Carrie Elliott has been persistent in her quest for information about a World War I soldier, just as the sailor was persistent in becoming a member of the U.S. Navy during that World War.
Fred W. Wilson Jr. was the first Denison man killed during World War I. A sailor, he was killed when his troopship, the USS President Lincoln was torpedoed on May 31, 1918, about 600 miles from Brest, France, headed back to the United States with a smaller load of service people than it had on the way over. A paymaster on the Lincoln, Wilson is said to have been hit directly where the paymaster was located and his body was never located. Three torpedoes hit the Lincoln and 26 men and three officers were lost.
Carrie, a member of the Fred W. Wilson - Samuel C. Patillo American Legion Post Auxiliary in Denison, began working on information about Wilson about two years ago, wanting to acquire a medallion to go on Wilson’s marker at Fairview Cemetery, north of Denison.
There are occasions when American flags or wreaths are placed on the graves of servicemen and women in local cemeteries if the grave designates that the person buried there was in United States military service. Carrie found that Wilson’s tombstone only has his name, Fred W. Wilson Jr., and his birth and death years, 1890 and 1918. In order for the marker to be included in the patriotic observance it must be distinguish him as military. As the tombstone now stands, Fred W. Wilson Jr., is basically a forgotten man.
Everywhere Carrie contacted with letters or phone calls gave her the same reason for not approving the medallion, primarily because the person requesting the medallion had to be a family member, a veteran service officer or a funeral home. Since Fred was never married or had children and his parents and sister and brother are deceased, to Carrie’s knowledge there is no member of Fred’s family still alive to make the request. The veteran service officer, Jimmy Petty did request the medallion and was also turned down. She still is working on a funeral home request or for some family member read this column and come forward.
Back in 1966 a feature story appeared in The Denison Herald explaining how Fred had tried to get into the Army like his older brother, Cecil, according to his sister, Caddie Wilson of Denison. But he was turned down. Possibly because of his size.
He didn’t give up and next tried the Navy in Denison and didn’t get any place here either. So he went to New Orleans where he pestered the Navy recruiters until they finally signed him up and gave him the job of paymaster.
His sister said in the feature that Fred really wanted to get in the action like his big brother. Cecil had fought in France with the Army. However, it was on his first trip that Fred was killed.
She said the first word the family had that the Lincoln had been torpedoed was a wire from the War Department that Fred, then 28 years old, was “missing in action.” Then later, a wire to his parents, who lived at 818 West Gandy, confirmed his death. Since his body was not located he was considered “buried at sea”.
His sister said that they held out hope that Fred might have been picked up, even after the wire came. But when some of his shipmates came by and told the family that he was right in the center of the boat where the German torpedo hit, they knew he was really dead.
Carrie found much of the information she has about Fred on the Internet, where she “Googled” the USS Lincoln torpedoed March 31, 1918. Fred was on his first voyage out after enlisting on Dec. 8, 1917.
The Lincoln was launched on Oct. 8, 1907. Its commander P.W. Foote wrote a remembrance of the sinking of the Lincoln that is listed on Google if anyone would like to read it.
The stone marking Fred’s memorial is a rather large marker that is backed by smaller stones for each of his family members, C.L., C.M. Caddie L., Fannie M., and F.W. Wilson (possibly Fred).
After the war when the American Legion was created by act of Congress on Sept. 16, 1919, a group of veterans decided to have a post in Denison. Veterans got busy enlisting members for a dollar dues and wound up with 53 charter members, according to Bill Jackson who was interviewed for the article. At that time, L.A. Mosse, John Weaver and Charlie Harris were among the handful of surviving members who still lived in Denison.
If anyone has information about any Wilson family member still living who could help Carrie get the medallion for Fred Wilson’s tombstone, please contact this writer at the email address listed below and information will be shared with her.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at email@example.com.