From teaching her foreign languages to pushing her to her physical limits, the U.S. Army forged Phyllis Wilson’s character over her 37-year career.
Wilson described at American Legion Post 270’s annual Veterans Day commemoration, held Nov. 11 at McLean High School, how she had struggled to make it through jump school at Fort Benning, Ga.
During a grueling qualifying run where falling even a little behind would cause candidates to fail the program, a burly soldier saw Wilson was fading and told her to stay at his shoulder no matter what.
“I finished the last mile because of him,” she said, adding the incident summed up the Army’s camaraderie. “We are a team, even when it doesn’t make sense.”
Inclement weather forced the ceremony’s relocation from its usual outdoor memorial garden in front of the school to a room indoors.
Post 270’s new commander, Lois Wilson, served as master of ceremonies and noted that the 19 million U.S. veterans are a diverse group with one common commitment: Defend America with their lives, if called upon to do so.
In addition to fighting wars, military service members also must constitute a strong deterrent against would-be aggressors, said Cmdr. Wilson, who then quoted the late Gen. Douglas MacArthur: “The soldier, above all others, prays for peace.”
Capt. Wilson Lee, commander of the Fairfax County Police Department’s McLean District Station, worked with U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Meneghini to present a ceremonial wreath, which had ribbon across it reading “Heroes Live Forever.”
The audience sang along to one verse of “America (My Country, ’Tis of Thee)” and McLean High student Peter Hinckley closed out the proceedings by bugling “Taps.”
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-McLean-Arlington) called McLean High’s memorial garden his favorite place in McLean because it honored heroes from the past at a place that trains future leaders.
Sullivan noted that this year’s Election Day was closer than usual to Veterans Day and said the American process of electing its leadership is a “shining star to the whole world.”
While advocating for proper respect for the 3 million female veterans who have served the country since its inception, keynote speaker Phyllis Wilson was adamant that standards not be lowered to ensure more women qualify. She noted she always had tried to be the best soldier and not settle for “pretty good for a woman.”
Wilson asked for “door position” in jump school so she would be the first to leave the aircraft when parachuting. She described the exhilarating and scary experience as akin to a child being tossed into the air by a parent and then saying, “Again!”
Wilson served as a warrant officer, a unique position in the military that requires those holding it to be candid, forthright and sometimes even brash with superiors, giving them observations they might not want to hear.
Some of that backbone has come in handy with sexists who’ve doubted her status as a veteran. After one man at a grocery store questioned her for taking a parking place reserved for veterans, she schooled him on her long military service and afterward decided to apply for her current job as president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation.
The position has required her to work harder than at any other point in her life, but Wilson said she is determined to assemble recollections from female veterans to ensure their commitment and sacrifice receive proper recognition. Calling those personal histories “incredible stories of power and strength,” Wilson said women’s growing role in the military has helped shape American society.
“They served and they deserve to take their rightful place in our history,” she said.