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Clyde Richard Wilson
1918-1941

"A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself."

Joseph Campbell

U.S. Navy Seaman First Class Clyde Richard Wilson was a native of Paw Paw, a small community near Fairview, Marion County, West Virginia. He was born on October 31, 1918, to Charles C. Wilson and Dolly Ann Tennant Wilson. According to 1920 and 1930 U.S. Federal Census records, he had many siblings, including Thelma Wilson, Roy Wilson, Alice Lucille Wilson, Ray Wilson, Chester Wilson, and another child who died in infancy.

Clyde grew up in a small town that had been hard hit, like the rest of the state, by the Great Depression. The leading industry in West Virginia, coal mining, suffered a virtual collapse, and unemployed workers had to turn to New Deal agencies like the Works Progress Administration and the Public Works Administration to help their families. While it is unknown whether Clyde participated in any programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps, it can be concluded that he had a responsibility to help his large family make it through these tough times.

Clyde married Edna Marie Wilson on December 27, 1939, in Los Angeles, California, and they had a daughter. They did not, however, stay in California. For some time after their marriage they lived together at 322 South Second Street in Clarksburg, Harrison County, West Virginia. At this time, Clarksburg was a struggling, but not abandoned city. Vintage photos show streetcar tracks providing the main transportation through the downtown area.

S1c Wilson enlisted into the U.S. Navy on July 12, 1938, in Clarksburg. He was assigned to the USS West Virginia, known as the “Wee Vee,” from Baltimore, Maryland, and his first day on board was November 10, 1938.

Clyde was a member of the USS West Virginia crew in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He was on the ship when, on December 7, 1941, at 8 a.m., seven Japanese Type 91 aerial torpedoes hit the port side. This caused immediate compartment flooding, the effects of which included extensive water damage that ruined communication lines. The ship was also hit by two Type 99 No. 80 Mk 5 bombs that did not detonate, but knocked a floatplane over, spilling gasoline. The combination of the gas leak and burning aircraft caused the USS West Virginia to be engulfed by a large fire that originated on the USS Arizona. The ship was barely saved from capsizing, but was abandoned in the harbor by the surviving crew. Tragically, Clyde was one of over 2,000 American casualties from that fateful day.
USS West Virginia

USS West Virginia (BB-48) in San Francisco Bay, c. 1934. Official U.S. Navy photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives, photo # 80-G-1027204

Walls of the Missing

The steps, flanked by the Walls of the Missing, lead to the chapel at the Honolulu Memorial, National Cemetery of the Pacific. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

Although Clyde perished in the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, the surviving officers aboard the USS West Virginia spoke highly of his and his shipmates’ commitment to their country. In a letter to the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, senior surviving officer Hillenkoetter says of the deceased, “The entire ship’s company is deserving of the highest commendation, both for their work on December 7th and on the days following. All the ship’s company, officers and men, ask is another chance at the enemy. Their devotion to duty and their performance of duty have given new meanings to those phrases.” Clyde is memorialized at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific located in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Wilson received many military honors for his contribution to World War II, including the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and a Purple Heart. To honor and commemorate Clyde’s sacrifice to his country and community, bridge number 25-24-4.31 (1818) was dedicated to S1c Clyde Richard Wilson in 2008. The bridge is located in Marion County, West Virginia, and crosses the Big Paw Paw Creek. It is officially known as the “Seaman 1st Class Clyde Richard Wilson Memorial Bridge.”

Former West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is related to Clyde, as he was her father’s first cousin. She paid her respects to his grave in 2008 when her husband was on active duty in Hawaii and said on her social media, “Clyde Wilson never knew the daughter that he had. He wasn’t there to be the father every child needs in his or her life. For all the men and women who have served our nation—both in times of peace and war—I want to personally thank you for your service to our nation.”

Sources Consulted

“Clyde Richard Wilson.” HonorStates.org. Accessed 7 April 2017. http://www.honorstates.org/index.php?id=365664.
“How the Wee Vee Was Born [from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships].” Battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48). Accessed 7 April 2017. http://www.usswestvirginia.org/uss_west_virginia_history.htm.
Thomas, Jerry Bruce. “The Great Depression.” e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 9 August 2012. Accessed 7 April 2017. https://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/2155.Br> “United States Pacific Fleet Battleship, Battle Forces, U.S.S. West Virginia.” Battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48). Accessed 7 April 2017. http://www.usswestvirginia.org/battle_report.htm.

Article prepared by Olivia Ward , George Washington High School Advanced Placement U.S. History
2017

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Clyde Richard Wilson

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