SHREVEPORT, La. -- Bill Wilson was tired of the family farm in Marion County, Texas. Same with the surveying crew he'd worked with as a teenager. So at age 17 he decided to join the Army, where he finished high school, and his education continued in life-saving service to country.
"I don't know if it was heroic or not," Bill said modestly.
But the Army sure thought it was heroic. It awarded Bill the Soldier's Medal -- for heroism not in armed battle.
"It had to do with somebody's life," Bill explained.
He says he was enjoying some relaxation on the beach while serving in the Vietnam War.
"I heard someone screaming, 'Help! Help! Help!' They were pointing down to the water and bubbles were coming out of it. So I jumped in to see what it was."
Bill saved an Army chaplain from drowning as he was being swept away by a rip tide.
"He could not overcome it. And I nearly could not overcome it. But I swam to the shore and lay on the sand a while.
"I met him next in the United States at a mess hall one day," Bill continued. "He was making a big to do over it. I tried to disappear and couldn't."
There's also a Bronze Star in his shadow box that Bill earned during the Vietnam War. He was the sergeant major at an evacuation hospital that ensured more lives were saved.
"Taking in wounded, performing surgeries around the clock sometimes, our doctors did," Bill said.
Bill also served in the Korean War, serving in a medical unit. He's not sure why the Army shifted him to medical shortly after his initial training in guided missiles.
"In my units in Korea and Vietnam we had rifles but fortunately we never had to use them. I'll admit, I grabbed them a few times on alert."
Though enemy shells fell around him, Bill says he never had to engage in combat during those 24 years of service, retiring from the Army as a command sergeant major in 1972.
"I'm proud of what I did," Bill said.
He credits some of his success to his late wife, who was his high school sweetheart. He married her at 17 when he joined the Army. They were married 60 years.