Slices of Life

Anecdotes and Thoughts about George "Top" Wilson

George "top" Wilson

George and I have known each other since about 1947. That's 55 years of a friendship full of wonderful memories. We both were in the U.S. Marine Corp and we could tell numerous war stories that could go on and on but I think that is perhaps for another time.

George and I were avid fishermen and also enjoyed going deer hunting together on occasion. One particular trip that comes to mind that George and I went on occurred, I believe back in 1949, late fall during deer hunting season.

We left our homes in Los Angeles and headed for the High Sierras, the Mammoth Lakes country, specifically the Red Meadows camp ground located on the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, elevation 7,500 feet. Arriving late that night we did manage to get some sleep before our hike the next morning into the back country heading for the upward climb toward The Minarets, the area that we intended to hunt. After half a day’s climb we arrived at Johnson Lake, located in a beautiful meadow, a couple of miles south and below The Minarets. The view of The Minarets, enjoyed from several points on the way in to the area we were going to, is one of the grandest sights in the Sierras. This group is a tremendous wall of sheer rock, with numerous jagged spires and pinnacles crowning its crest, with a dazzling snow field reposing beneath. George and I, whenever we viewed this spectacular sight were always awed at the beauty of it all. We decided to set up our camp at Johnson Lake. The next morning we set out from camp to see if we could find some deer or at least one that was legal size game. After hunting all day and not having seen anything to shoot at, and by this time pretty discouraged, we decided to head back to camp and call it a day. We had about an hour or more of daylight left when we both looked up and straight ahead of us, not more then 50 feet away, I would guess, was a nice size buck standing perfectly still. Needless to say we both raised our rifles and fired at the deer at the same time.

Only one shot had brought down the deer and of course, we both felt that each of us had fired the fatal bullet. Without forensic evidence, this debate may go on forever. Neither of us really cared, as we were elated that we had a deer. After gutting out the deer we headed for camp which was still a 1/4 of a mile away or more, but we arrived back at camp about dark with the deer, both of us ready for some chow.

After breakfast the next morning, we washed out our utensils in the lake where the water on the aluminum mess gear immediately froze. Then we gathered up all of our possessions and started back down the mountain to Reds Meadows. I believe we had hiked back in about 5 miles or so and I do remember it was a huge effort for us to get that deer down off that mountain and back to Reds Meadows. It took us all day to accomplish the feat. When we finally reached the San Joaquin River, low and behold who was there to greet us but a Ranger to check us out to see if we had properly tagged the deer. We had used George's tag and it was indeed filled out correctly. Whew, we were both bushed but somehow we were able to ford the river with the deer. The river was fairly shallow at this point, and I think it was George who went to get the car to bring it somewhat closer to us so we didn't have to carry the load any further. We had returned in triumph to home base with our trophy. Hurrah.

At another time, another year, we did return to this same area for another deer hunting trip. A good Marine friend of George's, a Lt. Col. George Gilliland, along with a friend of his joined us for this particular hunt. This is of course, another story.

Over the course of a number of years George and I, with other buddies, made many trips to the Sierras, not all hunting trips but many times just to go trout fishing. A lot of our fishing trips were in this same vicinity around the Mammoth area. We have loads of great joyous and cherished memories that will never be forgotten.

God Bless you George, friend and Marine Corp buddy of many years.

Ed Peterson (Pete), December 3, 2002

Sometimes known to George as "Cowpoke" when he e-mails me.

Attention on Deck,

Saddle up Top and take a ride back to 1966 with Bob "Hungry Horse" Killen. I was a young cowpoke then, fresh off the Flathead and Glacier ranges of northwest Montana, barn sour and saddle sore. It was in August when I hitched a Mighty Mite ride in from 1/11 to Division to interview for the newly created 4312 Radio and TV position at ISO. The 'Top', a guy who wore his cover off kilter and not exactly squared away, conducted the 'job' interview. With nothing more that a year of College DJ experience behind me, the Top exhaled long and slow, rubbed his chin for awhile, then made the decision to take a chance on a largely wind blown Lance Corporal.

There were many assignments, home town interviews, reality inserts, each of them coupled to a roller coaster of tears one day, laughter the next, wins sometimes too only to be followed by more losses. But through the standard issue workload of combat reporting I remember something more; the positive impact of the Top. That one year under his command changed the next thirty five years of my life. Top 'George' Wilson was an encourager for me, not a discourager as often was the case with NCO's who were not comfortable in their own skin.

