Wilson’s photos chronicle America

Published 3:06 pm Friday, August 31, 2012

By SANDRA THAMES / Community Columnist

Charles Robert Wilson was born in 1927 in Georgia and attended school there until junior high when his dad took a job at the mill in Siluria.

Charles Robert Wilson displays a photo he took of then-President John F. Kennedy. (contributed)

At the age of sixteen Wilson quit Thompson High School and joined the Navy. He was in World War II the last year-and-a-half, was wounded at Okinawa and returned to Siluria.

Working at his dad’s store up on U.S. 31 near the old Mitchell Seed store, he got talked into going back to Thompson to play football. “Back then a feller could play high school ball until he was 21,” said Wilson. “Our class founded the Warrior colors and the school motto.” School just didn’t hold Wilson’s interest. The Greyhound Bus line ran several times a day from Alabaster into Birmingham. Wilson walked out of a café, caught the bus into downtown Birmingham and re-enlisted.

He gave up a small disability pension by retaking all his physicals, passing them and going in as a Seaman First Class again.

The Navy sent him to six photography schools. He covered combat in Korea, lounged in Key West with Tennessee Williams and Ernest Hemingway, knew Walt Disney and Walter Cronkite, jogged with Wally Shirrah and was then assigned to President Truman. As a NASA first cameraman, he photographed all astronauts from Shepherd through Apollo 16.

Wilson’s last stop was Maxwell Air Force Base, where he contracted out and opened a studio in Alabaster.

“I promptly went broke,” laughed Wilson. He moved up to Pelham, where floodwaters ruined many of his most precious shots.

Wilson is proud to say he has photographed seven Presidents, many foreign dignitaries, been to the Arctic Circle, Brazil, Antigua, Grand Turk, the Amazon, South Africa and all over Europe.

Two daughters, Laura and Martha by first wife, Joy (deceased), and three grandchildren are his pride and joy. Now married to Lucy, Wilson quipped “I’ve had two good women in my life, it has been exciting, an adventure every day. Everybody I meet is a special addition to my life.”


Community columnist Sandra Thames can be reached by e–mail at bobthames1942@yahoo.com.