David S. Wilson, LtCol USAF, Ret., “Headed West” on September 22, 2022.

Lt. Col. David Stark Wilson, USAF, Ret., died Sept. 22, 2022, in his home in Amado, AZ after a long struggle with cancer and Parkinson’s disease at age 89.

Born Nov. 13, 1932, in Faulkner County, Arkansas in a family farmhouse without electricity or indoor plumbing, David was of the fifth generation of Wilsons native to that area. Parents Mary Jewell Wilson, nee Stark, and David Harold Wilson gave him one older sister and three younger brothers. The strong bonds between all of these siblings supported David throughout his life. Growing up in Arkansas, he enjoyed the outdoors, riding (and racing) horses, shooting, hunting, and sports. But there was no dearth of work either. By age 12 he was working the fields with actual horsepower.

After WWII, the family moved to Stone Mountain, Georgia where David graduated from high school in 1950 and matriculated at Emory at Oxford the following school year.

During the summers and one winter of his college years, David (now called “Dave”) worked in the Montana wilderness for the Forest Service. By the last two summers, he had become a smoke jumper, parachuting into remote fires all over the Northwest. He gained admittance to this elite organization through his very well-developed muscular physique, inherent athleticism, stalwart courage, unending stamina, cheerful demeanor, and unflagging work ethic. He also learned over 100 folk songs and used his excellent voice and guitar playing to entertain his fellow smoke jumpers when at their base in Missoula.

Dave graduated from Emory University in 1955 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science with a minor in history. At Emory, he met his first wife Edna Dell Wilson, nee Gay, who would give birth to his three children. Susan Elizabeth was born in 1956, Cynthia Ellen in 1958, and David “Scott” in 1960.

Dave entered the United States Air Force in 1956 where he excelled at flight training ending as a fighter pilot in the F-100, the Air Force’s most advanced fighter aircraft at the time. Originally based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Dave served tours in Lebanon; Aviano, Italy; Incirlik, Turkey; and Thailand during the early stages of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

In 1964 he became a flight trainer at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas working mostly with Vietnamese nationals. He left the regular Air Force in 1966 to take a job as a pilot for United Airlines based in Denver, Colorado, where the family moved for their first experience of civilian life. Dave commuted by military jet several weeks a year to Iowa, where he served in the Air National Guard flying F-100s for the 174th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 185th Tactical Fighter Group.

In 1968, that Group was called to active duty in Vietnam where Dave flew 257 combat missions and earned the enduring respect of all his fellow pilots, most of whom would remain friends for decades, as well as numerous medals for courage and excellence. His original combat-based lyrics to the tunes of old folk songs earned him fame even outside his unit and eventually ended up in the Library of Congress.

After he returned from that war his first marriage fell apart and he struggled adjusting to life back “in the world,” particularly the cultural upheaval of those times, and his children’s involvement. But he continued to fly for the Guard and United and returned to the country living on a small cattle ranch outside Berthoud, Colorado. The revitalization of his Christian faith and practice delivered him from that ordeal and faith became a bedrock of his mature years. Another bedrock of those years was his marriage to Judy Rae Wilson, nee Wilder, which was consecrated in 1978 and thrived the remaining four and a half decades of his life.

Having grown up guiding tourists on horse rides through Rocky Mountain National Park, Judy shared his enthusiasm for the outdoors and his love of horses. She was an accomplished equestrienne and professional horse trainer who loved to share in Dave’s horse-packing elk hunting trips in the Rockies, which often involved a solid core of former military airline pilot friends as well.
In 1987 Dave and Judy purchased a 5,000-acre cattle ranch near Grover, Colorado where they ran beef cattle, trained Arabian and paint horses, and hosted Wilson family gatherings with loved ones from around the country. They also took part in Christian sponsored relief work in the U.S. and Africa and worked with their neighbors to support Christian values in their community through work with their congregation.

In 2017, Dave and Judy retired to Amado, Arizona where Dave enjoyed gorgeous vistas of the rugged desert mountains and basked in the loving care of his wife till his final day.

David Wilson is survived by his wife Judy, daughter Susan Wilson Stern, son D. Scott Wilson, brothers “Mickey,” “Joe,” and “Bobby” Wilson, five grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, and dozens of nieces, nephews, and great-nieces and nephews.

A service [was] held on Nov. 19 at the Lutheran Church of the Risen Savior. (1)

Source (1): https://www.gvnews.com/obituaries/david-stark-wilson/article_23f9b72a-5945-11ed-ad0a-630055d27d2d.html

Scroll to Top