This week on A Northwoods Moment in History, local historian Gary Entz tells us the story of William Gilson.
When we study history in school, we are often taught about great events and larger-than-life people who shaped the past. Yet it is the sacrifices made by ordinary people that make events possible, and that merits our respect. Let’s consider the life of William Gilson.
William Gilson was born on April 4, 1925, in the township of Pelican. There was nothing unusual about his life. His family had been residents of the greater Rhinelander area since the turn of the century. As he grew up he attended community and family gatherings and was a member of the boy scouts. As a teen William Gilson was often seen peddling his bicycle through town, but like many teenagers he was easily distracted. In April 1940, while riding his bike up North Stevens Street, he found something more interesting to look at, turned his head, and ran headlong into the rear of a parked car. Although a bit banged up from the incident, it was likely his pride was hurt more than anything else.
Gilson graduated from high school in 1943 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Trained as a Seabee, during World War II Gilson was stationed in New Guinea and saw considerable action in the Guam and Philippines Campaigns. In 1946 he received an honorable discharge from the navy. Gilson returned home to his family but soon found himself restless and in 1947 decided to enlist in the army.
Gilson was stationed with the army artillery defense at Ft. McKinley, Maine, and it was in Maine that he met Patricia Conelley. The two were married in October 1948, and in May 1950 the couple celebrated the birth of their first son. One month later, in June 1950, North Korean forces invaded South Korea. U.S. forces were mobilized to defend South Korea, and in August 1950 Gilson was sent to Japan as part of the Occupation Force under Gen. Douglas MacArthur. When MacArthur staged his invasion of Korea, Gilson was there. Gilson fought bravely with his unit as U.S. forces pushed north toward the Chinese border, but in October the Chinese joined the war and began pushing U.S. forces back. Casualties were high, and Gilson was among them. His wife was informed that he fell in the province of Pyongan on October 30. William Gilson of Pelican made the ultimate sacrifice. His body was repatriated in 1954, and he was buried with honors at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
This story was written by Gary Entz and produced for radio by Mackenzie Martin. Some music for this commentary came Podington Bear. The photo above is used with permisson from the Wisconsin Historical Society and can be found on their website here.
A Northwoods Moment in History is funded in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the State of Wisconsin. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Wisconsin Humanities Council supports and creates programs that use history, culture, and discussion to strengthen community life for everyone in Wisconsin.