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News From The Past

April 4, 1998

Harold Wilson, Marine Sergeant who won
Medal of Honor, dies

 By Richard Goldstein


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."



1998, by The New York Times


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