Pvt. D.S. Wilson, U.S. Army, Squadron D, Iowa State Teacher’s College – 1943

Danny Wilson, from a Minburn, Iowa farm that had no electricity nor running water, enlisted in the Army Air Force in February of 1943. After a month at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, he was sent to ISTC, Cedar Falls, Iowa, for College Detachment.

“Iowa State Teacher’s College, Cedar Falls, IA., March 6, 1943

“Dear Folks,

“We left Jefferson Barracks at 6:00 P.M. yesterday and arrived at Cedar Falls at 7:00 A.M. this morning. We marched through about two miles of Cedar Falls before we got to this college. We are the first bunch of men to come to this Iowa State Teachers. This is really a keen place after getting out of J.B. We have taken over a lot of this college and I’m now writing on a desk in an assigned room in Seerley Hall (men’s dormitory). These rooms are steam heated with wash basin; and all kinds of drawers and racks to put clothes, etc., instead of in two barracks bags.

“The purpose for sending us here is to better prepare us for cadet training so that there won’t be so many eliminated.”

A letter home to his folks, Clabe and Leora Wilson at Minburn, from Dan Wilson, their fourth son to enlist in the military during WWII.

In a letter to his sister, Darlene, he added that the march through about two miles of Cedar Falls was “in a heavy snowstorm.”

He added, “It’s 3:30 P.M. and the tall structure (about 50 yds. from my window) which has a clock on each of its four sides and a bunch of bells on top, has been playing a series of tunes for a half hour.”

He’s talking about the ISTC Campanile.

When Dan learned his sister Doris was planning on joining the WAVES, he reported that there were 1500 WAVES also training at the Cedar Falls college. (The women’s branch of the US Naval Reserve was known as the WAVES.)

Doris Wilson instead married Warren Neal, another Iowa farmer who’d joined the “Air Corps” and become a pilot.

Daniel S. Wilson was commissioned and awarded his wings at Williams Field, Chandler, Arizona, in March of 1944. He became the pilot of a P-38 Lightning and was killed in action February 19, 1945, at Schwanberg, Austria. Dan Wilson is buried at the Lorraine American Cemetery, St. Avold, France.

The five Wilson brothers served in WWII. Only two came home. They are remembered on the Dallas County Freedom Rock in Minburn, and in their niece’s book Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II.

Iowa State Teacher’s College is now the University of Northern Iowa. For a few years, it was known as the State College of Iowa. Dan Wilson’s niece, Joy Neal, graduated from SCI in 1966.



  1. It sounds as though Danny enjoyed his training at the teachers’ college–or at least the surroundings. I am curious about this line from his letter: “The purpose for sending us here is to better prepare us for cadet training so that there won’t be so many eliminated.”

    • When his brother Dale began, so many cadets were washed out even before attempting to fly because of academics, especially math. Instead of having those taught at an air base, they started assigning them to colleges for a few months first. Danny’s group was the first at ISTC. His brother Junior’s College Detachment Training was at Oklahoma A&M, Stillwater, Oklahoma, about a year later.

  2. I finished USAF Undergraduate Pilot Training in August 1968 (class 69-01). Williams AFB! I was a U.S. Marine exchange student. 83 started, but only 51 made it through. The 83 were divided. Half flew in the the morning and the rest were in the classroom for academics. Afternoons were reversed. Academics included math, physics, meteorology, aerodynamics, navigation, instrument flying, aircraft systems, etc. I’m sure Uncle Danny would have succeeded in any case.

    • You’re right! Dan Wilson was valedictorian of his class, plus he’d studied math on his own while farming at Minburn, but he certainly enjoyed being on a real campus. I forgot that you also trained at Williams Field! (It’s also where Dad trained in B-17s in early 1945.) Thanks, Cousin Bob!

    • Thank you, Nancy. Leora lost those three sons and was widowed within a three year period. I was a toddler during her hardest year, but she was such a delight as a grandmother, for another four decades!

  3. I agree with Nancy above, the sacrifices of your relatives are immeasurable, Joy. My dad served in the Navy, and especially for my grandmother’s sake, I’m glad he came home. She’d already lost a two-year old son to the Spanish Flu in 1918 and her husband in 1930. The Greatest Generation endured so much! I pray that should we face overwhelming circumstances as they did, we will find the wherewithal to persevere and triumph on the side of what is good and right.

    • Thank you, Nancy. Leora lost a pregnancy when they came down with that influenza, lost a set of twins to whooping cough in 1929 (when all 9 children had it at the same time!), and another baby two years later. I’m so thankful and humbled to share Leora’s stories. I hardly knew any of them while she was still living.

  4. Just an add-on comment. Of the 83 original trainees, all had, at least 4-year degrees (many, AF Academy). To take a farm boy or one from the city and have them flying combat in a complex machine a year later is amazing. Sure, with enough bananas, you can teach a monkey to fly. But it is much more than “push the power up, pull back and the houses get smaller. Push forward, and the houses get bigger!” Bob

  5. Joy, this letter really shows how we come to appreciate the little things when we haven’t had them: having places to put his stuff was quite a step up!

    • Luanne, he’d never lived in a house with closets! The kids studied at the kitchen table, even at Minburn, where they had a phone but no electricity. How fun that he enjoyed having a desk.

      • I can well imagine how he must have felt having all that space! It’s amazing how you can take a blank space and add a closet and all of a sudden there is something more magical and it feels like more space although you have less for your body!

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