killed in action

In memoriam: SP4 Harold Cornell Gay (1951-1970).

SP4 Harold Cornell Gay of Wilson died 20 October 1970 in Quang Ngai Province, Vietnam. He is memorialized on panel 6W at line 11 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.

Jim Evans posted this memorial to Gay at Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s Wall of Faces: “From 03 Aug to 14 Aug 1970, I was temporarily transferred from the 91st Evac Hospital in Chu Lai, to the medical aid station at Kham Duc until the new battalion surgeon arrived. There I met Harold Gay, a medic on the medivac helicopter crew stationed at Kham Duc. Harold was a gentle man who conveyed the sense that he provided medical care for his fellow soldiers from the depths of his heart. At Kham Duc I took several photographs of him. One portrait in black and white shows him looking pensively toward me. He asked me to send him this photo which I did; however, a letter from the Department of the Army on 04 Nov 1970, stated, ‘I regret to inform you that Specialist Gay died on 20 Oct 1970…. I am truly sorry that it was not possible to have delivered this mail [including the photograph] to him.’

“However, his death was old news, since I was working in the Emergency Room of the 91st Evac Hospital, when he was brought in. I pronounced him dead along with 12 other men killed when 2 helicopters collided. Harold Gay had volunteered for this mission.

“Harold’s portrait continues to gaze pensively at me in my home. Although our friendship was brief, my heart aches at his loss and so many others. I regret that it was not possible to share this portrait with his family since I did not have their address. Also given the circumstances in 1970, it was hard to know whether his photograph would be welcome or a cause for even greater grief.” posted this description of Gay’s final flight: “On October 20, 1970, a U.S. Army helicopter UH-1D ‘dust off’ air ambulance (tail number 66-16617) from the 54th Medical Detachment, was involved in a mid-air collision with a U.S. Army helicopter OH-6A (tail number 69-16023) from B Company, 123rd Aviation Battalion, resulting in the loss of life of seven U.S. personnel. The OH-6A was part of an Aero Scout team from Company B, 123rd Aviation Battalion, consisting of one UH-1H ‘slick’ transport helicopter, one AH-1G Cobra attack aircraft, and one OH-6A light observation helicopter from Chu Lai Army Airfield for the purpose of conducting a first-light visual reconnaissance of the area to the south and west of Chu Lai known as the Rocket Pocket. On this particular morning, the Aero Scout team attempted to commence their reconnaissance in the northern portion of the Rocket Pocket. They were, however, unable to proceed with this course of action because artillery was being fired into that area. After determining that they could not enter the area, the team lead directed his team to proceed to the southern portion of the Rocket Pocket and commenced their reconnaissance in that area, working generally east to west. At this time, the team members observed yellow smoke being popped continuously to the southeast. The team lead contacted ground personnel in the area to see if they required any assistance. The ground personnel replied in the negative, that a dust-off (medical evacuation by helicopter) was in progress. At approximately 0700 hours, the UH-1H dust off aircraft under the control of the 54th Medical Detachment, call sign Dust Off 88, departed from Chu Lai Army Airfield on a mission to pick up two urgent U.S. casualties. The two injured soldiers, SP4 Alexander Campbell Jr. and PFC Larry W. Kilgore, both infantrymen from C Company, 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry, 11th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division, were wounded while retrieving an explosive device when the device accidently detonated. The Aero Scout team observed the dustoff aircraft and watched it touchdown in the landing zone. The Aero Scout team then turned back to the north continuing their reconnaissance and working their way back towards Chu Lai. Shortly thereafter, the team leader observed the dust off aircraft heading north-northeast approximately 300 to 400 meters south of the OH-6A at low level and moving fast. At this point the team leader advised the OH-6A of the approaching dust off aircraft and the OH-6A pilot rogered the message. The team leader later stated that almost simultaneously with this transmission the UH-1H and OH-6A collided, with the UH-1H on a northerly heading and the OH-6A on a northwesterly heading. The collision occurred in a valley into which the UH-1H had entered coming around a hill to his right and the OH-6A had entered flying west up the valley with the hill on his left. There were no survivors from the dust off aircraft. The OH-6A crew suffered one fatality with two injured. The lost crew members of the air ambulance included aircraft commander CW2 Terence A. Handly, co-pilot 1LT Kenneth M. Schlie, crew chief SP4 Thomas R. Weiss, and medic SP4 Harold C. Gay. The lost passengers were the injured SP4 Campbell and CPL Kilgore, plus an unnamed Vietnamese national. The fatality from the OH-6A was crew chief SP4 Gary R. Cady. The pilot and gunner on the aircraft survived with injuries. Kilgore, one of the dust off patients, was posthumously promoted to corporal. [Taken from and]”


Harold C. Gay was born 14 February 1951 in Wilson to Harold E. Gay, himself an Army sergeant during World War II, and Matteele Floyd Gay (later Robinson). We have seen the family home of his paternal grandparents Albert and Annie Bell Jacobs Gay here and met his maternal grandfather Ambrose Floyd here. He began high school at C.H. Darden, but transferred to quasi-integrated Ralph L. Fike High School under “freedom of choice” and graduated in 1969. He was 19 years old when he died. Harold Gay’s funeral service took place at Saint Alphonsus Catholic Church, and he is buried in Rest Haven Cemetery.

Sgt. Bekay Thompson is killed in action in Korea.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 September 1950.

In September 1950, two Wilson families received bad news about a son serving in the Korean Conflict. Hattie Thompson‘s son, young Bekay Thompson, was killed in action in South Korea.


In the 1940 census of Stantonsburg, Wilson County: on Main Street, widow Hattie Thompson, 37, servant; her children Hilda, 15, new worker, and B. Kay, 9; and lodger Ethel Edwards, 32, tobacco stemmer.

Hattie Thompson, 705 Cemetery Street, Wilson, applied for a military headstone for her son. 

A notation on Thompson’s application shows that he received a Purple Heart. Another, seemingly lightly erased, noted: “Remains not ret[urne]d as of 6-27-51.”

Burial plots for World War I soldiers.

Wilson Daily Times, 19 August 1920.

In August 1920, James Dempsey Bullock penned a letter to the newspaper urging the city to establish burial plots for World War I soldiers who had died at war in France and whose remains were just then being repatriated. “… [S]ome one should see to it that a beautiful plat in Maplewood cemetery should be set aside for the interment of those whose parents wish them buried there and one in Oakwood for the colored.”

Oakwood, also known as Oakdale and Oaklawn, was Wilson’s first (or maybe second) public cemetery for African-Americans. If the city established a plat for returning soldiers, it is lost. Oakwood had already fallen out of favor as a burial ground by 1920, as families opted for private cemeteries like Rountree, Odd Fellows, or Masonic, or for the city’s newer public cemetery, now known as Vick. Oakwood was essentially abandoned just a few years later, though the city did not move its graves until 1941.

Six African-American Wilson County menHenry T. Ellis, Benjamin Horne, Luther Harris, Pharaoh Coleman, Frank Barnes, and Vert Vick — were recorded as having died or been killed in service during World War I. It is not clear to which soldier’s body Bullock was referring as expected to arrive in New York.

Clipping courtesy of J. Robert Boykin III.