James Gilson was born January 21, 1917 in Chicago and graduated from Evanston Township High School in Illinois. He won the Northern California Junior A.A.U. swimming championship at 11 years of age and was the undefeated Illinois State high school diving champion.
His parents, brother and sister moved to Ridgewood in 1939, his senior year at Colgate, to live at 659 Wall St. In college he was a six-letter man in baseball and basketball and was manager of the Colgate Maroon. He was a member of the Junior Honorary Society, the Maroon Key and the Senior Honorary Society "Konesioni "– elected to these honorary societies because of his scholarship and prominence in all phases of campus life. He was also a member of Delta Upsilon before graduating in 1939. With his degree in business administration, he went to work for Lamson Corp. in Syracuse as assistant advertising manager.
He joined the service in September 1940 as an air cadet and received his wings at Barksdale Field in Shreveport in April 1941. He was an instructor at Turner Field in Albany, Ga. after which he made Captain. He was then assigned to the staff of the Commander of the 559th Squadron at navigation school at Selma Field in Monroe, La. where he was promoted to Major August 18, 1943. He married Jean Tait April 26, 1941, they had a son and moved to Wyoming, Ohio. Her sister married Col. Gilson's brother.
After three years in the states, his wish came true in July 1944 and he became a B-24 pilot and Squadron Commander of the 779th Bombardment Squadron., 464th Bombardment Group, 15th Army Air Force in Italy. Piloting his B-24L Liberator #44-49710 'Stevenovich II' (named after his son). The aircraft was also known as 'Black Nan'. He was awarded the Air Medal in 1944 for having knocked three enemy planes out of the sky over Blechhammer, Germany. "It was one of the roughest missions our group has ever flown. Enemy fighters? There were 40ME 109s after our box alone. I saw three of our bombers go down, but the boys on my ship got three of the enemy. Our group knocked down 28 enemy planes that day". He was then promoted to Lt. Colonel, based at Pantanella Air Base in Italy.
After leading formations in missions over Vienna, Belgrade and Budapest, he was killed April 10, 1945 on his 34th mission, one short of the required 35 missions. On that raid, 648 B-24s and B-17s, in support of British Eighth Army forces, hit artillery positions, machine gun nests and infantry defenses along the Santerno River in Italy. This effort represented the largest number of Fifteenth AF heavy bombers attacking targets in a single day. Right after releasing the bombs the aircraft was hit by anti-aircraft fire on the left wing which caught fire and broke apart. The plane turned over and started tumbling. The radar operator, 1st Lieutnant Edward F. Walsh, was thrown clear and was able to parachute to the ground where he was taken prisoner. The other ten men aboard were killed.
Those killed were:
Lieutnant Colonel James Gilson, pilot.
Captain Charles Foote IV, co-pilot.
1st Lieutnant Robert O'Leary, navigator.
Captain Lacey Morton, navigator.
Captain George Wall, bombardier.
Sergent Jerrold Ruben, engineer/gunner
Sergent Charles Montegut jr, radio/gunner.
Sergent Robert Rogers, gunner.
Sergent Norman Cope, tail gunner.
Sergent Melvin Thomason, gunner.
Lt. Col. Gilson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Purple Heart and two campaign stars.
Entered the service from New York.