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Hamilton graduate, Mike Wilson, killed in Vietnam

Wilson was part of first year of HHS students

Dec. 31, 2012

Local historian Fred Keller recently shared a binder of photos, history and war letters from Michael J. Wilson. Wilson was one of the original students in Hamilton High School's first year in 1962.

Wilson was the started guard on Hamilton's football team when the school started varsity play in 1964. Wilson also wrestled for the school at the 138- to 145-pound weight class. Coaches Bill Connor and Hal Delfosse helped him train for a second-place finish at the state meet in Madison. Wilson later won the Braveland title at 138 pounds as a senior.

After graduation, Wilson attended the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, but about six weeks into his first year, he was drafted.

Wilson could have avoided going to Vietnam since college students were exempt from induction until they completed college. But his best friend Bill Kallio remembered Wilson saying, "That's not for me. I'm going to enlist immediately."

Wilson's younger brother, Robert, remembers he and Mike growing up with a passion to join the armed forces. "When we were growing up, our favorite movies were military. Mike and I had one hero that stood out the most, and it was Audie Murphy from 'To Hell and Back,' " Robert recalled.

His brother said they both grew up with strong values about their duties to their country. And Wilson then enlisted in the Marines.

He went to boot camp in San Diego before shipping out to Vietnam in December of 1967 as a radio operator with Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Marines, 1st Marine Division, which promoted him to Pfc.

Keller shared two stories about Wilson's death.

A fellow soldier, Bob Hanna of Ohio, who had known Wilson since March of 1968 when he first joined Company B claims the service records placing Wilson's death in Quang Tri Province are incorrect. Hanna said Wilson was actually killed in Quang Nam Province.

After more than nine months, Wilson was due for some R-and-R in September of 1968. That's when he was ordered out on a nighttime patrol, Hanna recalled. "We were north of Da Nang, and we made contact in a nighttime ambush. He was hit. He had a head wound." Hanna said Wilson came out of battle alive, but seriously wounded resulting in his death.

Wilson's commanding officer sent a letter that tells a different story. He reported that Wilson was hit by a sniper when his relief force was sent in to reinforce the ambush squad.

Hanna said Wilson's death was particularly hard since he was supposed to fly out tow days later to Hawaii. "We heard that he was going to meet his family, and just possibly his girlfriend, and they just might get married," Hanna said.

A memorial display for Wilson was on display at the Sussex-Lisbon Historical Society and later became part of the museum's permanent collection. After Wilson's death in 1968, Hamilton started a Mike Wilson Award given annually to a wrestler who is not only good, but also persevering.

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