Walter Wilson - 1st Lieutenant
- Purple Heart
Usually, the Gold Star Hall Committee selects the honorees for each year’s ceremony. Once a name is chosen, we then try to contact family members and do extensive research to draw together enough information to tell a complete story of the fallen serviceman. As time passes, it gets harder and harder to locate family members especially from the World War I and World War II eras, since family members have aged as well.
Imagine our pleasure when we found WW II airman Walter Wilson’s family, including his wife and his sister, walking through Gold Star Hall. They were attending a family reunion nearby, and wanted to see Walter’s name engraved on the wall of this special Iowa State memorial. As we visited, the family agreed to come back to attend this year’s Gold Star Hall ceremony and help us tell Wilson’s story. Many times, our Gold Star stories are woven from second and third-hand accounts of their lives – so we were fortunate to have remembrances written by Wilson’s own sister, Marjorie, and wife, Polly.
Marjorie writes: “The family into which my brother, Walter Leonard Wilson, and I were born had a total of 10 children. Four of these children died in childhood before I was born, leaving six children. Walter was 16 years older than me, so I was only two or three when he left our home to go to college. Of course, when he came home to visit occasionally, he was always welcomed with love and open arms. He gave special attention to me, the baby of the family.
Walter was unusually smart, but he was loving and humble and the whole family adored him. Our parents told me that he wanted to name me Sally, so I named my make-believe friend Sally. I can still hear Walter’s loving voice and wonderful and unique laugh.
When he brought Polly home to Lake City, Iowa, from Iowa State College to introduce her to our family, I was about four or five years old and fell in love with her. I said to her, “Do you know what I wished? I wished you’d be my sister-in-law!” I was so happy when she became my sister-in-law in 1941. Walter was already in the Army Air Force when they were married. I vividly remember the last time I saw him. He was leaving Lake City to be stationed in New Mexico. He took me to the little grade school where I was in third or fourth grade. We stood outside the door where the steps were that would take me to my classroom. He hugged me and kissed me, and I cried. Little did I know that that would be the last time I would see him alive.
On July 24, 1945 my parents, my sister Marion, and I were in the car headed to Marshalltown, Iowa, to visit friends. The car radio was on WHO and the news broadcaster announced that a squadron of B-29s flew over Osaka, Japan on a bombing mission and one was hit by flak and went down into Osaka Bay, one of the deepest bays in the world. My dad said to my mom, “Mother, that could have been Walter’s plane.” Walter was a flight engineer on a B-29, and yes, we later learned it was his plane. My sister-in-law, Polly, received word on August 14, 1945, that Walter was missing in action - the day that the war with Japan ended. She called my parents the same day. Everyone else was out celebrating the end of the war, and our family was shedding tears of fear that the young men in that B-29 were lost forever. Walter’s death affected our whole family, but especially our Dad, who took it very hard.
Walter certainly picked a wonderful wife in Polly Noren. Their daughter, Carol Marie Wilson Heiden, was only two years old when Walter lost his life. Even though Polly and Carol were living with her parents in Pierre (pronounced “peer”), South Dakota, she willingly and deliberately brought Carol to us and spent several weeks and even months with us in our house in Iowa. As Carol became older (10 years or so), Polly allowed her to come by bus alone to spend time with our family. Polly is and has been a wonderful sister to me; it means so much to me since I am the only sibling left.”
Thank you to Marjorie Webster for sharing that heartfelt remembrance with us.
Walter’s wife, Polly, also shared some memories with us. Polly writes:
"When I was a young girl, I had a friend whom I adored who was going to Iowa State University to become a nutritionist. After spending a year at a girls’ school, Stevens College, in Missouri, I decided to go to Iowa State. I first saw Walter at an assembly at Iowa State. He was in a uniform. I carried a notebook that had my name in large letters and my phone number. Walt took notice of that, and a few days later my phone rang and he asked me for a date. For our first date, we went for a lovely Iowa fall walk. Iowa State had free dances in the afternoon at 4 o’clock. We attended, but he didn’t strike me as a good dancer. After a while, Walter invited me to go to Lake City to see the Wilsons and their acreage, which had a few cows and chickens. I gradually got acquainted with farm life. Marj was the youngest of the family. We graduated and I went to Ohio State for graduate work. Walter enrolled in a course and was stationed in California but he drove to Ohio at Christmas. It was there that he proposed to me. I received a beautiful diamond ring in the mail afterwards. My parents’ home was in Pierre, South Dakota, but I went to Sioux Falls to buy a wedding gown for $29. We were married in Pierre, and then we went to California to live in an apartment. I got a job in a lovely tea room; I became pregnant, and Walt had to go in the service. I then started working in the hospital where Carol was eventually born. Walt was taking preparation for being a flight engineer on a B-29 plane. A lovely older couple invited me to come to NY where Walt received his wings. I left Carol with the Wilson grandparents in Iowa. The baby and I followed him to several places, one of which was Clovis, New Mexico. The crew took off from Nebraska in 1944, and that was the last time I saw him. I went to live with my parents in Pierre, and that was where I received the word in August of 1945 that he was missing in action."
Thank you to Polly for sharing these memories of Walter with us.
Walter was born on August 18, 1918 in Paton, Iowa, to Melvin Wilson and Mary White Wilson. He grew up in Lake City, Iowa. In high school, Walter was involved in athletics, class plays, orchestra and band. He was President of his sophomore class and Treasurer of his senior class. He enjoyed golf, hunting, fishing, and reading.
He then attended Iowa State starting in the fall of 1937. He completed four years, and was involved in the Association of Industrial Economists, the Bomb yearbook staff, Ward Executive Council, Joint Social Council, Debate, Veishea and Intramurals. He graduated in the spring of 1941 with a degree in Industrial Economics. After graduation, Walter moved to California to take a post-graduate course in aeronautical engineering at the Curtiss-Wright Technical Institute. He planned to work for one of the airplane companies there upon graduation, and did land a job at Lockheed Corporation in Burbank, California.
Walter enlisted in the Army Air Force in September of 1942, and married Pauline Noren in October that same year. He entered service at Boca Raton, Florida, in June 1943 – about the time that his daughter, Carol Marie Wilson, was born.
Walter received his commission as Second Lieutenant in February of 1944 in New Haven, Connecticut. He received training at Yale University Army Air Force as a maintenance engineer, at the Boeing B-29 factory school, and at Army Air Force light Engineer School in Lowry Field, Colorado. He was promoted to First Lieutenant in May 1945. Walter was then stationed in the South Pacific at Tinian as a flight engineer on a B-29 Superfortress in the 20th Air Force, 444th Bomb Group, 677 Bomb Squad.
On July 24, 1945, the 444th was assigned mission 284: Eighty-two 58th BW B-29's were to attack the Sumitomo Light Metals Industries propeller factory at Osaka. It was a daylight mission at 19,500 feet. It was a full-scale attack against heavy opposition. One hundred and fifteen 4,000 pound bombs hit the target. Eighty-five percent of the target was destroyed. Most of the machine tools in the factory had been removed, but the facility was completely wrecked. Four B-29s hit alternate targets. Walter’s B-29 received a direct hit by anti-aircraft flak and broke in two, crashing into Osaka Bay. There were no survivors. Of all the planes involved in the raid on Sumitomo Works, Walter’s B-29 was the only one lost that day.
After his death, Walter was awarded the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Purple Heart.