Know Your Military

Medal of Honor Monday: Army Pfc. Richard G. Wilson

Oct. 21, 2019 | BY Katie Lange

Military medics are serious about taking care of their fellow service members in battle, often risking their own lives to do that difficult job. Army Pfc. Richard G. Wilson was one of those men who gave the ultimate sacrifice to save another during the Korean War. For that, he earned the Medal of Honor. 

A soldier in his dress uniform smiles for an official photo.
Richard G. Wilso
Army Pfc. Richard G. Wilson, Medal of Honor recipient.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 481015-A-ZZ999-811

Wilson was born in Marion, Illinois, on Aug. 19, 1931. His family moved to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, when he was a boy. 

In 1948, Wilson left high school after his junior year to join the Army, enlisting on his 17th birthday. He trained at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and volunteered to go to airborne school. 

Wilson left for Korea with his unit, Company I of the 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment, in late summer 1950. On Oct. 20, he and his fellow paratroopers jumped behind enemy lines north of Pyongyang, North Korea, to cut off retreating enemy units. The jump was one of the largest airdrops in American military history. 

Several soldiers in protective helmets stand near an M-4 tank. One man is looking out from a hatch on top.
Soldier Evacuation
Wounded U.S. Army soldiers are evacuated as M-4 tanks of the 5th Infantry Regimental Combat Team move to the front in the Kumchun area of South Korea, Oct. 6, 1950.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 501006-A-ZZ999-976C

The next day, Wilson accompanied his company on a reconnaissance mission on a hillside near the small town of Opari. As most of the unit was passing through a narrow valley flanked on three sides by hills, enemy soldiers ambushed them, opening up a barrage of mortar and gun fire. 

A lot of men fell as they tried to get to safety, and Wilson was among them. He moved from one injured man to another to tend their wounds. The unarmed medic constantly exposed himself to enemy fire, but his fellow soldiers reported that he didn't seem to be worried about his own safety. 

The unit was ordered to withdraw so they wouldn't be surrounded and isolated. Wilson helped many of the wounded men to safety, making sure that no one was left behind. But when he learned one man who had been presumed dead was seen trying to crawl to safety, he went back — despite protests from his fellow soldiers. 

Without a weapon, Wilson returned to the onslaught, going back to one of the most dangerous locations on the hillside to find his fallen comrade. 

Two soldiers carry a third between them past sparse trees on a battlefield. In the foreground, three other soldiers holding weapons keep watch.
Seoul Battle
United Nations troops fight on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea, Sept. 20, 1950.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 500920-A-ZZ999-906C
A wounded soldier, whose leg is bandaged, raises his head to sip from a large bowl while lying on the floor under a blanket. Another soldier, whose head is bandaged, sits beside him in a chair holding a pitcher and prepares to pour refill the bowl held by his wounded comrade.
Medical Aid
Army Sgt. 1st Class Louis F. Walz, left, and Pfc. Raymond M. Szukla receive medical aid at the 8063rd Mobile Army Surgical Hospital attached to I Corps in South Korea. The men were wounded in action by the communist-led North Korean forces, Nov. 4, 1950.
Photo By: Army photo
VIRIN: 501104-A-ZZ999-104C

He never came back. Two days later, a patrol found him lying beside the man for whom he had gone back. Wilson had been shot several times while trying to shield and give aid to the soldier. He was 19. 

Wilson's bravery and self-sacrifice inspired his fellow soldiers and earned him the Medal of Honor. In a ceremony at the Pentagon on Aug. 2, 1951, the medal was presented to Wilson's widow, who he had married shortly before he deployed to Korea.

In the decades since, several buildings on military installations have been named in his honor, including one at Fort Sam Houston and at an elementary school at Fort Benning, Georgia.

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.