It’s just a small American flag. Underneath is the pledge, “I give everything for the county it stands for. D. S. Wilson.”
This small memento is etched into the Wall of Memories in Iowa’s World War II memorial, just east of the Capitol. Behind that small flag is the story of Dallas County’s Danny Wilson.
He indeed gave everything–his young life.
A fighter pilot, he was lost in February of 1945, when his silver Lightning dropped back to take photos on a mission in Europe.
When Danny began cadet training, his sister Doris had written him, “I just want you to know, whether you turn out to be an ace or a grease monkey, you’ll still be a swell brother to me.”
In a snowy forest in the foothills of the Alps, members of the Wehrmacht found a dead American “flying-lieutenant” in the wreckage of the fork-tailed devil, as the Nazis called the twin boom plane.
Danny’s parents and sisters had seen him for the last time at the farm near Minburn in April of 1944. While he was home, he had his picture taken by Edmonsons in Perry. Silver pilot’s wings and gold bars of a second lieutenant pinned to his dark uniform. Solid jaw, broad shoulders. Confident, content, serious.
The American airman who lost his life at Schwanberg, Austria, in February of 1945, was identified by his dog tags, which the Wehrmacht kept–Daniel S. Wilson.
On his last visit home, Wilsons had also taken snapshots of Danny, one beside the ’42 Plymouth with his sisters and he nephew. Doris, her first baby due in six weeks, tucked behind Darlene and Danny so her “condition” wouldn’t show. Danny held Darlene’s 18-month-old son in the crook of his arm like a football.
The 37th Fighter Squadron in Italy reported Dan Wilson’s P-38 Lightning lost. His belongings were inventoried. The flight surgeon filled out a form on Lieutenant Wilson, adding, “good man–good pilot.”
Wilson’s son Dale was already Missing in Action. When Doris learned her younger brother had received his overseas orders, she wrote, “Danny, you take darn good care of you, and get back home as soon as possible. We don’t want any heroes in the family, just all of us home.”
At Danny Wilson’s burial–in his uniform in a pine casket–were four strangers: the village inspector (police chief), the grave digger, the bergermeister (mayor)–who saw to it that the young American’s grave was marked with a wooden cross that included his name and date of death. And the Roman Catholic priest who, according to the casualty records, held a burial ceremony for him–secretly.
A telegram in March of 1945 notified Wilson that “Daniel S. Wilson has been reported missing in action since nineteenth February over Austria.” But they never learned the details of his death and burial.
The daughter born to Doris was the first family member to pursue, 50 years later, his casualty records. The first to contact the mayor of the village where he was killed. To see a copy of his death certificate, in German. To weep at the photo, on page 41 of the Schwanberg history, of his wrecked P-38.
That fall, after the war was over, Danny’s grave was located through captured German records. From the uppermost row on the left side of the cemetery, the remains of Unknown X-7341, B.T.B. (believed to be, because the Nazis had not left his dog tags) Daniel S. Wilson were removed and taken to France to be reburied in an American cemetery there.
But Danny Wilson’s parents received no other word about him until January 1946, when the War Department reported that it had received “evidence considered sufficient to establish the fact of death.”
In a box with his other belongings, Danny’s parents had found a small armed forces New Testament. On the page with the American flag, Danny had written in his bold script, “I give everything for the country is stands for.”
Dan Wilson is now buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France. His sisters visited his grave in October 1997.
All five Wilson brothers served in the war–two in the Navy, three in the Air Corps. At age 21, Danny was one of the three young pilots who never came home.
Danny is remembered on the Iowa World War II Freedom Memorial. Second panel from the south, near the bottom.
A small American flag.