred. As his brigade commander wrote: "When I reached him (after the crash), he was standing in full control of himself and evidenced no concern for his own injuries. He explained very quickly where the other men were, for it was very difficult to find people in the tall grass. He must have spent much of his energy determining the conditions of the other men and may have assisted in dragging them free of the fire. None of the others could have done so… When we put him aboard the medical evacuation ship, he protested that he was less injured then the rest." Gail died two days later from burns received in the crash. Thus ended the life of a man so respected for his character, integrity, dedication, loyalty and selflessness.
Gail's life was full, exciting, and rewarding. Born at Fort Sam Houston 21 May 1928, Gail lived a happy childhood life as an Army Brat. As Gail accompanied his family from post to post, lifelong interests were building. Foremost was his love of the Army. He loved everything about it, mostly the people but also the customs, traditions, discipline and way of life. As an Army youngster he soon realized how important it was to make strong and lasting friendships. He cherished these friendships, and as he grew older, he appreciated the opportunity to form more and lasting friendships as he moved throughout the Army.
During the years of World War II, Gail lived in San Antonio, Texas, awaiting the return of his father, Colonel O. O. Wilson '24, who had been captured on Bataan. He graduated from Central Catholic High School where he distinguished himself as a cadet lieutenant colonel, a class officer and a budding athlete. After his graduation he attended Rice University in Houston, Texas, while preparing for his lifelong ambition, his admittance to West Point in July 1946.
Duty, Honor, and Country were no strangers to him. These were ideals learned as a child and nurtured during his four years at West Point. The HOWITZER notes ". . . his indomitable spirit, pleasing personality, and ... many friends." He excelled in track and cross country and later used these talents as a member of the U.S. Army's Modern Pentathalon Team. He participated in the Pan American games of 1951 and was manager of the team at the Olympics in 1952. Those who knew Gail knew that his athletic success was due more to his perseverance, and dedication, than to his athletic prowess.
Shortly after graduation Ardath Kersta came into Gail's life, and they were wed in May 1952 at West Point. This was the start of Gail's happy family life which was blessed with six wonderful children. As a husband and father Gail excelled. How proud he was, and how he enjoyed their closeness. His annual Christmas letters to friends were always full of humor relating to the Wilsons’ latest adventures.
It was the Army, though, around which the life of the G. F. Wilsons revolved. Gail was an Infantryman, a ranger, a master parachutist and a perfectionist in his career. His assignment included a previous tour in Vietnam as an advisor, an ROTC assignment at Wisconsin University and troop duty with four different infantry divisions. One of his most cherished assignments was with the 1st British Brigade in England where he and Ardath made so many close friends. His last assignment was commanding the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, of which he was justly proud.
Extracts from letters received since his death attest to his character. From a division commander: "Whenever I had a tough job to be done, I tossed it to Gail and forgot about it. I knew it would be done and done well. As well as being a competent soldier, Gail was a leader in the community and did many things to make the lives of others more pleasant." From a friend: " . . . in Kontum, Vietnam, in 1957-58, he won the admiration, trust and respect of all his Vietnamese counterparts. He was a good American in the best possible meaning of that expression..." From his brigade commander: "He died in the manner in which he had lived, with the primary thought to his duty and with selfless attention to others."
The letters come from afar and pay tribute to this soldier. His family cherishes these letters and memories Gail has left them. They remember his devotion to God, his country and to them. They take comfort knowing Gail died doing what he loved, for something in which he believed. We'll miss him ...
WELL DONE, Be thou at Peace."
- J.C W.