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Winston P. Wilson was a major general in the U.S. Air Force. He also served as the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Winston Peabody “Wimpy” Wilson was born in Arkadelphia (Clark County) on November 11, 1911, to Winston Wilson and Eunice Cotton Wilson; he had a brother and a sister. The family moved to Little Rock (Pulaski County) during Winston’s childhood, and he attended Little Rock High School. He obtained the nickname “Wimpy,” as football coaches would yell “Win P. Wilson!” to get his attention. He enlisted in the Arkansas National Guard in 1929 and graduated from high school the same year. Wilson attended Hendrix College while also serving in the 154th Observation Squadron as a mechanic. Wilson graduated from Hendrix in 1934 and also took flying lessons with Earl Ricks, future acting chief of the National Guard Bureau. Wilson earned his private pilot’s license in 1936.
In 1940, he became qualified as a military observer and was commissioned as a lieutenant. Wilson also earned his commercial pilot’s license the same year. At the same time, he entered active duty with the National Guard and was promoted to first lieutenant on September 21, 1941. The 154th was federalized after the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. The unit served at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and moved to Elgin Field, Florida. Wilson served as an observer on anti-submarine patrols while stationed in Florida.
Wilson married Margaret Eldridge in 1942, in the midst of World War II. The couple did not have children, and Margaret died on March 8, 1994.
In September 1942, Wilson was transferred to Headquarters, Army Air Corps in Washington DC. He received a rating as a service pilot in May 1943 and commanded the Tactical Reconnaissance Branch at the headquarters beginning in July 1943. He received a promotion to the rank of major on August 11, 1943, skipping the rank of captain.
Wilson’s next assignment came as the commander of the Sixteenth Photo Squadron. He took command in October 1944, and his unit was responsible for mapping and charting the Western Hemisphere. Posted in the Pacific theater of war in 1945, Wilson first served as a liaison officer to the Far East Air Forces before being assigned as the assistant photo officer at that headquarters. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in November 1945 and, on January 1, 1946, became the commander of a reconnaissance unit in Tokyo, Japan, and Manila, Philippines.
Wilson left active service in July 1946 after the war had ended and rejoined the Arkansas National Guard, where he was a training officer and served with the 154th Fighter Squadron. Wilson was recalled to active duty with the National Guard Bureau in September 1950 during the Korean War. He was promoted to colonel on May 7, 1951, and became the acting chief of the Air Force Division of the bureau on July 1, 1953. On January 26, 1954, he received the permanent post, five days after receiving promotion to the rank of brigadier general. He was promoted to major general on May 3, 1955, and became the deputy chief of the National Guard Bureau two days later.
Wilson was nominated by President John F. Kennedy as the chief of the bureau in 1963 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He served two four-year terms. While leading the bureau, he completed the racial integration of the National Guard and moved to a monthly drill schedule from the weekly meetings previously used. With more intense training alongside regular units, the National Guard began to more closely mirror the active-duty military. Wilson worked to make the National Guard a more professional part of the military.
After retiring in 1971, Wilson moved to Forrest City (St. Francis County). Wilson suffered a stroke and died in Memphis, Tennessee, on December 31, 1996. He and his wife are buried in Forrest Park Cemetery in Forrest City.
For additional information:Major General Winston P. Wilson. United States Air Force. http://www.af.mil/AboutUs/Biographies/Display/tabid/225/Article/105191/major-general-winston-p-wilson.aspx (accessed December 15, 2016).
Saxon, Wolfgang. “Gen. Winston P. Wilson, 85, National Guard Leader, Dies.” New York Times, January 3, 1997.
David Sesser Henderson State University
Last Updated 12/28/2016
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