Remembering General Erbon Wise, an extraordinary life of service

I was so very sad to hear of the passing of General Erbon Wise this week, just two days shy of his 100th birthday. I always looked forward to visiting with him every Fall in Natchitoches during our NSU Alumni Association/Foundation board luncheon.

My college career was possible, in large part due to his generosity, as a recipient of the General Erbon Wise Scholarship in Journalism.

Calling him an “American hero” isn’t a generous title — it’s quite fitting. He served in the Normandy invasion at Utah Beach on D-Day in World War II and personally gave a tour of the front lines to Winston Churchill.

In England, he was assigned to the 91st B-17 Heavy Bombardment Group of ‘Memphis Belle’ fame. After the war, he operated several newspapers in southwest Louisiana and has authored more than 20 books. He returned to active duty in the 1960s as the adjutant general of the State of Louisiana in charge of the state militia during the Vietnam War. Those are just a few of the highlights.

He was an incredible man and a loyal Northwestern State alumnus. His impact on so many will be felt for generations.

Take a moment to read his obituary:

Major General Erbon Wise (Retired), age 99 passed away on August 12, 2020, at his home in Sulphur. He was born on August 14, 1920, in a log house in Claiborne Parish, La., to Edmond Wesley Wise and Eula Estelle Bridwell, and grew up in Leesville.

Wise earned a bachelor’s degree in 1941 from what is now Northwestern State University in Natchitoches. That is where he met and married Natchitoches native, Marie Norris in July 1942. They were happily married for 74 years until her passing in 2016. Upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, he entered active military duty and completed the Army Finance School at Indianapolis, IN, commissioning a 2d Lt. in the Army Air Force.In later years he graduated from the U.S. Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS, and attended the United States War College. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Northwestern State University in 2004.

During World War II, he served as an officer in the Army Air Corps in England, France and Germany. He was among the first soldiers sent to England in September 1942 and was the second Finance Disbursing Officer in the European Theatre of Operations. In his two years in England he served in the 12th, 8th, and 9th Air Forces, and was early stationed with the 91st B-17 Heavy Bomber Group, that of “Memphis Belle” fame, the second B-17 group to be sent overseas.

In June 1944 he was serving with an Air Force Support Unit selected for the Utah Beach Landing of the Normandy Invasion. He went ashore in an assault landing craft and helped clear a dirt landing strip near the beachhead for a P-47 Fighter Group, the first planes sent into France. After the breakout from the beach area at St. Lo, Wise’s unit followed closely behind the forces of General Patton’s 3d Army drive across France and Germany. He was among the first Americans to arrive in Paris at its liberation. He was awarded meritorious ribbons for four campaigns and honorably discharged in 1946. Wise returned home and entered military reserve status. In 1949 he organized the 372 Financing Disbursing, an Army Reserve unit that he commanded for many years. Regular drills of the unit were held in a special room he built onto his home in Maplewood. Later when the Army Reserve Armory was built in Lake Charles, he commanded troops at its dedication and later commanded a Quartermaster Battalion there.

From 1964 to 1968 Wise returned to active military service as a Major General and Adjutant General of Louisiana, with duties as commander of the Louisiana Army and Air National Guard, and as State Director of Selective Service, and State Director of Civil Defense. From his headquarters at Jackson Barracks in New Orleans, he lead during the turbulent years of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights marches in Louisiana, and through two disastrous hurricanes. He secured legislative funding to largely rebuild the long-neglected, historic buildings of Jackson Barracks, and to build many new National Guard armories in the state. He retired from the U.S. Army in 1969 as a Major General, after 29 years of active and reserve service.

Upon his return from WWII, Erbon and Marie Wise began establishing, buying and selling weekly and daily newspapers and court news publications across Louisiana and southeast Texas. Over many years they owned papers in Maplewood, Natchitoches, Gretna, Metairie, New Orleans, Chalmette, Slidell, Covington, Sulphur, DeRidder, Leesville, Westlake, Vinton, Iowa, Lake Arthur, Rosepine, Lake Charles, Moss Bluff, and Shreveport, and in Texas at Beaumont, Groves, Bridge City and Orange. He built weekly newspapers into dailies in Sulphur, DeRidder and Leesville. He was the first to begin web offset printing of La. newspapers, and the first to give free newspaper distribution. He built the small Fort Polk military weekly into a large, modern twice-weekly and prize-winning newspaper, the Fort Polk Guardian. He and Marie retired in 1998 from 52 years of publishing newspapers.

In 1987 they donated about 4,000 genealogical books to establish the Erbon and Marie Wise Genealogical Library in the new Louisiana State Archives building in Baton Rouge. In 1991 they established an educational trust to fund yearly college scholarships in advanced education in journalism. In 2004, they donated funds to establish the first One Million Dollar Endowed Chair at Northwestern State University, from which they had both graduated decades earlier. This donation continues to support the teaching of journalism and communications. He was an establishing member of the Northwestern State University Foundation and served on its Board of Directors since its inception in 1960, and continuously for 60 years.

Wise received many awards though the years, including the: Louisiana Distinguished Service Medal, Outstanding Civilian Service Award of the Dept. of the Army, Northwestern State University Long Purple Line Hall of Distinction (the first recipient), Touchstone Award from the US Army ROTC Demon Battalion of NSU, Diocese of Lake Charles 1996 Citizen of the Year, Chairman of the 1980 Louisiana Heart Fund, and Listing in the Who’s Who in America, beginning in 1970.

Always a storyteller, he authored 21 books on history, genealogy, travel, hunting and fishing, including some autobiographies of his military and newspaper careers. He and Marie loved to travel the world, and visited 85 countries, often with their children.

He enjoyed many hobbies, sports and interests, particularly genealogy, fishing, hunting, traveling, long walks and tennis. Gardening was a favorite activity, as he landscaped 40 acres of flower gardens and citrus orchards around his rural Sulphur home. He took great pride in giving walking tours of his flora. Local photographers often used his gardens for their backdrops and innumerable brides had their wedding photos shot there. For decades, when his hundreds of azalea and camellia bushes bloomed, he invited the public to see the wondrous flowers, and thousands came.

Erbon Wise is survived by his four children: Bonnie Everett of Sulphur; Edmond W. Wise II of Leesville and his wife, Inessa Wise; Ann Wise of Estes Park, CO; and Larry Wise of Sulphur and his wife, Dr. Myra Wise. He is also survived by 12 grandchildren (including 3 sets of twins!), 6 great-grandchildren and 5 great-great grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents and by his twin brothers, Jack Bridwell Wise of Thibodaux and Jerry Edmond Wise of DeQuincy.

Funeral services will be held Tuesday, August 18, 2020 at 10 a.m. at Hixson-Sulphur Memorial Funeral Home, followed by a private burial. Visitation will be held Monday, August 17 from 5-7 p.m. Face masks are required and personal distancing is strongly encouraged. The family understands that Covid may limit your choosing to visit. The funeral will be live-streamed and may be viewed at the Facebook page for Hixson-Sulphur Memorial Funeral Home. Words of comfort may be shared with the family at www.hixonsulphurmemorial.com.

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