Theodore A. Wilson

1919 - 2006

Lucy Addison High School of  Roanoke, Virginia

Class of 1937

Press Release

San Francisco Chronicle

March 18, 2006

Marianne Costantinou, Chronicle Staff Writerurday, March 18, 2006

He was a combat pilot who served during World War II with the Tuskegee Airmen, the highly decorated all-black 99th Fighter Squadron. He went on 99 combat missions, and lived to talk about it. But he didn't. A modest man, Lt. Col. Theodore Allen Wilson rarely talked with his family about his fighting days, said Doris Wilson, his wife of 60 years.

But there was no question of his pride in being one of the first African Americans to serve as a military pilot, said a granddaughter, Michelynn Woodard, 34. His pride was evident in the room he had in his South San Francisco home that was dedicated to his 26-year military career, as a Tuskegee Airman and then a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force. Model planes, uniforms, bomber jackets, medals and books filled the room, she said. Even his room at the nursing home at the San Francisco VA Medical Center was filled with posters reminding him of his military past. And he was eager to share the pioneer history of the Tuskegee pilots at public speaking engagements attended by younger generations.

Nearly 1,000 black men served in World War II as Tuskegee Airmen. Lt. Col. Wilson was one of the few who survived not only the war but old age. On Wednesday, the Tuskegee Airmen lost another of their heroes when Col. Wilson, battling poor health for a decade, was felled by an infection related to his diabetes. He was 86.

Lt. Col. Wilson was born in Gloucester, a rural coastal town in Virginia, and grew up in Roanoke. His father was a general contractor, and his mother taught home economics in high school. He had a younger sister.

Col. Wilson would eventually earn a bachelor's degree in sociology from Virginia Union University in Richmond, but his studies were interrupted in his junior year by the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. He was inducted into the Army, and was soon transferred to the aviation cadet training center for African Americans at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. Nine months later, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and rated to fly single-engine fighter planes.

He flew the P-40 Warhawk and the P-51 Mustang on 60 missions over Europe, said his wife. As a fighter pilot, his job was to protect the cumbersome planes that were carrying bombs to drop on enemy targets. By the war's end, he had been promoted to captain.   He later saw combat again, during the Korean War, when he was part of the 13th Bomb Squadron, flying the B-26K bomber and then the C-47 over Korea and Japan, in 39 combat missions. His performance earned him the rank of major and a Bronze Star.

While serving in the military, Lt. Col. Wilson married the former Doris Scott, whom he met while an undergraduate, and they had two children. He also earned a master's degree in business from the University of Dayton in Ohio while he was stationed at a base there.  After retiring from the Air Force in 1968, Lt. Col. Wilson joined Bank of America, eventually rising to assistant vice president. He retired in 1984.

Col. Wilson was plagued by poor health for most of his retirement, said his wife. He spent the last decade at the VA Medical Center.   Although fighter pilots are popularly seen as swashbucklers bursting with bravado, on land Lt. Col. Wilson was always a soft-spoken, gentle man, said his wife.   "He was just so nice,'' she said. "He was the type who would open the door, always. He'd stand up when a lady would enter the room and give her his seat. He was a gentleman."

In addition to his wife, he is survived by two children, Suzanne Woodard of Austin, Texas, and Theodore A. Wilson III of Castro Valley; a sister, Margaret Thomas of Bethlehem, Pa.; and three grandchildren.

Funeral services will be today at 1 p.m. at the Bryant Mortuary, 635 Fulton St. in San Francisco.   Burial will follow at the Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, accompanied by a 21-gun salute.

This article appeared on page B - 5 of the San Francisco Chronicle


Tuskegee Airman

3332nd Fighter Group

99th Pursuit Squadron

Lieutenant Colonel Theodore “Teddy” Wilson

332 Fighter Group

99th Pursuit Squadron

United States Army Air Corps