T/5 Herbert C. Wilson – Loyalty Under Fire

 

        

The movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, is about the movies hero being given an opportunity, by an angel, to see the results of the lives he has touched. How different things would be if he hadn’t lived. I’m certainly no angel, but I too was given a great opportunity. To bring closure to a hero’s life, and show him, his family, and the world, the difference he has made in this lifetime.

I’d rather know my buddy was safe than receive any medal, here or hereafter,”  wrote T/5 Thomas L. Edmondson ( Eddie ), a tank gunner, to his mother, the day he received a Silver Star for, “ gallantry in action”. His buddy was T/5 Herbert C. Wilson ( Willie ), from Sparta, Tennessee. Since March of 1942, at Camp Polk, they were among the first that would be called, “Spearhead”, and learned to become not just part of a team, but closer then any brothers could ever be. The magnitude of their friendship speaks through time with pictures, words, and in deed. They would stand side by side in the HQ Co. 1st Bn, 33rd Armored Regiment picture, and when in July of 1943 Eddie writes in Willies autograph book, “ My very worried friend, Just a line to say I’ve enjoyed your friendship a great deal these past sixteen months. Hope we are still together when the smoke finally clears and in one piece. (Ha) Always remember my pal that the doors are never locked at my home. Good Luck Always, T.L. Edmondson Jr.

On the night of 11 July 1944 they were in Normandy, fighting for Hill 91, also known as Haut Vents. They had just parked their light tank, Octopus, for the night. The crew chief, Maddox, and the loader, Bill Wright, had just climbed out when a German anti tank shell hit the front of the tank. Willie was in the driver’s seat, and Eddie was in the assistant driver’s seat talking about the day’s span of events. When Willie tried to escape up the turret ladder he only then realized that both his arms were broken from shrapnal, and he could not lift them. His left leg, chest, and back also received major shrapnel wounds. The tank was burning. There was so much heat that dog tags melted. With his wounds, Willie could have been brushed aside by Eddie, but instead, he placed his head between Willie’s legs and pushed him up and out. Adrenaline must had taken over.

The men outside the tank said Willie never touched the side of the tank as he fell to the ground, and was taken to safety, to be worked on by the medics. Eddie came out of the tank covered with Willie’s blood. The medics started working on him also, but Eddie kept insisting that he was all right, and that they must help his buddy. They were both sent to a M.A.S.H. unit, but after that night they never saw, or heard of, each other again. That is until June 2000.

I know this story because my name is Bob Wilson. My father was Herbert C. Wilson, and I’m proud to say that, just recently, with the help of Mr. Ray Reeder, and Mr. Walter Stitt, of the 3AD Association, and armed with my father’s autograph book, I have become a friend of Thomas L. Edmondson. The man that saved my father’s life.

My father was in and out of consciousness that night. Mostly out. On July 29th he was back in England were he dictated a letter to his future bride. He writes, “ I wanted to write before but this war keeps me from doing so. And another thing I got hurt. And this is the main reason.” At the end of this letter is a P.S. “Please excuse the writing. I am writing this for Herbert. A friend Johnny.” He arrived back to the states, on a hospital ship, October 16th and then stationed at Wakeman General Hospital, until December 11, 1945. Here he was honorable discharged from the army. While in the hospital my father went through a lot of operations, and he felt he needed a good luck charm. On it is a four leaf clover, a picture of my mother, his melted dog tags, and a picture of the man that saved his life. When I see this charm, I see a lot of love, and admiration. He resided in Reading, Pennsylvania and became a sought after cabinetmaker till is death February 9, 1985.

Eddie spent a week at the M.A.S.H. unit, were he was treated for burns. He rejoined the unit, and went on to participate in every major campaign to just outside Berlin, with tank # 13. Here he, “made a U turn west and went home,” stopping in German and French towns until they boarded a ship, October 1945, for the States. Back home he worked 38 years for Mobil Oil until his retirement. Today he lives with his wife, Winoma, and even gets an occasional hole in one in his almost daily golf games.

This bit of history you will not find in books. These events of heroism, are of the highest, but between participants, they are no less the true measuring of friendship. When loyalty overtook the need of survival. I’m sure this, or similar actions, have taken place countless times. But for myself, and for generations in my family to come, it will be the definitive reason why we live.

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