At 17, Wilson was with the U.S. Navy fighting Vichy France in Casablanca in 1942. He was there as American troops made their way through Sicily to Salerno in 1943, and he saw both invasions of France in 1944.
After a short stint as a mail carrier, Wilson took up arms again in Korea, fighting in the battles of Inchon, Wonsan and Hun Sham. He received an honorable discharge in 1954 when a bout of polio paralyzed the left side of his body. Wilson said he still has problems swallowing.
Since he took part in seven battles, Wilson is eligible for the Silver Star, but his military career is only part of the story. Wilson celebrated his 90th birthday on Friday.
“I was a tough old guy back then,” he said, disputing his status as a 100-percent disabled veteran. “I’m not 100 percent disabled. I’m still in good health.”
Wilson has lived in the Crescent City area for about 17 years, watching elk eat his apples on a two-acre parcel of land south of town.
Wilson was born on the Choctaw Indian Reservation in Oklahoma and grew up in an orphanage in Arkansas. He said he is one of 14 children and remembers traveling to and from the cotton fields by covered wagon.
Wilson, who had never been out of Arkansas, joined the Navy at 16½, making his way to Chicago and then to Europe. June 1942 was a time when everybody was joining the service, he said, but it was anything but a cakewalk.
“No doubt about it,” he says, “war is hell.”
When he left the Navy, Wilson went into the insurance business and opened eight restaurants and drive-ins in Orange County, he said. He raised his children, Bobby, Jerry and Debbie, in Tustin.
Jerry Wilson said at that time Orange County was orange groves and wilderness area. His home bordered Irvine Ranch, which stretched all the way to San Diego.
“I literally ran wild with my dogs in the country,” he said. “It was a great place to grow up.”
Troy Wilson owned four houses on Balboa Island, an upscale community in Orange County, as well as duplexes throughout Southern California. He had enough money to buy an airplane that he and Jerry flew to Anaheim in 1962.
Wilson said he was able to spoil his kids growing up, but they were still made to work at his restaurants
It wasn’t unusual for celebrities like John Wayne and Ernest Borgnine to come in for a burger, he said.
“His first restaurant was two blocks from Disneyland,” Jerry said. “He put a drive-in hamburger place. … He would have sales and have cars lined up for miles.”
“Police had to direct traffic,” Troy Wilson added.
Now, even though he is in his ninth decade, when it’s not raining Wilson is on the golf course. He said he typically plays three rounds of golf a week and up until two years ago chose to walk the course.
Wilson said it’s not just the golf that still keeps him going. It’s also the result of 20 years of vitamin supplements.
“They put things in your garden to make your vegetables grow,” he said. “They put things in your flowers to make them grow. Why not put them in us to make us grow?”