By Kyla Hurt
Commander Tom Wilson walked into the offices one morning over a year ago, wanting to know about advertising, looking to drum up some activity at the Morgan County Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) located “up on the hill” out on East Morton Avenue. I liked him immediately. We sat and reviewed not only advertising options, but also connected. It reminded me of the casual, yet meaningful conversations I had in my pre-teen and then teen years after my request was approved to go hang out at the truck stop in Tuscola, Illinois, while visiting Gramma and Poppy. The people there were mainly retired and moved at a different pace than the rest of the world. Two hours in one of those booths was typical, just enough time to barely start to breach a personal collection of memories and stories of life.
Most every Monday morning, Morgan County VFW Post #1379 Commander Tom Wilson was a bright spot in my day – he’d stop by the office to hand-deliver the ad changes for that week, generally cheery and full of a healthy dose of ornery. He might sign off with a tip for me to “stay out of trouble, now.” Over many Mondays, I learned more about him. Retired Gunny Sgt. Thomas A. Wilson of the United States Marine Corps had a particular flair for being warm and open – for being very humble and thankful for life and its moments. He served his country as a member of the United States military for longer than I’ve been alive.
I recall a time when he came by late, past the deadline for requesting ad changes. He was sitting in his truck in the parking lot and I came up to him to say hi. He looked different then. I reminded of the deadline and he apologized for being late to see me. You see, he had been coughing up some blood and missed deadline because of his health; still, he came by directly from his doctor’s appointment nonetheless.
From talks with Mr. Wilson, I learned of the monthly birthday party held at the VFW, open to anyone who was celebrating a birthday that month. He invited me several times, but I had scheduling conflicts. Eventually, I held my own birthday party there, enjoying the karaoke and hospitality from the staff and regulars, Veterans and civilians alike. Mr. Wilson had made sure to add my name to the poster displayed at the entrance to the VFW for all those May birthdays. It was a little thing, but that detail was significant. It was indicative of the love that Mr. Wilson had for people.
In early August, only a few days after Mr. Wilson lost his wife, Barbara, in late July, he was in the office. Sadness was in his eyes, but he pushed on. I hugged him. This strong man was so brave and honorable.
In the next months, Mr. Wilson seemed different. The entire time of knowing him, he faced each day with smiles, jokes and his upbeat temperament, not allowing his own health issues to dictate his day. Yet, he was changing. His health continued to diminish and he was finally hospitalized. Everyone at the VFW kept us in the loop, culminating with a voicemail left on my cellphone that let me know that Mr. Wilson had passed.
It makes me sad and I cry for the loss of my friend, but I find peace in knowing that he loved his life and the people who surrounded him. I am happy that he is with his love, no longer suffering. Mr. Wilson was such a neat man. I am thankful to have met him. I am honored to have worked with him, now being able to share a little bit of my interactions with such a good man. I’ll see if I can stay out of trouble for you, Mr. Wilson. It’s been a pleasure.