James C. Wilson, was a SSGT in the US Army. He served in the USMC from 1986-1991 and deployed to Iraq. He joined the National Guard and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan during this time. When he returned home from deployment in 2010, he suffered from PTSD and ended his life on March 20, 2011.
A memorial page “In Memory of Staff Sgt Jimmy C Wilson” was started by Jimmy’s best friend, Terry L. Eutzy. Please feel free to add your memories, thoughts, prayers, pictures and anything you want to share, in memory of our fallen friend teacher, fellow comrade, fellow outlaw, officer, and most of all our brother and true hero. You will never be forgotten Jimmy and we hope this is a way for all who knew you can honor you in their own way. RIP James “Jimmy” C. Wilson, 1968-2011
Staff Sgt. James Wilson survives battleground but loses a war with another enemy
Posted Aug 7, 2011
From the article printed in PA Penn Live (link is attached for entire article)
The truck barreled past Robert Rafferty as the light turned green. Rafferty swerved and slammed the brakes.
The 1996 Jeep Grand Cherokee veered off into the opposite lane where Eisenhower Boulevard dips under the Pennsylvania Turnpike overpass in Lower Swatara Township. It hit the curve and flipped over twice, landing on the roof.
Rafferty jumped out of his car.
A man had crawled halfway out of the driver’s door.
“Hey, mister, are you OK?” Rafferty asked.
“Yeah,” said the man on the ground.
The truck was on fire.
“I have to get you out of here,” Rafferty said.
“OK,” said the man.
Rafferty leaned to pull him out, but the man reached back for something in the truck.
That man, Staff Sgt. James C. Wilson — Jimmy to everyone who knew him — had always carried a gun. A fascination kindled at a young age in the woods near his father’s Huntingdon home had lured him into the military and law enforcement.
At 42, Wilson had seen men blown to pieces inches from him, their blood splattering his face. He had seen children disguised in burqas used as suicide bombers, blown apart along with anyone in proximity.
Nothing frazzled Wilson. Not the enemy. Not the snipers. Not the landmines. Not the drug dealers he chased as a cop. Wilson was fearless. The Marine Corps had drilled that into him. “You eyeball me, boy, I’ll smack you,” he liked to taunt.
Wilson returned home in November, the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Company C, 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry having finished its 10-month tour in Afghanistan. Wilson had volunteered for it two years ago when he returned from his tour with the 56th Stryker Brigade in Iraq.
He was getting back to civilian life.
The Highspire Police Department had given him back his job, and Wilson had just signed a lease on an apartment in town. He bought a few pieces of furniture, and he and Chester — Chet as all his friends called his dad — talked about refurbishing old trucks.
But for months Wilson battled another enemy.
A stray tear every now and then betrayed what anguish dwelled in his heart. Wilson had lost men — close friends. Wilson had always been a heavy drinker, but now he chased their memories away with vodka.
This last tour had changed him. His friends saw the cracks in his armor, but Wilson seldom talked about it. He guarded his emotional torment. Suck it up, he used to say. It was the soldier way.
On the evening of Sunday, March 20, the daylight waning, Wilson, returning home from a friend’s house, had his favorite gun next to him, the Glock 17 his father had shipped to him when he was a young Marine in Kuwait. Wilson had wanted it for back up. “You just never know,” he would say.
Wilson was halfway out the driver’s side when Rafferty got to him. The windows had shattered. Glass shards punctured his back.
Family and friends search their hearts for an explanation as to why Wilson — with things finally looking up — did what he did next.
Did he have a flashback, Chester Wilson asks. His son always said he would never be captured. He would rather die than let the enemy get him.
Was he trying to take cover, his mind tricking him into thinking he was out on one of the barren Afghanistan fields riddled with the improvised explosive devices that had killed his men?
Was the prospect of another DUI — the possibility he might lose his job with Highspire — too much to bear?
Had his torment simply crushed his heart?
Wilson reached back into the truck.
A soldier is trained to always know where his gun is. Wilson found his and killed himself.
Detached and distant
Terry Eutzy II knew something was bothering his friend when more than a week after returning home from Afghanistan, he had not called.
