ARLINGTON, Va. -- General Louis H. Wilson, Jr., 26th Commandant of the Marine Corps and Medal of Honor recipient, was laid to rest in Arlington Cemetery following a memorial service in his honor held here, July 19. Family, friends and fellow Marines attended the memorial service and funeral.
Wilson, who had battled a degenerative disorder of the nervous system for several years, died June 21, 2005, at his home in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood, Al., said his daughter, Janet Taylor of Vestavia Hills. He was 85.
During his four-year tenure as commandant, Wilson was noted for molding a post-Vietnam Marine Corps into strong expeditionary units. He also addressed morale and discharged thousands of Marines with discipline problems, setting a new standard for conduct.
“General Wilson was our commandant during a very critical time,” said General Michael W. Hagee, 33rd Commandant of the Marine Corps, at the memorial service. “We have a great deal to thank him for.”
“General Wilson hardly said anything,” said Hagee. “He wanted to listen to us.”
Wilson also set higher physical fitness and weight requirements for Marines. “Obesity must vanish,” he said.
Wilson was born Feb. 11, 1920 in Brandon, Miss. After graduating from Millsaps College, Jackson, Miss. in 1941, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in May of that year.
2nd Lt. Wilson went overseas with the 9th Marines in February 1943, making stops at Guadalcanal, Efate, and Bougainville. He was promoted to captain in April 1943. During the assault on Guam, while commanding Company F, 2d Battalion, 9th Marines, he earned the nation’s highest honor for heroism in combat when he and his company repelled and destroyed a numerically superior enemy force.
Wilson was awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery while fighting Japanese forces at Fonte Hill, Guam, on July 25 and 26, 1944. Then Capt. Wilson was ordered to take a portion of the hill that was in his unit’s area of action. Wilson led his Marines though withering machine gun fire and at times close combat to take control of the hill.
His citation reads in part, “Fighting fiercely in hand-to-hand encounters, he led his men in furiously waged battle for approximately ten hours, tenaciously holding his line and repelling the fanatically renewed counterthrusts until he succeeded in crushing the last efforts of the hard-pressed Japanese early the following morning.”
Because of wounds received he was evacuated to the U.S. Naval Hospital, San Diego, where he remained until 16 October 1944.
Capt. Wilson returned to duty as Commanding Officer, Company D, Marine Barracks, Camp Pendleton, California. In December 1944, he was transferred to Washington, D.C., where he served as Detachment Commander at Marine Barracks, 8th & I. While in Washington he was presented the Medal of Honor by President Truman. He was promoted to major in March 1945.
From June 1946 until August 1951, Maj. Wilson had consecutive tours as Dean and Assistant Director, Marine Corps Institute; Aide-de-Camp, Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific; and Officer in Charge, District Headquarters Recruiting Station, New York, N.Y.
Promoted to lieutenant colonel in November 1951, while stationed at Quantico, Va., he served consecutively as Commanding Officer of The Basic School’s 1st Training Battalion; Commanding Officer of Camp Barrett; and Executive Office of The Basic School. He completed the Officer’s Senior Course in August 1954.
After a brief tour as a Senior School Instructor, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, he departed for Korea to serve as Assistant G-3, 1st Marine Division. In August 1955, he returned to the United States with the 1st Division, and was appointed Commanding Officer, 2d Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.
In March 1956, LtCol. Wilson was assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps, serving two years as Head, Operations Section. He then returned to Quantico, first as Commanding Officer of the Test and Training Regiment, and later as Commanding Officer of The Basic School.
In June 1962, after graduation from the National War College, he was assigned as Joint Plans Coordinator to the Deputy Chief of Staff (Plans and Programs), HQMC. He transferred to the 1st Marine Division and deployed with the Division in August 1965, stopping at Okinawa before going to Vietnam. As Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, 1st Marine Division, he was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Gold Star.
Upon his return to the United States in August 1966, Col. Wilson assumed command of the 6th Marine Corps District, Atlanta, Georgia. Promoted to brigadier general in November 1966, he was assigned to HQMC in January 1967, as Legislative Assistant to the Commandant of the Marine Corps until July 1968. He then served as Chief of Staff, Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, until March 1970, earning a second Legion of Merit.
He was advanced to the grade of major general in March 1970 and assumed command of I Marine Amphibious Force, 3d Marine Division on Okinawa, where he was awarded a third Legion of Merit for his service.
In April 1971, he returned to Quantico for duty as Deputy for Education/Director, Education Center, Marine Corps Development and Education Command. He was promoted to lieutenant general in August 1972 and on 1 September 1972 assumed command of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. During that tour, Lt.Gen. Wilson was presented the Korean Order of National Security Merit, GUK-SEON Medal, 2d Class and the Philippine Legion of Honor (Degree of Commander) for his service to those countries.
He was promoted to general on 1 July 1975, when he assumed the office of Commandant of the Marine Corps. As Commandant, Gen. Wilson repeatedly stressed modernization of the post-Vietnam Marine Corps. He insisted on force readiness, responsiveness, and mobility by maintaining fast-moving, hard-hitting expeditionary units, each consisting of a single integrated system of modern ground- and air-delivered firepower, tactical mobility, and electronic countermeasures.
Wilson retired on June 30, 1979, and returned to his home in Mississippi. For “exceptionally distinguished service” during his four-year tenure as Commandant, and his contributions as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (First Oak Leaf Cluster), upon retirement.
After retiring, Wilson served on the corporate boards of such businesses as Flour Corp., an engineering and construction company, and Merrill Lynch, a financial services company.
He is survived by his wife, Jane Clark Wilson, daughter, Janet Taylor, and two grandchildren.