10 brothers, all veterans: The Wilson family of Caldwell gave the nation its all

Siblings served in the military from the Korean War through Vietnam, meet again in Meridian

Idaho StatesmanSeptember 9, 2013 

Caldwell native Norman Wilson distinguished himself during the Korean War when his U.S. Army company, occupying a patrol base near Tokchol-li, found itself surrounded and under attack by three enemy regiments on Sept. 6, 1951.

Wounded in the initial assault, Wilson, a private first class, refused medical aid and remained at his post, firing a machine gun into the ranks of the charging soldiers. During breaks in the attack, Wilson exposed himself to heavy mortar and artillery fire in order to obtain more ammunition.

Wounded twice more by small-arms fire, Wilson refused to be evacuated. Instead, he remained in his position to cover his comrades as they fell back. He drew fire in a diversion that allowed three soldiers who had been pinned down to crawl to safety.

By the time the fight was over, Wilson, a member of Company M, 3rd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, had taken out automatic weapons and killed 25 enemy soldiers.

For his bravery, Wilson, who doesn’t like to talk about his service, was presented the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second-highest military honor.

“I got out. A lot of other people didn’t,” said Wilson, 84, who now lives in Lake Havasu, Ariz.

Wilson’s nine brothers served in the Army or Navy. The family says that is the largest group of Idaho siblings in history to serve in the military.

“To me, the Wilsons have been blessed. It’s remarkable that we all served and all came back,” said Floyd Wilson, 77, of Emmett, who served as an Army attache for military operations in Hawaii in the late 1950s and early ’60s.

On Sunday, all 10 brothers and sisters Kitty Zimmerman, 75, and Irene Critz, 73, from Tahuya, Wash., got together for a family reunion in Meridian. It was a bittersweet gathering for a tight-knit family spread out across the country.

“This will likely be our last reunion together,” said Zimmerman, who hosted the gathering at her home off North Meridian Road. “It’s amazing that all 12 of us are still living. My brothers were my heroes.”

The Wilsons, children of the late Lowell and Clara Wilson, grew up on a farm on 10th Street in Caldwell.

More than 100 family members stretching back to the Revolutionary War have served in the military, said Tom Wilson, 67, second-youngest of the siblings.

He’s a retired Idaho State Police sergeant who serves as a security officer at the Canyon County Courthouse. He served aboard the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge during the Vietnam War.

The youngest brother, Phillip Wilson, 66, of Star, said he was 3 when Norman was wounded in Korea. He joked that his father had tried to enlist, too, but was turned down.

“Our dad had too many kids,” Phillip Wilson said. “They told him to stay home and take care of the kids.”

Phillip said he didn’t feel any pressure to join the military. When he graduated from Caldwell High School, he wondered what to do.

“Do I work for Crookham Seed Co. or for Simplot, or do I go in for four years and grow up?” he asked himself.

Phillip said he decided to join the Navy. He served with Tom on the Kearsarge.

As for the other brothers: Riley Wilson, 82, of Vancouver, Wash., served with brother Ted Wilson, 81, of Boise, on the USS Salamonie, a Navy fleet-replenishment oiler during the Korean War. Ken Wilson, 79, of Bliss, served with the Army during the Korean War and took part in the occupation of Japan.

Jack Wilson, 69, of Bremerton, Wash., and Carl Wilson, 71, also of Vancouver, served in the Army in Germany in the early 1960s. Jack’s twin brother, Joelon, of Nashville, served in the Army at Fort Hood, Texas.

“We’re Idaho’s No. 1 military family,” Jack Wilson said. “I’m proud of all of my brothers and sisters.”

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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