Some of my earliest memories revolve around my father coming home on leave during World War II. He was drafted late in the war (1943, I think) as he had a deferment, married with a child. Everybody we were related to was in the military, but all Navy. My uncle, my grandfather on my mother’s side (WWI), another uncle who was a Marine or Navy fighter pilot, a very good friend who was on a submarine tender in the Pacific. My expectation was that I would join the Army.
After high school, I attended Wheaton College in Illinois, majoring in Political Science. I was commissioned in 1963 and went on active in December of 1963, attending the Armor Officer Basic Course. In 1964 I was assigned to 3rd Squadron, 12th Cavalry Regiment, the divisional cavalry squadron of the 3rd Armor Division in Budingen, Germany.
I spent 16 months as platoon leader of 1st Platoon, B Troop and 5 months as Assistant S-3 and Liaison Officer. It was during this time that I first was introduced to the Air Cavalry concept in the D Troop of the squadron, which influenced my decision to attend flight school five years later.
In January 1966 I was sent to Vietnam with orders to Armor Command, MACV. At the time I arrived, there were no slots in Armor Command, so I was assigned as Assistant Sub Sector Advisor in Cam Lo District, Quang Tri Province, I Corps, and later Trieu Phong District. In late April, 1966, I was contacted by Armor Command and assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 4th Vietnamese Cavalry Regiment. I remained in that position for eight months, then moved to the Regimental Staff Advisor position for the remainder of my tour.
From Vietnam I was assigned to Ft. Carson, CO, assigned to an infantry battalion as Assistant S-3 and S-3. During this time I began flying and became licensed. I got off active duty and attended flight school, getting my commercial, flight instructor, and instrument instructor ratings, as well as ground instructor. I worked as a flight instructor and charter pilot for a fixed base operator in northern Illinois, and also worked independently. I also taught ground school for the local community college.
When local work opportunities dried up, I talked to Armor Branch about coming back on active duty, and, looking back at the Air Cavalry experience in Germany, I asked about the possibility of flight school. Essentially, they said that I could return to active duty, going to Vietnam immediately, or if qualified, I could take a 10 month delay TDY en route and go to flight school. No brainer. I started flight school at Ft. Wolters, TX, and finished Hunter AAF in Georgia, Class 70-06.
Upon completion, I was assigned to C Troop, 2nd Squadron, 17th Cavalry, 101st Division, at Phu Bai. I flew for six months as the Scout Platoon Leader, call sign Condor 16. My son was born in July with several birth defects, and I was given emergency leave, followed by a reassignment to Ft. Carson, CO. With no aviation slots available, I was assigned to the 63rd Transportation Battalion (S&S) (MP) (Avn). (The additional designations are somewhat tongue-in-cheek, although those type companies were part of the battalion.) I maintained my flight status during this time, also serving as safety pilot for the battalion commander in T-41’s. I was then assigned as Headquarters Company Commander, 43rd General Support Group.
Upon completion of the Armor Officer Advanced Course, I was assigned to Ft. Rucker, completed Flight Instructor training, and was assigned as Branch Commander of various training branches in the Department of Undergraduate Flight Training, training initial entry students in contact, tactics, and low-level and nap-of-the-earth flight.
I resigned from active duty in 1975. I served as Assistant G-3 Training for two years in the 85th Division (Training) during their transition to an Armor Training unit. At the time I was working for ServiceMaster Management Services Company and travel began to interfere with my Reserve duties in the unit, so I transferred to the Individual Ready Reserve, remaining until my retirement from the Army Reserve in August 1991.
I resigned from ServiceMaster in 1989 due to family requirements, and completed my M.B.A. in 1991. Subsequently, I worked in consulting, and in automotive repair facilities. I was working as a manager with Wal-Mart when I had a major heart attack in 2005. This forced my disability retirement.
As I have slowly come back from the heart attack, and following the death of my wife in 2014, I have become more active in church and other activities. I am a life member of VHPA and VVA, a member of Association of the United States Army, and of the Military Officers’ Association of America. I am also a Patron member of the National Rifle Association.
Chapters are totally separate, independent entities and are not authorized to act as an agent, or representative, of the VHPA or any or the other chapters.
JOHN WILKINSON, PRESIDENT 2015-2017
South Missouri Chapter of VHPA
South Missouri Chapter of VHPA