The ultimate sacrifice

Tyler Wilson examines letters written by ‘a high school sweetheart’ to his brother William Michael ‘Mike’ Wilson while stationed at Fort Ord, Calif.

In memory of William Michael ‘Mike’ Wilson

A cardboard box sits

unopened on a table outside Tyler Wilson’s

home in Boulder.

“This is all of Mike’s stuff,” he said. “This

is the first time I’ve opened it.”

The contents inside belonged to William

Michael Wilson, known to friends and family

as Mike.

On June 27, 1969, Private First Class

William Michael Wilson died in a battle

“trying to take another hill” in Vietnam

near the border of Laos and Cambodia, said

Tyler Wilson. Mike Wilson was the second

young man from Sublette County to lose his

life during the Vietnam War, the Pinedale

Roundup reported on July 3, 1969. He died

outside a small, remote outpost called Ben

Het, the article continued, “when a booby trap


Born on April 12, 1949, Mike Wilson was

barely 20 years old when he gave his life for

his country, community and family.

“Mike went to Vietnam and served in the

army just like his fellow men and women,”

Tyler Wilson said. “I’m still here because

of my brother and the other army men and

women. If it weren’t for the military, we

wouldn’t be standing here today looking at the

green grass and mountains. One day you wake

up as a young kid and then become a soldier

the next day. I’ve seen it.”

Fragments of history

Back in 1969, the Wilson home, built more

than 100 years ago, stood alone on a dirt road

south of the Boulder firehouse.

“There weren’t any of these houses or

fences around,” Tyler Wilson said. He pointed

to a field across from the front porch.

“That’s where we took pictures of Mike

when he graduated (in 1968).”

Tyler Wilson looked across the same yard

more than 50 year ago when a car pulled up

to the house. Tyler Wilson was only 10 years

old at the time.

“We were sitting on the front porch –

grandpa,” he said. “My dad was up working

on the mountain (as an outfitter) and mom

was in the house. One of the survivors from

Mike’s platoon, one of the boys serving with

Mike, came up the drive with a Colonel


The military men delivered the news

that Mike Wilson died fighting in Vietnam.

They left a box with the family containing

letters, military forms and personal items that

belonged to Tyler’s older brother.

Months after graduating from Pinedale

High School, Mike Wilson received his draft


“He came home that evening and told

everyone in the kitchen that he thought about

running away to Canada like others did,” Tyler

Wilson said. “But dad said, ‘You’re not going

to run away. You’re going to fight for your

country and protect your brothers and sisters.’

So Mike said, ‘okay.’ He loved his country.”

Tyler Wilson carefully pulled each

document from the box and unfolded them on

the table. The military forms included report

cards from Mike Wilson’s training days at

Fort Ord – he excelled at basic training.

In May 1969, Mike Wilson shipped out

from Oakland, Calif., for Vietnam with

the rest of his platoon. The box contained

checklists of what the soldiers were allowed to

bring, down to the amount of cash permitted

for the trip.

The box also contained a “Welcome to

Vietnam” packet. Mike Wilson served in

the 1st Battalion, 52nd Infantry, known as

the “Ready Rifles” with the motto “fortis et

certus,” meaning “the brave and the true.”

The 52nd Infantry formed the basis for the

198th Infantry Brigade, activated in May of

1969 for deployment in Vietnam.

The soldiers of the 198th lived up to their

motto in Vietnam, the U.S. Army states on its


“During the Vietnam

campaign, the unit

distinguished itself in combat

operations, destroying enemy

bases of operation, capturing

weapons and ammunition

caches and denying the

enemy use of infiltration and

logistical routes.”

More memories

Mike Wilson showed grit

and courage long before

he was called up. When he

was 16, Mike Wilson left

for a hunting trip up Horse

Creek with his brothers.

One was seriously injured.

While another brother stayed

behind, Mike went to find


“Mike ran 3 miles as fast

as he could,” Tyler Wilson

said. “That proved he’d be a

strong soldier and man in his


Mike Wilson loved

the outdoors, hunting and

working with horses. Before

getting drafted, he worked

as an outfitter for his father’s

company, Silver Creek

Outfitting, and for the Falers

at White Pine.

The box delivered to the Wilson family in

1969 contained several personal items taken

from Mike Wilson’s kit the day he died. These

included a shaving razor, brush, name patches

and his wallet. Tucked inside the wallet was a

1967 Wyoming Game and Fish small game

hunting license.

“Mike was an excellent shot and one hell

of a horseman,” Tyler Wilson said. “We’d go

out riding every day to Silver Creek.”

Tyler Wilson recalled his older brother

returning from a successful horn-hunting


“Mike got plenty of elk horns stacked

up on a saddle horse,” he said. “He was out

gathering antlers just for the fun of it.”

Letters from Mike Wilson’s girlfriend took

up a significant portion of the box. Wilson

carried the letters with him during the weeks

he spent in malarial swamps and rice paddies

where the enemy lurked in the shadows.

“Mike had a girlfriend, his high school

sweetheart,” Tyler Wilson said. “They were

going to get married when he got out of the

army. But he never made it back and it broke

her heart.”

Mike Wilson spent a lot of time with Tyler

and the other Wilson brothers.

“Me and my brother were pretty close,” he

said. “There were six of us boys growing up.

Mike was really kindhearted.”

Tyler Wilson keeps his brother’s dress

uniform and the American flag that the U.S.

Army draped over William Michael Wilson’s

coffin safely stored in the family home.

“I’m proud of that flag and that uniform,”

he said.

In front of the house, another American flag

flaps in the wind. This one is weather beaten

and frayed around the edges, but all 13 red and

white stripes and 50 stars still stand out. “That

flag out front is tough, just like my brother.”

cutting wire – me, my brother, sister and


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