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99th President B.O. Wilkins dies

B.O. Wilkins, K/393, who began his second stint as president of the 99th Infantry Division Association in July 2010, at the Louisville Convention, died Jan. 11, 2011, following a sudden and brief battle with sarcomatoid lung cancer with metastases to his brain.

Born Aug. 6, 1923, at Luxora AR, he was the son of Byron O. Wilkins Sr. and Katharine Wyatt Wilkins.

In his formative years he participated in scouting, earning the rank of Eagle Scout. He also was the leader of the local scout troop and worked on the camp staff of the area council for two summers. He worked part-time in the drug store where his father was a pharmacist, and participated in numerous school activities, including band, football and basketball. He was editor of the school newspaper and received honors in English, math and music. He also was valedictorian of the 1941 high school graduating class.

After graduation, he began classes in chemical engineering at Louisiana State University. Extracurricular activities included ROTC and membership in Theta Xi social fraternity, Alpha Chi Sigma professional chemical fraternity and Delta Kappa Psi honorary band fraternity. He left school in May 1943, for induction into the Army when students in the Enlisted Reserve Corps were called to active duty.

After basic training, he was placed in the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) and sent to Oklahoma A&M College to study advanced mechanical engineering. When the ASTP was discontinued in March 1944, he was transferred to the 99th Infantry Division at Camp Maxey TX. In September, the division embarked for England and in November, moved to the Belgian-German border. He was promoted to sergeant in December. On the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, his company was hit by two German regiments, and he was taken prisoner.

After six weeks, he was injured on a march away from the approaching Russian army and sent to an infirmary; after a brief recovery period, he was placed with some British prisoners until the war ended.

Military citations included the Combat Infantry Badge, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Good Conduct Medal, POW Medal, and American and European theater ribbons.

After discharge from the Army in November 1945, he resumed his studies at LSU. In his senior year, he was elected vice president of the College of Engineering, and he graduated in June 1947, with a BS degree in chemical engineering.

In 1949, Wilkins was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Reserves and assigned to the 90th Infantry Division. He transferred to a research and development unit and was promoted to first lieutenant. His job in industry prevented an immediate call-up for the Korean war, resulting in his discharge.

After graduation from LSU, he was employed by Gulf Oil Corporation at the refinery at Port Arthur TX.

In 1950, he married Marilyn Kirby of Baton Rouge LA. They had two children, Stephen Dane and Melanie. The family was active in scouting, school and sports activities as well as church. In addition to his full-time job, Wilkins worked part-time as a music director at Fourth Avenue Baptist Church in Port Arthur.

In 1965, Gulf transferred him to refining headquarters in Houston TX, where he eventually became a director in the newly-formed department charged with reducing physical losses of feedstocks and products, worldwide. In 1985, after Gulf was merged into Chevron, Wilkins took early retirement with the others in his department. The group formed a company in which he became an executive vice president, performing the same tasks as his previous position with Gulf Oil. He retired a second time in January 1993.

In the late 1980s, Wilkins became involved in the activities of the 99th Infantry Division Association. He was involved in the Checkerboard Chorus since its inception and was active at each and every annual convention. He was editor of his company newsletter, K/393 Kapers. He worked tirelessly to get members of his unit to attend the conventions and the group usually won the award for the largest attendance.

In 2007, he was elected vice president of the association and ascended to the presidency in 2008. During his term, he represented the 99th at a dedication of a monument at Elsenborn to the veterans of five countries who participated in the Elsenborn Ridge battle. He also represented the 99th in a ceremony at Pittsburgh PA, for a ceremony in which the 99th’s Checkerboard flag was furled and cased for its trip to the new headquarters at Fort Dix NJ. Wilkins also was instrumental in finalizing the digitization project of The Checkerboard.

Church involvement at Tallowood Baptist Church since 1965 has included membership in the Adult Choir, serving as Church Historian, various committees, coaching the women’s softball teams and leading the music for several adult Sunday school departments. Since 1995, he also led the music for the weekly Sunday afternoon worship service at Emeritus Memorial Oaks Nursing Home.

Wilkins was preceded in death by his parents; his wife of 57 years, Marilyn; and his son, Stephen Dane Wilkins. He is survived by his daughter, Melanie.

A memorial service was conducted Jan. 21, at the Worship Center at Tallowood Baptist Church, Houston TX.

Past President Herbert Knapp and Chaplain Arnold Taylor represented the 99th at the memorial service. Along with Melanie Wilkins and several others, Knapp delivered a eulogy during the service.

Vice President Phil Benefiel has taken over the presidential responsibilities of the 99th Infantry Division Association.

Last modified March 31, 2011

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