James E. Wilson Jr.
January 20, 1929 ~ March 12, 2023
Captain James E. (“Jim”) Wilson, Jr., USN (Ret.) age 94, passed peacefully on March 12, 2023, at his home in Vienna, VA while listening to Tennessee Ernie Ford singing hymns and with his daughters by his side. Beloved father of Nancy, Judy, Patty, and Jane; grandfather of Hannah Bensen, Patrick and Bridget O’Donnell and Madeline and Alina Augustine. He was preceded in death by wives Ethel (1981), Lillian (2019) and grandsons Michael Bensen (2018) and Daniel Augustine (2020).
Born and raised in Auburndale, Florida, “J.E.”, as he was called by his family, enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 and left home. His intent was to return home, go to college on the GI bill and study agriculture. He attended the U.S. Navy Training Center in Bainbridge, MD and served as a Seaman Apprentice on the USS Taconic (mostly peeling potatoes.) A Master Chief saw the potential in J.E. and encouraged him to apply to the Naval Academy. He returned to Bainbridge to attend the Naval Academy Preparatory School. “Willie,” as he became known, was honorably discharged from the Navy in June 1948 and entered the U.S. Naval Academy. He graduated with the class of 1952 (“Tough Shoes to Fill.”) A month later, Willie married Ethel C. (“Petie”) Steinnagel of Catonsville, MD before reporting for duty. In time, a wise mentor suggested he might find submarine service rewarding. Willie earned his Dolphins (Warfare Insignia) serving on the USS Chivo (1955-57), USS Angler (1960), USS Becuna (1960-1962), and ultimately commanding the USS Sea Poacher (1964-1966). Under his command they were awarded the E for Excellence.
After sea duty, Willie enjoyed several “desk” assignments while also pursuing an M.S. in
Personnel Administration. In 1970, he landed a teaching position at the Naval War College in
Newport, RI, becoming a division director and holding the Military Chair of Human Resource Management Education. After six years, the family returned to Vienna, VA, where Willie earned a second Master’s (an MBA) and finally, after more than 30 years of active-duty service, he retired from the Navy.
As a civilian, Jim worked for several government contractors and ultimately started his own training and consulting business. By that time, his beloved wife, Petie, the woman who’d been by his side for his entire Naval career, after nearly 30 years of marriage, left him a widower. In time, he eventually met and married Lillian, to whom he would be married also for nearly 30 years. At age 88, Jim officially “retired” once again.
“Daddy,” as his daughters affectionately knew him, was a natural storyteller, teacher, mentor and lifelong learner. He discovered Toastmasters later in life and dove in, earning Distinguished Speaker status and becoming an Area Governor. Ever curious, he researched unusual aspects of Naval history and the local history of Vienna, sharing his findings in his Toastmasters talks. He was a member of the local American Legion Post #180 and active in the Greater Vienna Optimist Club, volunteering at the local annual Christmas tree sale in the winter and farmer’s market in the summer.
On the personal side, Daddy was a true gentleman. He had an engaging smile, was gregarious, charming, polite and had a quiet strength of character. He enjoyed cruises, attending reunions of all types – family and high school class reunions in Florida, submarine reunions and Naval Academy class reunions. Inheriting a green thumb from his father, he planted vegetable gardens wherever he lived. When he finally became discouraged by the deer eating more than his family, he switched to ornamental plants and flowers. He was especially proud of the garden he created, full of blue and gold irises, Navy colors, of course. Indoors was also filled with plants, including quite a collection of African violets and close to a dozen Christmas cacti.
Above all, Daddy wanted to be remembered as a loving and caring father, an excellent husband, a superb submarine commanding officer and a patriot proud to have served his country.
The family will receive friends at the Money & King Funeral Home, 171 W. Maple Ave., Vienna, VA 22180 on Friday, March 31st from 2-4 PM and 6-8 PM. A memorial service and celebration of life will be held the following day, also at Money & King on Saturday, April 1st at 11 AM. Interment at Arlington National Cemetery will take place in July. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the United States Naval Academy Alumni Association and Foundation at https://www.usna.com/give. An online Guestbook is available at www.moneyandking.com.