Mystery Painting of Soldier Identified

Painting of Master Sgt. John R. Wilson 600x400

In the first issue of the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade's newsletter published in June 2012, a challenge was made to identify an original oil painting found in the brigade headquarters building.

The painting was a head-and-shoulders portrait of a Soldier who had no identifiable marks. There was no accompanying plaque or any information other than the ribbons on his uniform that showed he was a World War II veteran and a Silver Star and Purple Heart recipient.

There were no clues to the artist; the only marking was his or her last name, Young, and a date, 1952. Nor were there any clues as to why the painting was in the building.

Did the subject of the painting once work or live on Fort Meade?

The other units that occupy the building complex, such as the 902nd MI Group and the 310th MI Battalion, were asked about the painting. Inquiries also were made at the Fort Meade Museum.

But there was no luck in identifying the Soldier in the portrait. No one could correctly answer the challenge that was proposed last summer -- until now.

Mike Bigelow, command historian for the Intelligence and Security Command, asked for a copy of the 780th MI Brigade's newsletter for the command's historical records. (The 780th is a subordinate unit of INSCOM.)

After receiving the issue and flipping through the pages, he noticed the portrait and recognized it to be that of a painting that had been lost for years.

Bigelow identified the portrait to be of Master Sgt. John R. Wilson, who, during the Korean War, was a member of the 25th Counterintelligence Corps (CIC) Detachment, 27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division.

According to the book "In the Shadow of the Sphinx, a History of Army Counterintelligence," Wilson "was among the CIC cadre deployed in the early days of the war. A veteran of World War II in the Pacific, Wilson had risen to the rank of major, but following the Army's downsizing, had enlisted with the CIC."

When Wilson was alerted early in the morning of Oct. 13, 1950 that the enemy was moving to capture the village of Pangso-ri during the Korean War, he led a patrol of 30 Korean police and interpreters to surprise the enemy guerilla force before it reached the village.

Wilson, who stood at 6 feet, 6 inches, took four Koreans with him and proceeded to dislodge the enemy, who had made a stand in one of the houses.

In the subsequent firefight, Wilson led a successful attack on the hostile position. He was killed by a sniper, but his patrol eliminated the enemy force and his actions facilitated the capture of 21 opponents.

For his gallantry under fire, Wilson was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.

On May 16, 1952, the CIC Center at the former Fort Holabird in Baltimore dedicated three buildings to honor three men of valor. The buildings were named after Sgt. Woodrow G. Hunter, killed on May 18, 1944, in the Insoemaar Islands; 1st Lt. Eldon L. Allen, killed in action in Germany during the airborne crossing of the Rhine, March 24, 1945; and Wilson.

Each building had a similar oil painting of the subject of its dedication -- thus the Wilson portrait.

But these facts did not answer the question of why and how the Wilson painting came to hang in the 780th MI headquarters building. Bigelow, who taught history at the Intelligence Center 22 years ago, has a theory.

"Since Allen Hall was an academic building, that painting and plaque got moved to Fort Huachuca in Arizona when the schoolhouse moved there," Bigelow said. "But Wilson Hall was connected more with the operational side and moved from the CIC Center to its successor organizations."

Bigelow believes each painting stayed with a different military channel.

"From the CIC Center, the Wilson painting went first to the U.S. Army Intelligence Command, then probably to the U.S. Army Intelligence Agency, which moved to Fort Meade in 1974," he said. "Two years later, USAINTA used the painting to memorialize its command suite after Wilson.

"And after USAINTA merged with INSCOM in 1977, the 902nd MI Group took over the building and presumably the painting."

The 902nd MI once occupied the building complex where the 780th MI is now headquartered and where the portrait was left.

"Apparently, the intelligence center has been looking for the Wilson painting for years," Bigelow said. "And we found it."

Currently, the painting of Allen is the property of the Military Intelligence Museum at Fort Huachuca. Wilson was inducted into the Military Intelligence Hall of Fame in 1990. Fort Huachuca approved the Wilson barracks on April 6, 1992.

Bigelow took custody of Wilson's portrait from the 780th MI earlier this month and will ensure that it joins its partner, the Allen portrait, at the MI Museum.

With two of the three paintings accounted for, Bigelow is now in search of the Hunter painting. But that's another story.

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