President Dwight D. Eisenhower awards the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant Benjamin F. Wilson on September 7, 1955.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 1/13/2015
  • Essay 11012
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On September 7, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) awards the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant Benjamin F. Wilson (1922-1988). Lieutenant Wilson had displayed exceptional heroism on June 5, 1951, in a Korean War battle. At the time he was a master sergeant leading an attack on a well-fortified hill position. During the attack Wilson charged the enemy and led a bayonet attack. As his unit was establishing a position at their initial objective, the enemy counterattacked. When the American forces were in danger of being overrun, Wilson made a lone-man charge to rout the attackers. Having overcome this counterattack, his unit resumed its advance to its final objective. Intense enemy fire forced a withdrawal and a wounded Master Sergeant Wilson covered the movement. He then fought the enemy in hand-to-hand combat, finally fighting with his entrenching tool. His actions saved many lives.  

From Vashon Island to the Army 

Benjamin Wilson was born on Vashon Island in King County. He attended Vashon elementary school and Vashon High School. Growing up, he longed for adventure, and he dropped out of his last year at Vashon High School to join the army. He enlisted in January 1940 for duty in Hawaii, serving at Schofield Barracks.

On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor came, he was a corporal in the 13th Field Artillery. Following the attack he applied for Officer Candidate School and was accepted. Wilson completed the officer training at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1942 and was commissioned a second lieutenant. Although he was anxious to get into combat, he served the entire war stateside in training roles.

In 1945 he resigned his commission and returned to Vashon Island. He found civilian life lacking, so sought to re-enter the army. But the army, having more officers than needed, turned him down. Unable to regain his commission, he enlisted as a private.  

The Korean War 

Benjamin F. Wilson demonstrated leadership and rose through the enlisted ranks quickly. He completed airborne training and by 1951 was serving as a master sergeant in the 31st Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, fighting in Korea.

On June 5, 1951, his company, I Company, was ordered to take an enemy hill overlooking the Hwachon Reservoir. The enemy on the hill was well entrenched and strongly resisted Company I's attack.

Withering fire pinned the company down, upon which Wilson ran forward into an enemy position, firing his rifle as he moved. He also tossed grenades into the enemy strongpoint and killed four enemy troops manning automatic weapons. The attack platoon followed his lead.

Next, Master Sergeant Wilson led a bayonet charge that killed 27 enemy troops and secured the initial objective. As the American soldiers were establishing a position, the enemy counterattacked.

Master Sergeant Wilson recognized that their position was in danger of being overrun.  He jumped into action and in a lone-man charge, routed the attackers. With the counterattack halted, Company I troops fought toward the final objective. They came under intense fire and halted. Wilson ordered the platoon to withdraw while he provided covering fire despite being wounded.

Another counterattack struck and he fought it hand-to-hand. When an enemy soldier wrenched his rifle from his hands, Wilson then attacked with his entrenching tool (a small collapsible shovel that soldiers carried on their belts). He caused additional enemy casualties.

He returned to his unit and, despite a second wound, directed their evacuation. His delaying effort enabled the platoon to safely withdraw, which saved lives. Master Sergeant Wilson refused medical assistance until everyone had safely evacuated.

Four days later and under similar circumstances at Nodong-ni, he led multiple attacks on enemy positions. Again, he engaged in hand-to-hand combat. For this action, he would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.    

On November 15, 1951, Benjamin F. Wilson was commissioned a second lieutenant. By the time the war ended, he had two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. 

Medal of Honor

On September 7, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded Wilson the Medal of Honor at a ceremony at Lowry Air Force, located at Denver, Colorado. It was one of very few awards made outside Washington, D.C. President Eisenhower was in Denver at Fitzsimmons Hospital recovering from a heart attack. Attending the ceremony was First Lieutenant Wilson’s wife, mother, and son. At the time of the award he was serving as assistant inspector general at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

In November 1954 he was promoted to captain. The next year he had advanced infantry schooling before an assignment to Germany. In 1958 he was assigned to Fort Lewis and he shared his knowledge of combat skills with the troops. In March 1959 he was made a planner for maneuvers at Yakima Training Center. The Yakima training exercise was code named “Dry Hills” and involved maneuvers over a large area.

Wilson retired as a major on October 30, 1960.

After the Army

He returned to Washington and tried insurance sales, which he found unfulfilling. He then went to work with the Veteran’s Administration in Seattle, working with disabled veterans. He moved to Los Angeles with the Veteran’s Administration and in 1978 started building a sailboat.

In 1980 he sailed to Hawaii and to American Samoa. Two years later he moved to Hawaii and lived on his 49-foot sailboat, named the Ginseng. He continued his career at the Veteran’s Administration, retiring in 1986. He died in 1988 and was buried in Honolulu at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl. 

Remembering Benjamin F. Wilson 

Benjamin Wilson was active in the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. He promoted national efforts supporting veterans and Medal of Honor recipients.  In 1968 he served as its executive vice president and was instrumental in bringing the society convention to Seattle.

The Joint Base Lewis McChord fitness center on Lewis North (formerly North Fort Lewis) is named in his honor.

Sources: Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men of Valor (Burley, Washington: Coffee Break Press, 1980); "News of Servicemen From Seattle Area at Home and Abroad," The Seattle Daily Times, September 3, 1954, p. 33; "Vashon Hero Gets Honor Medal," Ibid, September 7, 1954, p. 1; "State’s Nine Top Heroes Are Honored," Ibid, March 23, 1955, p. 2; "Honor Medal Winner Named 'Dry Hills' Asst G-1," Ranger, March 20, 1959, p. 1; "Governor Reagan Will Address Medal of Honor Society Meeting," September 14, 1968, p. 7; "Medal Of Honor Society Plans Convention in Seattle," October 6, 1968, p. 43.

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