Top corrected our English, pumped up our introductions, endorsed our ideas, but he was never afraid to say 'No' and mean it. In the middle of a horrible, unpopular war, Top always found the time to encourage creativity, to lift the snuffies up when we were down, and most of all made sure we believed in ourselves. Yes Top, even in this place that some called hell on earth, you still sent out a positive light that had a powerful impact on those of us entrusted to you by our country and our Mothers. You were and are now a Marine's Marine, an NCO's NCO, and most importantly a Man's Man.

That year launched me into many creative directions, and as my own life now matures, I reflect on that time with appreciation, warmth and affection. I don't know how many times I've spoken to my own boys about your leadership, and I don't know how many times I've spoken to key managers in my business today about your knack for the positive, your ability to lead by example and trust. Vietnam was indeed a life changing experience for all the combatants, but for this snuffle in Top's command it was also a positive moment, one I will always cherish. In the end what I take away from that year, that military relationship with the NCO who was so different than standard command and control model, was that I learned that Happiness is different than pleasure. Happiness has something to do with struggling, enduring and accomplishing.

Semper Fi Top

And our Love,

Bob 'Hungry Horse,' Killen and Family, November 23, 2002

I don't really have any anecdotes about George, but here are a few thoughts----

I haven't known George nearly as long nor as well as I would like, but he has been a positive influence in my life, nonetheless. His wit and humor have helped lift me out of many a grumpy time. And though I am and will always be jealous, I think it is absolutely fitting that his name will live on forever in the name of a new dinosaur, Tanycolagreus topwilsoni.

George, Tanycolagreus is honored to carry your name. God bless you, my friend.

Charlie McClellan, November 9, 2002

There are so many anecdotes with George as a protagonist, I hardly know where to start.

Our Kalispell trip in 2000 was a wonderful trip for both of us as we talked non-stop and reminisced big-time. We grew up in that paradise for boys and have great memories of our time there. We were so pleased to see that the two houses where we once lived are still there; the grade school we attended is still functioning; the building where dad worked is there, but is now an office building; the park where we spent endless hours summers and winters looks much the same. I think they preserved it all just so we could see it again sixty years later.

One of our favorite places to go as boys to was our neighbor's log cabin far out in the woods, next to the Flathead River. It was in an isolated place and a tad scary because wild animals ruled there, including bears. George and I would happily help the neighbor run his trap line walking through the wilderness, never paying much attention to the fact that bears enjoy eating small trapped animals since they can't run away. We went anyway, and thankfully never met a bear. We were seriously afraid of grizzlies that we knew were in those woods.

The cabin was a large, comfortable log cabin with a huge fireplace we kept pine logs burning in when we were there. The walls of the cabin were covered with all kinds of animal skins as the neighbor was a fur trader who bought and sold furs. His principle fur suppliers were Flathead Indians who always scared me some as they often came to the neighbor's house with their furs. If it sounds very 19th Century to you, it had many of those elements, especially for impressionable boys.

One night, as we sat around the cabin by the fireplace (on a real buffalo robe,) we heard a big racket just outside the cabin. We peered out the window and in the darkness we saw three black bears tearing up the garbage pit. The pit was very strongly built of large timbers over the hole where garbage was thrown. The bears had no trouble destroying the timbers and getting into the garbage. We panicked and ran to the big front door with an axe and long iron nails. We nailed the door shut and wondered if they would tear it down next. Ironically, they could have easily broken the windows and climbed in if they were interested in having boys for supper, but strangely, we didn't consider that possibility.

The king-sized master bed was covered by the full pelt of the biggest grizzly bear that had ever been killed in the area (shot by our neighbor as he ran the same trap line). The bear robe covered the bed and the paws reached the floor on both sides. The preserved head was still attached as were the claws on the bear's paws. The bear's mouth was open and the teeth were inches long as were the claws. The head was so large we could not get our arms around it. That nearby bear skin and head were especially scary that night although we knew the grizzly was no more. Finally the bears outside went away and we talked about our "close call" for hours. There are scares and there are scares, but that one was memorable.

What we find hard to believe today is how little attention our parents paid to us, ignoring the dangers that really existed, any of which could have terminated us. We often took off alone on foot or bikes for the cabin miles away and felt free to roam the woods and play around the fast moving river. We used to sit on top of a big log jam in the river and fish through the logs. One fall and it would have been bye-bye boys. The folks did not seem to care even if we were gone for full days and sometimes at night too. So much for 30's era parenthood. Nevertheless, George and I survived.

Paul Wilson, November 8, 2002

Copyright © 2002 Gary Bobzien. All rights reserved.