Beacon's William Wilson: eponym of an American war hero
As published in the Beacon Free Press September 2018. Written by Robert Murphy, Beacon Historical Society. Compiled by Theresa Kraft.
Over 556 young men from Beacon went off to this Great War. Young men, most of them were born and reared amid humble surroundings. They were not considered great as the world measures greatness, but they were destined to achieve it. They responded to the call of duty. On August 19, 1917, these men would march out of the Newburgh Armory, ferry across the river to Beacon to catch the train for camp in New York City. While waiting here at the railroad station, these soldiers would be greeted by a crowd of a thousand well-wishers all gathered to give a patriotic farewell to their neighbors and sons going Over There to fight the Hun. For a handful of these men from Beacon, this would be the last time they would ever see their hometown again.
We must not forget our martyred dead, Beacon’s immortal thirteen. These brave sons who met the supreme test without flinching, who sacrificed their young lives up on the altar of their country.
This year Beacon commemorates the 100th anniversary of the death of the soldier who is the eponym of an American war hero--Private William B. Wilson. He was killed in action in Belgium on August 19, 1918, the first soldier fromBeacon to die in World War I. Today, a century after his death on the battlefield, few know of him or the reason why the Wilson Post - Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 666 was so named. History can be fickle and easily forgotten after a generation or two, but Private Wilson's story of sacrifice needs to be retold and remembered.
Private Wilson and his 107th Regiment sailed to Europe in the spring of 1918, and spent the early summer months in training before facing the grueling trench warfare against the Germans. By that August, the 107th was ordered to the Dickebush Lake sector in Belgium, where they joined up with a British Battalion so that the Yanks could be “eased into the war” next to their more experienced British counterparts. The Regimental historian of the 107th would later describe this sector as the “Noisiest, smelliest, ugliest, muddiest of places anywhere along the Western Front.” It was also a killing zone for the Allies. From the high ground of nearby Mont Kemmel the Germans would rain down mortar shells and sniper fire onto the American trenches. On the day of August 19, Private Herb Miller of Newburgh pulled sentry duty at an observation post close to the German lines. Private Miller was felled by enemy sniper fire, and was unable to be rescued in daylight because of the immanent peril of the situation. At nightfall Private Wilson and Corporal Richard Connery volunteered as stretcher-bearers to bring back Miller. Both came under mortar fire; Connery was wounded, Wilson was killed trying to carry the body of his best friend, Herb Miller, out of No-Man’s Land. Best friends—Miller and Wilson—were the only fatalities recorded by the Regiment that day, August 19, 1918.
Word of Wilson's and Miller's deaths reached their hometowns on September 18, 1918. The best friends had died on the same day, August 19, the only two soldiers from Company L to be killed on that day. Robert Murphy has been president of the Beacon Historical Society since 1998.
Beacon WWI Honor Roll
William B Wilson
Thomas B Carroll
Frank H. Van Houten
James J. Tomlins
John J. Bump