A child of the Great Depression, retired Maj. Gen. Erbon Wise was so poor that when he first met his wife in college he wasn’t wearing shoes and owned only one pair of pants.
The clothes, as it turned out, did not make this man. Wise died on Aug. 12 at his home in southwest Louisiana, two days before his 100th birthday.
“I admired all his service to the country and to the state,’’ said his daughter, Ann Wise. “He was very proud of that.’’
Wise enlisted in the Army Air Corps after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941. He fought in England, France and Germany during World War II before joining the reserves in 1946. Wise served as the state director of selective service and civil defense.
He was adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard from 1964-68.
“It was always interesting to hear him talk about how he was almost glad to get on the beaches of Normandy, because he thought he was going to drown in the landing boat,’’ said his son, Eddie Wise. “He thought the place to be to avoid the waves would be right up in front of the landing boat. [He] found out real fast that’s where the waves came over the top.’’
Erbon Wise was awarded the Bronze Star, among other commendations.
His experiences overseas vastly outnumbered those honors, though.
They began on the trip to Europe. The boat transporting Wise and the other U.S. soldiers purposely zigzagged with the Navy battleship USS Texas, narrowly avoiding colliding several times. He once commandeered a Jeep to drive Winston Churchill to the war front. As a finance officer in England, he drove around with large amounts of money to pay the troops.
Then, near the end of the conflict, Wise was in a wine cellar. Unsure whether the other occupants were friendly, Wise improvised.
“He said, ‘In a sense, they’re my prisoners,’’’ Eddie Wise said. “He didn’t know what to do with them, so he made them drink wine until they passed out.’’
Wise packed several bottles of wine and placed them on a ship bound for America after the war. Only one bottle survived, and Wise kept it in his closet for several years, awaiting a special occasion.
He opened the wine when his daughter, Bonnie Everett, either got engaged or married. Eddie Wise could not remember which.
“They poured it and had a toast, and everybody spit it out because it had really gone bad,’’ Wise said.
Wise oversaw the renovation of the historic Jackson Barracks, the headquarters of the Louisiana National Guard in New Orleans. Wise helped maintain peace during the Civil Rights Movement and rescued residents off rooftops during Hurricane Betsy in 1965. He even once accidentally splashed champagne onto Charles de Gaulle during the French president’s visit to the state.
“He always loved history of any type, including military history, and wrote a bunch of historical things,’’ Ann Wise said.
A newspaper publisher and the author of more than 20 books, Wise left quite a legacy. His marriage lasted 74 years until Marie Wise died in 2016. Wise is survived by four children, 12 grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.
Wise never forgot his meager beginnings, though, insisting on growing his own food until very late in his life. That’s how much the Great Depression affected him.
“To pull yourself up from those kinds of circumstances …,’’ Ann Wise said. “He pulled himself up from all of that and fought for years.’’Read comments