Selwyn J. Wilson, age 86, WWII Tuskegee Airman, longtime resident of Lombard since 1955, died March 20 at home.
Visitation will be held Sunday, March 25, from 2 to 8 PM at Brust Funeral Home, 135 S. Main St. Lombard.
Funeral services will be Monday 11AM at Brust Funeral Home.
Mr. Wilson is survived by two sons, Mark of Texas and Scott ( Sylvia) Wilson of Bellwood; 4 daughters Tranita Jackson of Villa Park, Toni Royster of Lombard, Debra Jackson of Lombard and Kellye Wilson of Lombard; 8 grandchildren, Dante’, Damon, Kortney, Tranyce, Collin, Corey, Kyle and Alicia and 3 great-grandchildren.
While surviving a plane crash in World War II and integrating his family into a white community, 84-year-old Lombard resident Selwyn Wilson had one characteristic that got him through it all: determination.
“Every day, it’s good to be alive,” Wilson said.
It was the summer of 1942 when he enlisted in the military after graduating from Crane Technical Prep High School with high honors and a 3.8 grade point average. From there, he was off to become one of the first Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military airmen.
During a silent mission Wilson was on, a B-25 bomber “Bright Eyes” malfunctioned and started going down. Wilson, who served as a tail gunner, was blown out of the plane and was the sole survivor of the crash. His burned body lay for 19 hours in gasoline before he finally was rescued.
He spent 37 months in a hospital recovering from his injuries, and he had to learn to walk, write, and drive all over again. His wartime injuries included an amputated left leg, fused right hand, loss of equilibrium because of severe damage to his left ear, and burns on more than 75 percent of his body. He was one of the first recipients of a skin graft, a procedure where unaffected skin is transplanted to injured sites.
His doctors told him he would never be able to walk, have his hair grow back, have children, or live a normal life. However, Wilson said, he was determined his life would have a better outcome.
Upon completing his service, he received a variety of medals and awards including the Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Congressional Medal, and even a letter from President Truman thanking him for his service.
After the war and his recovery, including regaining the ability to walk, he got married and proved his doctors wrong again by having four children.
Wilson bought a plot of land in Lombard in 1952. He built his house, where he lives in today, with his own hands and moved his family into the home in June 1955. They were among the first African American families to move into Lombard.
“We had our problems, but I was determined,” said Wilson, who experienced racial discrimination when first moving to town. A cross was burned on his front lawn, and the bank revoked his home loan when it found out the neighborhood would be integrated.
“I refused to let my children grow up in a bad environment,” Wilson said.
Despite initial challenges, Wilson said he truly has enjoyed living in Lombard.
“The families in the area have been terrific,” Wilson said.
Wilson has raised four biological children and four step-children. He was active in the community, and even held a high school prom in his basement for one of Elmhurst High School’s first graduating classes in the late 1950s.
His youngest biological daughter, Kellye Wilson, said her father’s life has been miraculous.
“I am so proud of him,” Kellye said. “He is truly my hero.”
Kellye said her father wanted nothing but the best for his children and was determined to give them everything.
“I can’t complain,” Wilson said. “Life turned out well.”
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