Eutzy’s farm was down the road a couple of miles from Chester Wilson’s house. Jimmy Wilson loved helping around his friend’s farm, driving tractors, bailing hay and feeding the cows. Every time Wilson came back from training or a tour, the first thing he did was call Eutzy.
When two weeks went by, Eutzy drove up to Wilson’s camp, a trailer on about 15 acres of woods that provided a retreat for Wilson. The guys hung out there, mostly during hunting season, but Wilson went there when he needed solitude. His two Labradors had the run of the place.
Eutzy pulled up to the long driveway around 7 that morning. Wilson was sitting on the porch. His gun rested on the banister. “I saw him look at it as to make sure he knew where it was,” Eutzy said. “He looked at me funny. I almost want to feel like he forgot who I was.”
Eutzy walked up to the porch. Why didn’t you call, he asked his friend. “I didn’t want to see anybody. I just want to be left alone,” Wilson said.
He had been up since 2 a.m. and the bottle of whiskey in his hand was nearly empty.
Wilson seemed detached, distant. The Wilson he knew was a big-hearted guy who hugged his friends, picked them off the ground and roughed them up.
Eutzy had heard his friend tell stories about security patrol duty, the landmines, booby traps, bunker attacks. He had heard stories of the men Wilson lost — some right in front of him. The men who went home without legs. Wilson rarely opened up, but when he did, he teared up.
“He was pretty emotional about it,” Eutzy said. “He would tell what he could tell then toughen up and get over it. That was his job.”
Wilson had not seen green grass in four months, he told Eutzy. A memory tormented him.
Sgt. First Class Robert James Fike and Staff Sgt. Bryan Alan Hoover had shipped out to Afghanistan with Wilson in Charlie Company. The three became good friends. Wilson, Fike and Hoover liked to head back to their tents at the end of the day and have a few beers.
On June 11, 2010, out on a security patrol, Fike and Hoover were killed by a suicide bomber.
“He definitely was messed up because of the things he saw and [had] done, but he didn’t get into a lot of detail,” Eutzy said. “He’d say my platoon, my unit went out. We got attacked. This person got killed, but he didn’t go into a lot of detail about it.”
Wilson dealt with other memories, other men he had lost in Desert Storm and Iraq.
“You can’t erase stuff like that,” Chester Wilson said.
‘He was always tough’
Jimmy Wilson wasn’t cut out for school. He struggled and had horrible grades.
A few weeks after he graduated in 1986, he joined the Marines. Wilson would finally come into his own, putting behind what was at times a troubled childhood. His parents’ short-lived marriage had been wrecked by alcohol and fighting. Wilson was 8 when he went to live with his father.
Jimmy got his love of hunting, fishing, guns and playing ball from Chester.
“We were me and him for a long time,” said Chester, his son, Jimmy, staring back from the same piercing blue eyes, the father-son resemblance. “He always told me I was more of a big brother to him than I was his dad. We did everything together.”
Wilson loved being a Marine.
At the end of his four years, Wilson extended. The first Gulf War was about to start. He wanted to be a part of it. Wilson shipped out to Kuwait.
He earned meritorious citations from the Marine Corps for superior performance and leadership. When he returned, he seemed more mature. Those close to him saw a changed man.
“He lost men — good friends. Bang — he’d hit the table and the tears start rolling and bam, he’d be done,” Chester Wilson said.
Wilson found it hard to shake it off. He began to drink heavily and to have nightmares, tremors and sweats.
“He had a lot of things he needed to work out from coming home from Desert Storm,” said Billie-jo Sedlacek, the young woman Wilson met one summer in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Sedlacek and Wilson courted for nearly three years before they married in 1999, his fellow Marines saluting the couple before a horse and carriage whisked them away.
But the storybook marriage quickly frayed as Sedlacek watched her husband ease his torment with alcohol. Sedlacek said it was post traumatic stress syndrome.
“A lot of it was the fact that there were a lot of young kids that were shooting at them, that they had befriended,” said Sedlacek, who is remarried and lives in Philadelphia. “And all of the sudden they have to shoot back at them. Essentially 12-year-old soldiers. That’s got to be tough.”
Sedlacek urged her husband to seek counseling. He refused.
