Heroic USCG Rescue Swimmer Andrew “Willy” Wilson / Air Station Savannah / Awarded Distinguished Flying Cross

Willy is a California native. In high school there, he was a 4-year stand-out as a wrestler and baseball player.  One year, when his team went to the state championships, those games were played in Dodger Stadium.  His fondest memory of that experience was getting a base hit, in that title game, at Dodger Field.

Following graduation, he attended Cal State-Fullerton, graduating with a BA-degree in history.  When devastating Category 5, Hurricane Katrina, struck in 2005, it skirted Florida, hit coastal Mississippi, and then pounded Louisiana, New Orleans, especially, resulting in a total of over 18-hundred fatalities. Along with the rest of America, Willy viewed, intently, the continuous television reporting of that disastrous weather-driven event.

Through that televised coverage, he was able to observe, for the first time, Coast Guard aviation and Coast Guard rescue swimmers, in courageous, and continuous, life-saving action.  That viewing experience was a definite turning point for Willy.  Previously undecided about his career direction, he now knew exactly what he wanted to do. Not one to ponder, but, rather, one who prefers, and seeks, action. He then enlisted in the Coast Guard, and was in boot camp, just 4-months after college graduation!

Excelling in his career choice, Willy has been stationed around the nation, and is now serving at Air Station Savannah on Hunter Army Airfield.  Willy is currently both the Rescue Swimmer flight examiner and principal trainer, here at the Air Station.

In August of 2017, Category 4, Hurricane Harvey, struck the East Texas coast.  Hardest hit was Houston.  One-third of that city was completely flooded, with some sections getting more than 50-inches of rain. Nearly 135,000 homes were damaged or destroyed.

Then-Houston-based Rescue Swimmer, Willy Wilson, and his Coast Guard aviation colleagues, quickly responded to the calls for rescue.  Not only was Willy directly involved, he was later officially cited for his heroic service there.

Reading, in part, from his award citation:  “As one of the first aircrews to commence rescues, he launched into the urban disaster environment, amidst tropical storm force winds, torrential rain, and very low visibility, to rescue, first, a bed-ridden woman suffering seizures in her flooded home.  Soon after, Petty Officer Wilson was deployed mere feet from high voltage power lines and one-hundred-foot trees, fending off the attack of a rattlesnake, during the rescue of three survivors from a rooftop.”

Continuing: “Later, he employed an axe to gain entry to a home, wading through foul, polluted water, and suffering multiple shocks, as that home somehow still had electricity! After finally reaching that non-ambulatory patient, he ingeniously floated the woman out of her house on an ice chest to a position where she could be hoisted.”

And it goes on to describe still more rescues, including an epileptic child suffering seizures, and a 300-pound male cardiac patient, whose intravenous line had come loose during the rescue effort, at which time Willy, with his medical rescue training, was able to stop the bleeding and treat the man for hypothermia, as with the others, saving his life.

Getting back to the official citation, it concludes, in part: “Petty Officer Wilson’s expedient actions, aeronautical skill, and heroism were instrumental in the hoisting, and saving 17 lives during 18-hours of operational relief efforts.”  Folks, that’s an average of a rescue an hour, in ridiculously challenging conditions !

As mentioned earlier, Willy received an award for all of this hazardous and courageous work.  But not just any award, for on the 29th of July, 2019, as authorized by the Commandant of the Coast Guard, he received the Distinguished Flying Cross, for his extraordinary heroism in aerial flight.

It is an absolute honor to recognize yet another genuine American hero, United States Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician, Petty Officer Andrew “Willy” Wilson.

(Petty Officer Wilson was cited for his outstanding service to those in Houston, and to our nation, at a recent luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of Savannah, at which time he received a sustained standing ovation from the large membership in attendance).