SPRINGFIELD — The father of a slain soldier will get his two wishes — to attend his son's funeral in Washington, D.C., and meet his daughter-in-law and grandson for the first time.
When James "Jim" Wilson made a plea for financial help to get to his son's funeral, he never imagined the response he would get from the military and even complete strangers.
"It means a lot," Wilson said, wiping tears from his eyes. "I want to make sure everyone gets a thank you."
Pfc. Matthew Wilson, 19, was killed June 1 in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb.
A funeral service with full military honors is set for Aug. 19 at Arlington National Cemetery.
Although others offered to help the father get to Washington, D.C., the U.S. Army has agreed to pay for his airfare and two nights of lodging. He couldn't afford the trip because he lives on Social Security, and extra money is scarce.
Jerry Potter of Springfield was willing to help Jim Wilson.
He didn't know the man but was so moved by a story in the News-Leader about Wilson's desire to attend the funeral, he offered to pay for a round-trip bus ticket.
"I just feel sorry for him," he said.
Calls poured into the Golden Living Center in Branson where Jim Wilson resides, asking how to help.
The sentiment was not lost on Jim Wilson. Because the Army will be paying his way to the funeral, he's directing that all other donations go to a trust fund being set up for his 6-month-old grandson, Matthew Gunnar Wilson.
"It means my grandson is going to have a bigger nest egg," he said.
Matthew Wilson went into foster care at the age of 13. His mother died in 2003, and his father had a stroke and could no longer care for him.
"That just threw his whole world upside down," said Jeff Wilson, of Mount Vernon, Matthew's half brother.
He joined the military on Jan. 3, 2008.
Jeff Wilson said the fact that two of Matthew's stepbrothers are in the U.S. Air Force likely had something to do with his wanting to join the military.
"That's all he ever wanted to do (was join the military)," he said. "Even when he was young ... it was just something he really wanted to do."
Jim Wilson said he's proud of his son's military service.
"He died doing what he wanted to do," he said.
Ashlynn Wilson of New York, Matthew's wife, said that it was a desire to belong to a group that drew her husband to the ranks of the U.S. Army.
"He didn't really grow up in the best setting and he wanted to be part of something, and he wanted to do something for his country," she said.
Ashlynn Wilson recalled fond memories of her husband, who was a friend of her brother's, when the two met early last year. They were married Aug. 7, 2008.
This August, Ashlynn and Matthew Wilson would have celebrated their one-year anniversary.
She remembered the Chinese restaurant they went to the night they met and how he asked her father for her hand in marriage before he proposed. She said there's a million reasons why her husband was so special, but she struggled to find the words to speak.
Ashlynn Wilson said she is reminded of her husband every time she looks at her son.
"He has his nose," she said. "He pretty much has everything from me, but he has his nose and his feet."
Jim Wilson said he's looking forward to meeting his daughter-in-law and grandson, who he didn't even know existed until he learned of his son's death. He and his son had lost touch after he joined the military.
He spoke lovingly of his son.
"He liked to fish and hunt just like me," Jim Wilson said. "He was a good boy."