James Leon Wilkinson of Leasburg, Missouri, formerly of Steelville, passed away Friday, January 14, 2022, at Phelps Health in Rolla, Missouri at the age of 76 years, one month, and seven days.
Leon was born December 7, 1945, in Davisville, Missouri to Lavern Clarence Wilkinson and Elsie Mary Brown Wilkinson. He grew up in Davisville on what he called “The old home place” before moving to Steelville when his father passed away.
He graduated from Steelville High School in 1963 and worked until he was drafted into the Army in 1967. He served combat in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969 and while in combat, was wounded for which he received the Purple Heart. While in the military, he trained at Fort Leonard Wood and Fort Knox, Kentucky. During his combat service, he secured the rank of Sergeant and was awarded the following: Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, Sharpshooter Badge (Rifle), Vietnam Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Army Commendation Medal (w/V Device), and the Bronze Star Medal.
In a letter sent home to his mother, while he was serving, the details of an engagement were described as follows:
“At 1730 hrs. on 11 Nov., 1968, the night defensive position of Co. C, 2/14 came under enemy mortar attack. At the first sound of incoming rounds SGT James L. Wilkinson US 56587339, ran to his mortar position, where, completely exposed to enemy fire, he began laying the tube in the direction of the enemy position. Discovering that his sight had been rendered useless during the initial stages of the attack, Sgt. Wilkinson nevertheless commenced to place what later proved to be effective fire upon the enemy mortar emplacement. While Sgt. Wilkinson was engaging this first position, enemy movement was detected to the rear. Sgt Wilkinson at once began laying in on the new target, and still working without sight, was soon bringing his rounds within 10 meters of this second enemy position. Sgt Wilkinson’s intrepidity and professionalism in the face of extreme adversity enabled Co. C to successfully repel the enemy attack without sustaining a single casualty.” Leon’s quick actions saved the lives of his company as well as his own. He was honorably discharged in 1969.
Upon his return to his home in Steelville, Leon married Terri Turnbough on March 6, 1970. To this union one daughter, Kimberly, was born. Leon and Terri were followers of the Assembly of God faith and enjoyed serving and attending several local Christian churches. Leon accepted Christ at an early age and maintained his faith throughout his life.
Leon was a Jack of all trades. He worked at Hussmann Refrigeration and Amax Lead Company. Leon retired from Royal Oak Charcoal Plant after roughly 15 years. As a post-retirement job, he took on the role of maintenance at the Crawford County Courthouse. Following his maintenance job, Leon finally shifted over to full retirement life in which he spent a majority of his time doing the things he loved most.
Leon enjoyed the outdoors and loved to hunt and fish. He enjoyed driving around the back roads looking for any wild animal he could see. Along the way, he would stop and visit friends at Gilliam’s Garage, the Cason farm, and the Brewer Farm. Sometimes, he would even stop in to visit the bank or school. You never knew where he would show up and he never met a stranger. He was a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, Kansas City Chiefs fan, and enjoyed watching just about any sport on TV to pass the time. Leon was also an avid local school sports supporter.
Above all, his family and friends meant the most to him. He enjoyed visiting with his close friends and most of all enjoyed spending time with his grandkids and family. He was a regular at any Cuba Wildcats sports game for many years supporting his grandkids and was their biggest fan. Some referred to him as “Neon Leon”. He was known by many in the surrounding towns as he would travel near and far to support his family.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Lavern and Elsie Wilkinson; four brothers, Plase (Jean) Wilkinson, Timmy (Rilma) Wilkinson, Clyde (Pat) Wilkinson, and Kenneth (Doris) Wilkinson; three sisters Freda and (Lloyd) Hunter, Anna Juanita (Noah) Pyatt, and Lois and (Rance) Medlock.
He will be sadly missed by his daughter Kimberly (Kelly) Williams of Cuba Missouri; three grandchildren, Emily Weaver (companion Joe Caudle), Ryan Weaver (companion Katie Creek), Hannah Weaver (companion Jared Priest); step grandchildren, Cameron (Ashlynn) Williams and Cody Williams; many nieces, nephews, other relatives, and very close friends.
The Family received friends from 11:00 a.m. until service time on Saturday, January 29, 2022 at the Britton-Bennett Funeral Home in Steelville, MO.
A Celebration of Life was held at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 29, 2022 with Rev. Jerry Beers officiating. Special music of "If You Only Knew" was sung by Phyllis Gibbs accompanied on piano by Shirley Brown. Other music of "Outskirts of Heaven" was also played.
Military honors by the U.S. Army, St. James VFW Post 5608 and Patriot Guard were held immediately following the service.
Leon chose cremation as his final disposition.
The Wilkinson Family was served by the Britton-Bennett Funeral Home in Steelville, MO.
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