Harold Wilson, 76; Marine Sergeant Won Medal of Honor

 

By Richard Goldstein,, 4 April 1998

 

Harold Wilson, a former Marine sergeant who won the Medal of Honor in the

Korean War for "heroic actions in the face of almost certain death" in

the Chinese Communists' massive human-wave offensive of April 1951, died

Sunday at Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia, S.C. He was 76 and

lived in Lexington, S.C. The cause was lung cancer, his family said. On

April 11, 1952, Wilson received the nation's highest award for valor

from President Harry Truman in a ceremony at the White House Rose

Garden. That day, the Marine Corps, recalling the events in Korea a year

earlier, said Wilson had proved to be "indestructible." Wilson, then a

technical sergeant with a rifle platoon in the 1st Marine Division, was

shot in a shoulder, right arm and left leg, received a head wound and a

concussion as his men were besieged in the predawn hours of April 24,

1951. But he organized his troops' resistance under intense enemy fire.

And then, when the attackers had been driven off, Wilson walked a

half-mile, unaided, to get the medical assistance he had refused all

night. The first weeks of April 1951 had brought a lull in the Korean

fighting. The stunning news from the war was not about combat. It was

about Truman's dismissal of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the U.N. commander,

for insubordination. But on April 22, some 250,000 Chinese soldiers

struck across a 40-mile front to begin their spring offensive. When

South Korea's 6th Division collapsed in a panic, Marine Corps units were

rushed by truck to plug a large gap through which the Chinese were

advancing. Wilson's rifle platoon, part of Company G of the 3rd

Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment in the 1st Marine Division, took up

positions on Hill 902 just north of the 38th Parallel, near the Hwachon

Reservoir in North Korea. About midnight on April 23, Chinese soldiers

overran a company outpost and poured mortar, machine-gun and rifle fire

on the platoon. Wilson was wounded in the right arm and left leg, but

refused medical aid and moved among his men, shouting encouragement and

directing the treatment of other wounded men. Then he was wounded in the

head and shoulder, but he still insisted on remaining in action. Wilson

was unable to use either arm to fire his rifle, and marine casualties

were mounting. But he took rifles and ammunition from wounded marines

and passed them to the men who could still fight. Later, he received

reinforcements and, after placing them in position, directed fire until

blown off his feet by a mortar shell. Dazed and suffering a concussion,

he still refused medical aid. Although weakened by loss of blood, he

moved from foxhole to foxhole, supplying more ammunition and providing

first aid and encouragement. At dawn the attack had been repulsed, and

Wilson headed off to see to his wounds. By April 30, the Communists'

offensive had failed. U.N. troops temporarily lost some territory, but

inflicted 70,000 casualties -- 10 times their own losses -- and kept

Seoul, the South Korean capital, from falling into Communist hands for

the third time in the war. Harold Edward Wilson was born in Birmingham,

Ala., and worked in a steel mill before entering the Marines in 1942. He

served in the Pacific in World War II and was called back into the

military for the Korean War. He was among the Marines in the epic

retreat from the Chosin Reservoir in December 1950 amid horrendous cold

and blizzards. He remained in the Marine Corps after the Korean War and

later served in Vietnam. After retiring from military service in 1972 as

a chief warrant officer, he worked as a benefits counselor for the

Veterans Administration. He is survived by two sons, Harold Jr. and

John, both of Lexington, and three brothers, William and Thomas, both of

Birmingham, and Walter, of Chattanooga, Tenn. Harold Wilson said his

father was a modest man who seldom spoke of what he had done. "He just

did the job he was sent to do," the son said, recalling how a fellow

member of the Marine Corps League, an organization of former Marines,

"said he knew my father for over six months before he found out he won

the Medal of Honor."


Medal of Honor Citation

 

WILSON, HAROLD E.

Rank and organization: Technical Sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Company G, 3d Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division (Rein.).

Place and date: Korea, 23-24 April 1951.

Entered service at: Birmingham, Alabama

Born: S December 1921, Birmingham, Alabama

 

Citation:

 

For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the

call of duty while serving as platoon sergeant of a rifle platoon

attached to Company G, in action against enemy aggressor forces on the

night of 23-24 April 1951. When the company outpost was overrun by the

enemy while his platoon, firing from hastily constructed foxholes, was

engaged in resisting the brunt of a fierce mortar, machinegun, grenade,

and small-arms attack launched by hostile forces from high ground under

cover of darkness, T/Sgt. Wilson braved intense fire to assist the

survivors back into the line and to direct the treatment of casualties.

Although twice wounded by gunfire, in the right arm and the left leg, he

refused medical aid for himself and continued to move about among his

men, shouting words of encouragement. After receiving further wounds in

the head and shoulder as the attack increased in intensity, he again

insisted upon remaining with his unit. Unable to use either arm to fire,

and with mounting casualties among our forces, he resupplied his men

with rifles and ammunition taken from the wounded. Personally reporting

to his company commander on several occasions, he requested and received

additional assistance when the enemy attack became even more fierce and,

after placing the reinforcements in strategic positions in the line,

directed effective fire until blown off his feet by the bursting of a

hostile mortar round in his face. Dazed and suffering from concussion,

he still refused medical aid and, despite weakness from loss of blood,

moved from foxhole to foxhole, directing fire, resupplying ammunition,

rendering first aid, and encouraging his men. By his heroic actions in

the face of almost certain death, when the unit's ability to hold the

disadvantageous position was doubtful, he instilled confidence in his

troops, inspiring them to rally repeatedly and turn back the furious

assaults. At dawn, after the final attack had been repulsed, he

personally accounted for each man in his platoon before walking

unassisted l/2 mile to the aid station where he submitted to treatment.

His outstanding courage, initiative, and skilled leadership in the face

of overwhelming odds were contributing factors in the success of his

company's mission and reflect the highest credit upon T/Sgt. Wilson and

the U.S. Naval Service.


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© 1998 by Neil Mishalov