William Crocker Wilson
Born: January 26, 1924
Hometown: Loudonville, NY
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: February 23,1943 / North
Atlantic, 46-15 N, 38-11 W
Date / Place of burial: February 23,1943 / North Atlantic,
46-15 N, 38-11 W – Lost at Sea
William C. Wilson signed on as Deck Cadet aboard the Liberty Ship SS Jonathan
Sturges at the Port of New York on January 12, 1943. After safely delivering its cargo
to England the Jonathan Sturges was returning to New York with Convoy ON-166 from
Liverpool to New York City when it fell behind the convoy on the night of February
23/24, 1943. The ship, with a crew of 44 merchant mariners and a Naval Armed Guard
of 31 was carrying 1,500 tons of sand ballast. In bad weather and poor visibility the,
was making 6 knots, about ½ its full speed.
At about 1 am, the vessel was struck in the forward part of the ship by two torpedoes
fired by U-707 at convoy stragglers. The engines were secured, but the ship, which
had apparently been broken in two, began to sink bow first. Survivors recalled that the
explosions gave off a sweet odor, and left a sweet taste in their mouths for hours after
Although the radio officer was able to send a distress signal, there was no time to await a reply as the crew abandoned ship. Two lifeboats and four life rafts were successfully
launched. According to the post sinking report of the survivors, nineteen men were able
to get into one life boat while the Master, Chief Mate David Edwards and fifteen others
were in the other boat. The other twenty-four survivors were able to reach the four life
rafts. However, the boats and rafts were soon separated.
On February 27, three days after the sinking, the boat with nineteen men aboard met
up with a lifeboat carrying three survivors from the Dutch ship SS Madoera who had
been in the same convoy. Eight of the Sturges’ survivors climbed into the Madoera’s
boat. Although one of the Jonathan Sturges’ crew eventually died of exposure, the
other eighteen (along with the three Madoera survivors) were rescued by the USS
Belknap (DD 251) on March 12, 1943. However, the other lifeboat with its seventeen
survivors was never seen again. Of the twenty-four men on the life rafts, only 6
survived. These men were rescued on April 5 by U-336 and spent the rest of the war
as Prisoners of War. All four Cadet-Midshipmen plus David Edwards perished.
Cadet Midshipman William Wilson was posthumously awarded the Mariners Medal,
Combat Bar with star, Atlantic War Zone Bar, Victory Medal, and the Presidential
William C. “Billy” Wilson was the youngest of James Wilson and Emma Crocker
Wilson’s two sons. Billy’s brother James was two years older. According to the 1930
U.S. Census, James Wilson and his wife’s brother, William Crocker, both worked at a
local gas station.
According to Ann Crocker Lawton, the daughter of William Crocker and Billy’s first
cousin, the Crockers and Wilsons lived in separate houses on the family farm.
Although she was only six years old at the time of William’s death, Ann remembers that
he treated her like a “little sister”. Her fondest memories of Billy are being taking for
bareback rides on his horse, rides in the farm’s buckboard, tobogganing and ice skating
with her on the pond in winter. She recalls that Billy had his own “combo”, The
Trubadors, in High School. He also played a “mean barroom piano” although his
mother preferred him to play classical music.