Two years, nine months, and twenty five days

Published 12:59 am Sunday, November 11, 2007

Chief Petty Officer John Wilson was 27 years old when he joined the Navy Seabees on Dec. 16, 1942.

“I was married when I went in, and we had one child. Our daughter was fifteen months old,” Wilson said. “She was three when I came home, and she didn’t recognize me as her daddy. All she knew was I was the ‘man in the picture’.”

Wilson said he was sent to Camp Endicott, R.I., for basic training in the heart of the winter where it was extremely cold for a Mississippi boy.

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“There were several days during my training when the temperature was 14 degrees below zero,” Wilson said.

After basic training, Wilson was put on a Tank Landing Ship, also known as an LST, and shipped to Gibraltar – a trip that Wilson said took 31 days.

“We waited a week in Gibraltar, and then when the Germans were driven by General Patton out of the northern part of Africa, we moved over to Banzart (Tunisia), where we were stationed for the next two years,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he had an interesting experience when the crew left Gibraltar for Banzart.

“We were pulling out to leave, and we couldn’t have been more than 100 feet or so in the Mediterranean, and we dropped a depth charge, and we hit a submarine that was trying to torpedo us,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he was part of a construction crew that would assemble the causeways that were put on the LST’s. Wilson said the causeways his crew assembled were used in the invasions of Sicily, Italy, and Anzio.

“We would assemble those causeways, and then they would put them on the ships and practice hitting the beach. The causeway would drop down onto the beach so the men could unload quickly. I was the officer that oversaw the construction of the causeways,” Wilson said.

Wilson said he never was sent to the front lines of battle, but his unit was air raided almost nightly. Those nights were some of the hardest, he said.

“When we would be air raided, we would shoot back at them, and when one would go down, there would be a big loud cheer. That was our job, what we were there to do. But I couldn’t help thinking every time a plane went down that somebody had just lost a son,” Wilson said. “Those air raids lasted until the U.S. and England invaded Sicily.”

Wilson said one of his fondest memories was of a surprise he received while stationed in Banzart.

“I was one of five boys in my family, and all of us served in the military at some time or the other. I knew my brother was in the Army at the time I was and was stationed somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where he was. One time I found his company, but he was away from them in Anzio. I almost found him several times, but always missed him. So one day, I was talking with my CEO, and someone walked up behind me and tapped me on my shoulder, and said, ‘You’re doing what you always did, which is nothing.’ It was my brother. He had found me,” Wilson said.

After two years of service, Wilson was sent back to the United States.

“I must have gotten lucky or had someone watching over me,” Wilson said. “I was on my way home in the middle of the Atlantic during the Battle of the Bulge. I was over there two years, nine months, and twenty-five days.”

Wilson returned to Camp Endicott and was assigned as an instructor in Military Training of the new recruits. He served there until Oct. 12, 1945, when he was discharged.

After his discharge, Wilson returned home to Lawrence County until he moved to Picayune in 1950. In 1954, he opened Wilson’s Drug Store on Canal Street, which he ran for 17 years. He then sold the store on Canal Street and opened West Side Pharmacy. He also served a number of years on the Mississippi State Board of Pharmacy and served as Secretary in the 1960’s.

In 2003, when Wilson was 90 years old, he was recognized by the Mississippi State Board of Pharmacy as the oldest practicing pharmacist in the state. He finally retired from practice in 2006.

These days, Wilson is an active member of the Lion’s Club, and has received several honors and awards as a result of that participation. One of those awards is the Melvin Jones Fellow Award, which is for “dedicated humanitarian services,” according to the plaque hanging in Wilson’s kitchen.

Wilson and his wife, Helen, live in Picayune and have two children, two grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.

“Next January 27, Helen and I will have been married 68 years,” Wilson boasts.