A couple years ago, I shook hands with a stranger who said his name was George; he introduced his wife Pat. After the many contacts we have had, I decided to ask him for an interview.
George was born in Charlotte, NC in 1937 and will be 81 on September 8th, 2018. His Mother was Willie May and his Dad was George Thomas; one of five brothers. Dad was frequently gone from the household exercising his welding skills in regional bridge construction. Tragically, Mom abandoned the family when George was a toddler, taking one of George’s brothers with her. George never linked up with his biological Mom or the brother she left with.
George was ‘farmed’ out to grandparents and aunts and uncles that lived nearby. He attended Central High School in Charlotte, graduating in1956. In the meantime, he attended church regularly with Aunt and Uncle. Intrigued with church teachings, he determined that someday he would become a purveyor of The Gospel.
George was also interested in mechanical technology and became a Certified Chevrolet Mechanic while working at a Chevrolet dealership. He enrolled at NC State in Raleigh choosing mechanical engineering as his major with an aeronautical option. George and fellow student Pat Ponder’s lives intersected and they tied the knot of marriage in May of 1958. Realizing that his first priority was supporting his new spouse, George quit College to seek employment. Walking by the Air Force recruiting office a month after their marriage, he stepped inside and inquired about enlistment.
Warned by the recruiter that he had to pass a comprehensive Air Force entrance test, he passed with a score of 100%. He was sworn into the AF by father-in-law, Colonel S. Gordon Ponder, U. S. Army and he was suddenly an Airman. Little did he realize at the moment he became a member of one of our distinguished military forces that he would retire a Lt. Col. after earning The Silver Star, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 14 Air Medals and three Meritorious Service Medals (one with valor) after 21 years of distinguished duty.
Following induction, he was sent to Lackland AFB near San Antonio, TX to study electronics warfare with further training at Lowry AFB in Aurora, CO and thence to McClellan AFB near Sacramento, CA to join the 1009th Special Weapons group as Airman 3rd Class.
In 1960, George was deployed to Saudi Arabia with a B-50 squadron and upon return his Senior Master Sergeant accosted George and proclaimed that he (George) was taking the test for OCS (officer candidate school) in the morning. Passing the test with flying colors, he graduated from OCS as a 2nd Lt. in April 1961 and was assigned to Navigator training at Harlingen AFB in Texas thence to Mather AFB near San Francisco to become Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO).
He was assigned to Blytheville AFB near Blytheville, AR in 1962 and in1967 was transferred to Nellis AFB near Las Vegas. George was assigned to a group of F-105 aircraft to reduce losses in Vietnam by surface-to-Air missiles (SAM’s). Completing more than 100 missions where U.S. aircraft were targeted for destruction by enemy forces, his risks were great but his success was even greater. Survival of aviators and airplanes improved but still many intrepid U.S. Airmen lost their lives in the air over Vietnam. In 1973, he was selected for attendance at the ‘Air Command and Staff College.’
George earned his BS degree at the Manoa Campus of the University of Hawaii while stationed at Hickam AFB from 1968 to 1973 and earned an MBA at Auburn University in 1974 while stationed at Maxwell AFB. Other assignments were at Kwang-Ju and Osan AFB’s, Korea and Langley, VA. Upon retirement in July 1979, George pursued his dream of joining the ministry entering Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, graduating with a most coveted Doctorate of Ministry degree in 1983.
Upon finishing Seminary, he accepted a call to a Presbyterian Church near Greenville, SC where he retired in 2003 and accepted a call to a Presbyterian Church in Greenwood, SC. He moved to Roanoke, VA in March, 2015 following intensive medical treatments in Seattle. Their daughter lives in Seattle and sons live in Harrisonburg and Roanoke.
George Conrad Wilson, Sr. appears to be an ordinary guy but has tipped the scale of boundless achievement having served both God and Country in two distinguished careers.