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Navy capt. caps career with a bang

July 13, 1997

By JENNYLYNN BROWN

Staff Writer

For 28 1/2 years, Capt. Robert L. Wilson Jr. asked not what his country could do for him, but what he could do for his country.

So the U.S. Navy put him on its defense team - not as a lawyer, but as a developer.

Eighteen years sailed by as he developed naval weapon systems. Wilson will retire Aug 1.

"What most people don't know about `Capt. Wilson' is how much fun he had in his 28 1/2-year career," said Wilson, 50, who is originally from Hagerstown.

"There's an awesome amount of responsibility ... but it's all worth it, being on the cutting edge of technology and being a physicist, engineer, leader and manager."

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Wilson's retirement ceremony June 26 was on board the USS Barry at the Washington Navy Yard in southeast Washington, D.C.

More than 200 well-wishers attended, and members of the Washington Mormon Choir sang patriotic songs.

"It was very moving," said his wife, Leona Cronise Wilson, 38. "I knew he was important, loved and respected - I didn't know how much."

Capt. Wilson said he would always carry "the friendship and love from the people who were there for me."

"I was the proudest man in the country that day," said his father, Robert L. Wilson Sr., 73.

"My father convinced me to take an ROTC scholarship to the University of South Carolina," Capt. Wilson said. "It started me on this whole career."

Capt. Wilson developed a weapons control system that allowed ships to handle 16 targets simultaneously instead of four.

He also reduced the cost of building a missile by 22 percent.

And his biggest success was "introducing the Navy to theater ballistic missile defense," he said. "The Navy will have the ability to intercept (Scud) missiles, where before it did not."

That system was tested Jan. 24 in New Mexico and was featured on the Feb. 24 cover of Aviation Week & Space Technology magazine.

Wilson said his mentor was retired Rear Adm. Wayne E. Meyer.

"I learned from him how to weave science and technology, management and motivation together," Wilson said.

"It's a delicate balance of technology and people."

Wilson holds engineering degrees from the University of South Carolina and the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

But this traveling man never forgot Hagerstown.

"There's always been a family presence in Hagerstown," he said. "I always come back here at the holidays."

His parents recall a promising youngster.

"He was great he never caused me one minute of trouble," said his father, who lives on Redwood Circle and served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

"He was very intelligent and I knew he would really go places," said Wilson's mother, Virginia M. Smith, 71, of School House Court in Boonsboro.

"He's got so many plaques and things for all the good work he's done."

Smith had a hand in introducing her son to his future wife.

Boonsboro native Leona Cronise Wilson is an agent assistant at Northwestern Mutual Life in Hagerstown.

The Wilsons, who live in Silver Spring, Md., married on May 25, 1996. A wedding reception was held at their "German home," the Schmankerl Stube restaurant in Hagerstown.

"We are very proud to have someone from this community to excel to the status that Capt. Wilson has," said Charles Sekula, 52, owner of the restaurant at 58 S. Potomac St.

"The regulars here who know him as well as I do think a great deal of him. He's got a one-in-a-million nature."

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