Legendary Marines: PFC Robert Lee Wilson

Carl | June 19, 2013 

Private First Class Robert Lee Wilson, 23, of Illinois was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism at the cost of his life, 3 August 1944, in the Marianas.

The young Marine who died on Tinian was awarded our Nation’s highest award for saving the lives of his comrades by throwing himself on an enemy hand grenade immediately before it exploded in their midst.

Robert Lee Wilson was born 21 May 1920 in Centralia, Illinois, and enlisted in the Marine Corps, 9 September 1941. He went to Chicago then to San Diego, California, for training.

At the time of his death, PFC Wilson served with Company D, 2d Pioneer Battalion, 18th Marines, 2d Marine Division. He fought in practically every major engagement in the Pacific until the day of his death. A Presidential Unit Citation signed by Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy, dated 4 February 1943, was awarded him as a member of the 1st Marine Division (Reinforced), in the Solomons in August 1942.

Serving with the 2d Marine Division (Reinforced), PFC Wilson received a second Presidential Unit Citation signed by Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal “for outstanding performance of duty in combat during the seizure and occupation of the Japanese held Atoll of Tarawa, Gilbert Islands, 20-24 November 1943.” In addition, PFC Wilson received the Purple Heart with one gold star.

One of eight children, PFC Wilson was considered his father’s right hand man around the farm, before enlisting in the fall of 1941. “He was one of the best workers I ever saw,” the boy’s father said when speaking of his 23-year-old son. “None of my boys believed in waiting for the draft. They volunteered,” he added.

The Medal of Honor was presented to his mother at a ceremony held on 26 July 1945, at the American Legion cottage in Centralia.

Private First Class Wilson was initially buried in the military cemetery on Tinian, but was reinterred in Hillcrest Cemetery, Centralia, Illinois, in 1948.

Reprinted with the authorization of the United States Marine Corps History Division

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