“He always felt that if you admit there’s something wrong with you, then you are succumbing to weakness,” she said. “He was very big on not showing weakness. He knew he was suffering. But that was always his thing, ‘You can handle anything.’ ”
Sedlacek forced Wilson to choose between marriage or alcohol. The two divorced in 2003.
That year, Wilson joined the National Guard.
Waiting for deployment, Wilson channeled his passion for guns and law enforcement with jobs in local police and sheriff’s departments.
“He’d always tell stories about how he’d go on drug raids and kick down doors. All the high action, high-speed chase,” Eutzy said. “He’d live for that. I always thought something would happen to him.”
Wilson was fearless.
“We went up against guys sometimes twice our size,” said Newport policeman Richard Behne, who worked alongside Wilson in the Perry County and the Dauphin County Sheriff’s Departments. “We were both 5’ 8”. They semi-resisted. But it wasn’t seconds we were on them. Even if he was by himself. He was taking no crap. He was a take-charge kind of guy.”
A former Army infantryman, Behne and Wilson shared combat stories.
“We both agreed there’s nothing wrong to think about it,” Behne said. “It happened in the past. Death is nothing somebody wants to see, at the same time it’s not something we want to gloat on. You think about it every day but to an extent.”
Wilson’s friends say alcohol didn’t make him angry, just more intimidating, obnoxious.
“Jimmy was a different kind of guy when he was drinking,” Behne said.
One weekend, Wilson locked himself up in his cabin near Newport and binged on vodka. When he started to fire his gun into the air, Behne stepped in.
He forced Wilson into his truck and drove him to the outpatient rehab program at Holy Spirit Hospital in East Pennsboro Twp.
“I pretty much think he had defeated everything at that point,” Behne said.
In some ways he had.
Few people knew Wilson had been married. Even fewer knew he had a son.
Wilson dated someone he met at his gym after his return from Desert Storm. Over the years, he would spend little time with Brett P. Strawser, the son born out of that brief relationship.
“Jimmy never had a lot of time for him,” Eutzy said.
A few months after completing the outpatient rehab program, Wilson was back to drinking.
In 2007, while working for the Highspire Police Department, Wilson was charged with driving under the influence and lost his license.
Wilson called his father to say he wouldn’t be able to get a hold of him for a few weeks. Wilson had turned himself in to rehab.
The next year, his unit mobilized for training before deploying to Iraq for an 8-month tour. Four months after returning from Iraq, Wilson volunteered to go to Afghanistan.
‘He showed us the ropes’
The two infantry companies that trained at Fort Indiantown Gap split into small teams after they deployed to Afghanistan and were assigned to five provincial reconstruction teams.
Wilson, Fike and Hoover belonged to the Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, a province less than two hours from the Pakistan border in an area notorious for deadly IEDs. Wilson was assigned to the capital of the province Qalat; Fike and Hoover to the village of Bullard.
Like other reconstruction teams in Afghanistan, the Zabul unit was made up of civilian and military personnel. Active duty Air Force, Navy, Army and Guard worked alongside Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development officials to carry out civilian and humanitarian missions. The National Guard provided the security detail, combing the area for snipers, suicide bombers and roadside bombs.
“Jimmy called it the volunteer squad. He was head of that. He would always put them together,” said Neal Perry, a specialist assigned to Wilson’s platoon.
Wilson’s unit negotiated hordes of children against the risk that they could be used as decoys or booby trapped with explosives.
“You are always surrounded by tons of kids,” said Dan Shakal, a freelance photographer from Harrisburg embedded with Wilson’s unit. “They are always crawling around you, pulling pens, asking for candy. You’re always trying to pull them away from you because you’re still a target.”
The threat of roadside bombs was constant. Traveling the supply route between bases was done on high alert.
“You start to see things,” Shakal said. “An ant hill, dirt piled up. You learn to see it after a while. If you don’t, you’re in trouble. Disturbed earth. Recently dug. You don’t go near it. Some you can’t do anything about. They burrow under the road. Nothing you can do about it. They stay there until kids step on it.”
Perry, who was 18 when he arrived in Afghanistan, grew to rely on Wilson.
“He took a lot of us under his wings,” Perry said. “A lot of guys hadn’t deployed before. He showed us the ropes. He worked with us and got us up to par.”
