Bob Wilkinson of Bryan joined the service in 1949 right out of high school, after he was in on the tail end of Korea, he was stationed near Beeville, Texas, to train in flying helicopters.
"I was on maneuvers in the Philippines and I got a transmission from headquarters Marine Corps to report to Quanico immediately because I was being considered as one of the pilots for Marine One."
Wilkinson was eventually selected as one of the marine helicopter pilots assigned to the White House and he transported President Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie Eisenhower back and forth to Camp David.
"The first year over there I spent 32 weeks at Camp David, and usually picked up the Eisenhower's from the White House lawn on Friday afternoon, then fly them up to Camp David and on Saturday morning we would usually fly them over to their farm which was only about 8 minutes away in Gettysburg and come and get them before night fall."
"They were always due to fly back on Sunday afternoon, and it was usually about 3:00 p.m. in the afternoon. An hour before that we would get a call in our quarters and it would be Mamie on the line telling us she wasn't flying back and the president wasn't either. We would be flying the president back at 7:00 a.m. on Monday morning and she would drive back. Mamie didn't like to fly, she would fly to get away from Washington but she never flew to get back, as far as I knew, on helicopters. She would apologize for keeping us up there another night and then invite us down to dinner and watch a movie. Ike liked westerns so Hollywood would ship the latest westerns out to him every week and in those 32 weekends I never saw the same movie."
When Vietnam broke out, Bob Wilkinson was sent on his 2nd and 3rd tours of duty in southeast Asia.
"I was in Vietnam for about 3 months as a CO of a support squadron, headquarters and maintenance squadron, and then took over an attack squadron, a marine helicopter attack squadron. I had 18 gunships and 6 huey slicks. Everyday we had to support long range recon.You knew you were going to be shot at everyday. At that time I had very few senior officers, Lt. Colonel, 2 or 3 majors and the rest were 1st Lt.'s right out of flight school. One of them was the most highly decorated aviators for Marine Corps in Vietnam. Another became a marine corps 4 star. I am very proud of those young marines."
Bob Wilkinson retired to Bryan in 1977 and is a member of the local BSA - the Been Shot At group and he still keeps those fond memories of his time in action.
"28 years of service and I enjoyed everyone of them like it was, a few hours of boredom and a few moments of stark terror. About the only thing I can say about combat is when your in combat and someone is shooting at you, you feel like 10 seconds is 2 hours, you can see it going on but there's not a darn thing you can do about it."
For Voices of Veterans, I'm Tom Turbiville.
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