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– Friday, April 21, 2017
Page 3
~Lynnfield History~
Lynnfield native Bill Wilkinson
honored at warship launch
By Helen Breen
Back story
On a cold, snowy April 1 this
year, the new 509-foot-long
Guided Missile Destroyer USS
Thomas Hudner was chris-
tened at the General Dynamics
Shipyard in Bath, Maine. Navy
Captain Hudner, for whom
the ship is named, had been
awarded the Medal of Honor
for his heroic actions in trying
to rescue his friend, Ensign Jes-
se L. Brown, during the Battle
of Chosin Reservoir in Korea in
December 1950.
At Chosin some 300 Marines
had held Hill 1542 for six days
so that 9,000 battle-wearyMa-
rines could make their fight-
ing withdrawal along the road
below. Now the surviving Ma-
rines needed help. They were
about to be overrun. The Navy
answered their call when F4U
Corsairs from the Carrier USS
Leyte bombed the enemy.
The Corsairs attacked day after
day until the Marine columns
reached their base in Hagaru.
It was during these missions
that Captain Hudner crashed
his plane in an unsuccessful
attempt to save Ensign Brown.
In his recent best seller, “De-
votion: An Epic Story of Hero-
ism, Friendship, and Sacrifice,”
Adam Makos outlines the re-
lationship between Hudner, a
privilegedPhilips AcademyAn-
dover grad, and Jesse Brown, a
sharecropper’s son.
Lynnfield’s BillWilkinson
In addition to the above inci-
dent, the best seller“Devotion”
tells the story of the other 24
Navy pilots who served with
Hudner and Brown on the Car-
rier USS Leyte, including Lyn-
nfield native Bill Wilkinson. In
a recent telephone interview,
Bill shared a few memories of
growing up in Lynnfield be-
fore following his dreamof be-
coming a Navy flyer, and later
a commercial pilot. “Wilkie,” as
he was known in the service,
grewup at 259Main St., where
his father owned a contract-
ing business. Bill mentioned a
few local“old timers,”including
Raymond Pope, who worked
with his father, and the latter’s
daughter, Edith, withwhomBill
went to Wakefield High. The
Pope family owned the farm
that was later taken to build
the Summer Street School.
Wilkie then enrolled at the
Severn Prep School near An-
napolis, an institution origi-
nally founded to prepare stu-
dents for the Naval Academy.
He was totally focused on a
flying career. After a two-year
matriculation at Yale, he spent
two years in flight training in
the V-5 Naval Cadet Program
at Pensacola. The programwas
designed to replaceWorldWar
II aviators. Candidates had to
agree not to marry until they
earned their wings. Wilkie, 22,
and his bride, Mary, 20, from
Virginia, married in July 1950
shortly following his gradua-
After his military service in
Korea and a stint in the Naval
Reserves, Wilkie became the
youngest pilot at AmericanAir-
lines at the age of 24. Mean-
while, in 1961 he and Mary
bought a newhouse at 13Dav-
entry Court in theGrant, where
they raised their three children.
In 1977 the Wilkinsons moved
to Punta Gorda, Florida, while
maintaining a summer resi-
dence in Northeast Harbor,
Maine. Bill retired after 35 years
with American Airlines.
Launching the USS
Thomas Hudner
Bill Wilkinson is one of only
three flyers left in the original
squadron that flew with Cap-
tain Hudner during the Kore-
an War. The honoree, Thomas
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Navy pilot BillWilkinson and his wife, Mary, inVirginia shortly
before their wedding in 1950.
(From “Devotion” by AdamMakos)
Captain Thomas Hudner, a squadron mate of Navy flyer Bill Wilkerson’s, for whom the new
destroyer was named.
(Photo courtesy of US Navy)
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