Wilson was a formidable patrol leader.
“He’d spot things that nobody else could catch,” Perry said. “His eyes were pinned to that kind of thing.”
Once, coming off a 24-hour mission, Wilson, leading his men across a field to get back to the main road, noticed something: Tiny stones had been painted, the telltale signs of a potential landmine.
“He stopped us,” Perry said. “Nobody else had seen it. He stopped and looked around. We made it out of there.”
Wilson earned everyone’s respect.
“That was their sergeant,” Shakal said. “They did what he said. They looked up to him, and he took care of them. He made them come back. Some of the places they went were pretty bad. He always brought them back.”
At night, when he returned to his tent, Wilson was the jokester, the uncle figure, the one who got everyone laughing.
“He had a shaved head. I remember me and my roommate shaved our heads bald and we ran into his tent and said, ‘Look, Jimmy, we are like you,’ ” said Perry, who shipped back with Wilson in November and now lives in York.
“I trusted Jimmy 100 percent,” he said. “He was one of the guys I trusted the most out on the sector.”
On June 11, 2010, Fike and Hoover were on a patrol mission at the Bullard bazaar. Wilson was nearby in Qalat.
The men believe the Taliban disguised a young boy in a burqa, the traditional woman’s clothing of Afghanistan, and strapped him with explosives.
Fike and Hoover’s death hit the men hard.
“It was miserable being around the base,” Shakal said. “Morale dropped. But they knew what they had to do. They stuck it out and did their job. Nothing else to do.”
Questions race through Chester Wilson’s mind.
Jimmy loved being a cop for Highspire. He was working overtime and making good money. If he intended to kill himself, he would’ve taken his .45, not the small Glock, Chester said.
He wonders if Jimmy had a flashback. Did he become disoriented in the moment of the accident? Jimmy always told him he would never let the enemy capture him. He would never be tortured. Did the gun go off accidentally, he wonders.
“I’m not a prayer man but the last couple of years, I’ve prayed a lot,” Chester said. “I really in my heart thought this would happen. I thought he would get killed as cop or soldier. He had no fear. He wasn’t scared of nothing.”
Chester knows Jimmy was hurting.
“He talked to me, ‘Hell, dad, stuff blew everywhere,’ ” Chester said. “Sometimes we’d be up there at camp and tears just start running down his face. He would never show any emotion sober.”
“He was a super guy, and he had his demons,” he said. “You see signs of problems, and before you could act, it’s too late. There’s lots of us who saw the signs, but before we could talk about what course of action we could take, it was too late.”
On the evening of March 20, Jimmy was finally catching up with another friend, Mark Henninger, meeting his girlfriend at a family cookout. “He was in celebration mode,” he said.
Henninger was used to Jimmy’s heavy drinking, but that afternoon, he said, his friend was unusually drunk. Jimmy was sitting by the bonfire when the shadow of someone coming from behind startled him.
“Whether it was the soldier mode or the police mode, he unholstered his weapon,” Henninger said. “That’s when I thought, ‘I have to get him out of here.’ ”
Henninger insisted he would take him home. Jimmy refused.
“He said, ‘I’m a Guardsman. I’m a soldier. I’m a policeman. I can get myself home,’ ” Henninger said. His Highspire home is less than two miles from the scene of the crash.
‘A hero and a good person’
“He was a hell of a warrior,” Chester Wilson said. “He had medals I didn’t even know about.”
Hundreds of people attended the funeral. Uniformed personnel, military, police, EMTs, outnumbered civilians. Their cars choked the roads that climb through Huntingdon’s hills.
“The attendance at the funeral was enough to let anyone know he was a hero and a good person,” Eutzy said.
Jimmy Wilson is buried two miles from his dad’s house at Green Lea Cemetery in McAlevy’s Fort, alongside other Wilsons.
Chester said Jimmy probably didn’t realize how many people he had touched — how many respected him.
Chester last talked to Jimmy that Saturday night. Jimmy told him he was going to break up a drug gang Sunday night.
“I said, ‘Jimmy watch your back,’ ” Chester said.
“I ain’t scared, Dad,” Jimmy said.
“I love you, boy.”
“I love you, too, dad.”