This story is about Wilson. Wilson lived in Des Moines during the late thirties, and had moved here from another state. He made a better than average income in Des Moines, and was happy with life. He quickly made new friends with his easy smile, dark hair, and good looks. Some of the locals introduced Wilson to horseback riding while he was in Des Moines and he fell in love with the pastime. In fact, it turned into one of his favorite things to do. In a conversation with a friend one day, he learned that if he joined the Army reserves he could ride horses anytime he wanted. He had his reservations at first, fearing he would be sent out to a war. He thought about it and decided that the “the war to end all wars” had already been fought (World War one) and he should be in the clear. Wilson signed up for the cavalry reserves on May 25, 1937 at Fort Des Moines ready to ride horses to his hearts content. I can picture him now him riding around the two story red brick buildings on the south side of Des Moines. He would have been a young carefree man at this point. This is hard to imagine considering who he turned out to be later in life.
Wilson had a job that required him to travel, and later in 1937 one of these trips took him out to California. Wilson had a history in acting and storytelling and decided while out in California he would do a screen test for Warner Brothers to do movies. He did so well he got a seven year contract. He spent the next few years with Warner Brothers in smaller movies called “B” movies, but was eager to move to something bigger. In April 18, 1942 with The US ramping up its war effort for World War Two, Wilson was told to report for duty. He was still part of the reserves and was obligated to do so. Wilson reported for duty and was given the exam to see if he was fit to serve. It turned out his eyes were not good enough to qualify for full service and was disqualified for going overseas. He would have to help the war effort from home, and he did. With his background in acting he requested a transfer to the division of the Army where they made promotional videos to keep moral up. This unit was called the First motion picture unit, and they were based out of California. Wilson did bounce around a bit during this time, but ended up serving in this unit from November 14, 1944 until the end of the war.
With women doing a lot of the factory work for the war effort, the first motion picture unit decided to do a photo shoot involving the female factory workers. The idea was to boost moral, and build goodwill. One worker named Norma Jeane Mortenson was brought in and was involved in a photo shoot, but her photos were never used. Norma Jeane however, became friends with the photographer, and began to travel with him doing modeling work. As some of you well know Norma Jeane changed her name to……Marilyn Monroe. It is very interesting to me to think of “Wilson” and Marilyn Monroe rubbing shoulders in a hallway somewhere. At this point they would be young, and pretty much unknowns. As you may have guessed Wilson is not the name that our main character goes by normally, but it is his middle name. His full name is Ronald Wilson Reagan, the 40th President of the United States. He has quite a history that has been covered in numerous articles and books. If you are interested in reading more I have provided some links below. He did spend some of his earlier years in Des Moines, most of them tall, dark, and horseback.
If you would like to read more Quirky Des Moines click here.
Ronald Reagan’s Wikipedia page
Marilyn Monroe’s Wikipedia Page