Korean War Veteran remembered as hero at home and abroad

An article from 1953 when Pfc. Sylvester Wheeler Sr survived being trapped inside a tank in Korea for 36 hours.

CENTREVILLE — Centreville native Sylvester Wheeler Sr. will always be honored and remembered for his service to our country. He enlisted in the Army in 1950 and served in Korea from 1950-1953 during the Korean War.

Before deployment, Wheeler Sr. fell in love with Mildred Cooper, and they tried to get married when he was 17 and she was 15.

“We had to get written consent from our parents in order to get married,” Cooper said. “We didn’t get that consent, so we had to hold off on marriage.”

A year later, they welcomed a baby boy into the world who became their pride and joy.

“Every time Wheeler Sr. would come home on leave, he would come visit me and our son,” Cooper said. “He was a dedicated father and a truly remarkable man.”

Just prior to Wheeler’s birthday this year, Cooper reflected on the challenges he faced overseas — including being trapped in a tank for 36 hours. In communist times, he and a group of four other men sweated it out as dozens of Chinese soldiers crawled on top of his tank trying to kill the group, using grenades and mortar shells. The group was without food or water during the whole ordeal.

“I was fearful he wouldn’t survive,” Cooper said. “Because I wasn’t officially his wife, I didn’t always receive all the information fast enough.”

Upon his return to the United States for good in 1953, Wheeler Sr. lost his life in a car accident traveling to a base in Virginia. One week prior to the accident, Wheeler Sr. told Cooper that he had a question to ask her the next time he saw her.

“I know in my heart that he was going to ask me to be his wife again,” Cooper said. “I was very upset when I found out and had so many questions.”

Wheeler Sr. was awarded the Purple Heart for his service in Korea under the Lyndon B. Johnson presidency and also received a letter of commendation from the President commemorating his death and service to country.

“He was a very caring man, a lovable person who was very loved by his family,” Cooper said. “He always cared for our son.”

Private First Class Sylvester Wheeler Sr. at the time of his death left behind a 4-year-old son and his love Mildred Cooper.

Wheeler Sr. would have turned 79 years old on June 1. His country thanks him for his service.

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