The two soldiers met for the first time over a White Columns lunch and they found common ground as Screaming Eagles.
"His eyes lit up when I said I was the division commander of the 101st Airborne at Fort Campbell,' said Retired Three-Star Gen. DeWayne Patrick as he sat in one of the pews at Springfield Baptist Church.
Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Wilson's aunt, Hattie Harris, cries during Wednesday's funeral at Springfield Baptist.
Andrew Davis Tucker
It had been three days since the Department of Defense had confirmed that Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Wilson - the enlisted leader of the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, the Army's Screaming Eagles - had been killed on the streets of Masoul, Iraq. But the pain was fresh, the tears wet and the memory of that White Columns lunch was still at the surface.
"I met a real soldier,' said Ret. Gen. Patrick, his eyes watering. "To know a man like Jerry was a Command Sergeant Major with Airborne made me very comfortable with our Army, what we are doing and where we are going with our military today.'
McDuffie County has spent the last 10 days remembering a man who followed the Army out of Thomson 27 years ago, but still listed the Camellia City as his hometown. And Wednesday afternoon - with full military honors - family and community members laid the local hero to rest in Savannah Valley Memorial Gardens.
For some, like Springfield's Minister of Music James Isom, the memories were of a quiet child.
"Our families are very close,' he said, adding he taught Command Sgt. Major Wilson in the youth choir and children's choir. "He had wonderful manners. His mother brought him up in what we call a Godly manner.'
The church was always a focal point in Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson's life, thanks to his mother, "Miss Daisy' Wilson.
"Knowing his momma, if his momma was at church, he was at church ... and doing something constructive while he was there,' Thomson Mayor Bob Knox said.
At church, young Jerry Wilson - "Sonny,' as his family always called him - was much like Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry Wilson: quiet, humble, unassuming and friendly.
"He was very quiet and shy,' said Joseph Greene, who remembers Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson from Sunday School, Baptist Training Union and other activities.
Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson also carried a quiet demeanor at school, said Bobby Lyons, who attended Pine Street Elementary School, Norris Middle School and Thomson High School with the future career soldier.
"He was like a baby brother to me,' Mr. Lyons said last week following the community prayer service. "We never argued or fought. He always had that smile. I called it 'That Wilson look."
Mr. Lyons remembers taking Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson's son, Mantrell, to McDonalds for a Big Mac or to the Tastee-Freeze across from the Thomson hospital.
He said he and Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson talked frequently about relatives in the military, and he knew his friend was going to be a great soldier.
"Even in elementary school, he talked about the military all the time,' he said.
Dr. Greene said he last saw Command Sgt. Wilson earlier this year at a funeral and the soldier had changed little.
"He always conducted himself as though he were a private,' even though Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson had attained the second-highest rank for enlisted men in the Army, Dr. Greene said.
The command sergeant major rank is graded at pay classification E-9, the highest enlisted grade in the U.S. military. Of the Army's 401,138 enlisted service members, only 3,165 - less than 1 percent - are at the E-9 pay grade.
Mr. Knox said Command Sgt. Maj. Wilson should be remembered and honored for making the ultimate sacrifice for his country.
"There can be no higher calling,' he said, his voice shaky at times. "... He'll be greatly missed.'
For Ret. Gen. Patrick, dealing with the loss of a fellow soldier doesn't get any easier - especially when the solider calls Thomson home. But the retired military man still holds the old adage "If you live by the sword, you are subject to die by the sword' close to his heart.
"I wouldn't have wanted it any other way and Jerry Wilson wouldn't have either,' Ret. Gen. Patrick said. "He died doing what he loved most - soldiering.'