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Donald Wilson Humble Hero

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
February 10, 2023 3:00 am

Donald Wilson Humble Hero

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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February 10, 2023 3:00 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Joy Neal Kidney Shares her Uncle Donald Wilson's war story.

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Send them to They're some of our favorites. And today, we have one of our regular contributors, Joy Neil Kidney. And she's about to share her uncle's story. This piece is titled, Donald Wilson, The Humble Hero.

Most of the heroes among us are just ordinary people, like my uncle Don. I knew him as mom's brother, who lived way out in Washington state, and who liked fishing. When I was a kid growing up on an Iowa farm, the best part of getting a fat letter from Aunt Rose was a picture of Uncle Don with a big salmon. Mom's older brother had been a commercial fisherman. Even when he later took a job with the Washington Department of Transportation, he still headed out with his boat on Willapa Bay every chance he got. So every fishing season, we get snapshots of him with a huge fish hanging from one hand and a fishing pole in the other. Dressed in faded jeans and a plaid shirt, usually a vest with lots of pockets.

Sometimes a US Navy cap, either the USS Hancock or the Yorktown. Although mom rarely mentioned the war, World War II, she told us that her brother Don, who grew up in the small town of Dexter, Iowa, had been a sailor on the famous Yorktown, the one lost during a big battle in the Pacific Ocean, and that he had had to tread water for an hour before being rescued. Every few years, Uncle Don and Aunt Rose would drive back to Iowa to visit.

I was unaware of all the other combat he'd survived, all the heartache he'd been through, all the complexity of this seemingly ordinary man. As teenagers, Sis Gloria and I traveled by train with Grandma to the west coast to visit relatives, including Don and Rose. In 1962, they lived in a little house out along the Nassau River. As soon as they learned we were coming, Uncle Don added a room to their home, an indoor bathroom. Since Aunt Rose didn't drive, they had only a pickup. One foggy day, we joined a crowd of clam diggers and carried our limit home to try fried clams and to make clam chowder.

Digging them was more fun than eating them for farm girls used to Iowa beef and pork. Years later, I learned that not only had Uncle Don been on the historic Yorktown during the Battle of Midway, but that he'd had to abandon ship twice. He spent an hour in the oily Pacific after Japanese bombs had crippled the ship. The next day, the aircraft carrier was listing, dead in the water but still afloat. A few dozen men re-boarded the battered ship for a salvage attempt.

One of them was 25-year-old Donald Wilson. After doing repairs all morning on a lower level of the ship, he clambered up to the deck for something to eat. An alarm blared. Don jumped up and saw torpedoes in the water speeding right at his ship. One slammed into them.

He ran to the fantail and leaped a second time. A nearby ship rescued him and other survivors. The next morning, sailors asleep on the deck were nudged awake as the carrier began to sink, her battle flags still flying.

Many of them wept as they stood at attention to witness their ship roll over and plunge into the ocean. Donald Wilson first joined the Navy with his older brother in 1934 during the Great Depression where there were no jobs for teenagers, not even for their father. Don stayed in the Navy and in 1937 became a plank owner on the brand-new Yorktown, meaning he was a member of the crew when it was placed in commission. I served on her for her whole life, Don later wrote of the ship. He later received a citation signed by Admiral Chester Nimitz for being part of that salvage attempt.

I'd written to Uncle Don and Aunt Rose for decades, but after Grandma died and getting to read the family's war letters, I started a correspondence with Uncle Don that lasted the rest of his life. I wanted to make sure he had all the medals he was entitled to. He said he didn't want any, that he was no hero and wasn't interested in medals.

That is until I learned there was one for that citation. When he finally received it, he proudly framed all of his medals and ribbons. Uncle Don was also a plank owner on the USS Hancock, another aircraft carrier. The Hancock was in combat in nearly every major naval battle during those last desperate months of the Pacific War, except when out of her action for repairs after being attacked by a kamikaze. All five Wilson brothers of Dallas County, Iowa served in World War II. The three youngest, Dale, Danny, and Junior, lost their lives, two of them in combat. Their surviving family members never got over the blows of losing these three young pilots, including their older brother Don.

Still in the Navy after the war, he decided he didn't want to make it a career after all. He was ready for some peace and quiet and a fishing pole. No one would suspect that the ordinary man in the snapshots with the big fish was indeed a hero, one with a poignant history. And a special thanks to Joy Neal Kidney for sharing that story. And again, if you have stories about heroes who fought for and defended and served this great country, send the stories to We'd love to hear from you, and they are our favorites. The story of Uncle Don.

Hear on Our American Stories. Folks, if you love the stories we tell about this great country, and especially the stories of America's rich past, know that all of our stories about American history, from war to innovation, culture, and faith, are brought to us by the great folks at Hillsdale College, a place where students study all the things that are beautiful in life and all the things that are good in life. And if you can't get to Hillsdale, Hillsdale will come to you with their free and terrific online courses.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-10 04:12:31 / 2023-02-10 04:16:48 / 4

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