Aug. 14, 1920-Aug. 12, 2020
Maj. Gen. Erbon Wise (Retired), 99, passed away Aug. 12, 2020, at his home in Sulphur. He was born Aug 14, 1920, in a log house in Claiborne Parish to Edmond Wesley Wise and Eula Bridwell Wise and grew up in Leesville.
Wise earned a bachelor’s degree in 1941 from what is now Northwestern State University. That is where he met and married Natchitoches native, Marie Norris in July 1942. They were happily married for 74 years until her passing in 2016.
Upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, he entered active military duty and completed the Army Finance School at Indianapolis, Ind., commissioning a 2nd Lt. in the Army Air Force. In later years he graduated from the U.S. Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and attended the United States War College. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Northwestern State University in 2004.
During World War II, he served as an officer in the Army Air Corps in England, France and Germany. He was among the first soldiers sent to England in September 1942 and was the second Finance Disbursing Officer in the European Theatre of Operations. In his two years in England he served in the 12th, 8th and 9th Air Forces, and was early stationed with the 91st B-17 Heavy Bomber Group, that of “Memphis Belle” fame, the second B-17 group to be sent overseas.
In June 1944 he was serving with an Air Force Support Unit selected for the Utah Beach Landing of the Normandy Invasion. He went ashore in an assault landing craft and helped clear a dirt landing strip near the beachhead for a P-47 Fighter Group, the first planes sent into France. After the breakout from the beach area at St. Lo, Wise’s unit followed closely behind the forces of General Patton’s 3d Army drive across France and Germany. He was among the first Americans to arrive in Paris at its liberation. He was awarded meritorious ribbons for four campaigns and honorably discharged in 1946.
Wise returned home and entered military reserve status. In 1949 he organized the 372 Financing Disbursing, an Army Reserve unit that he commanded for many years. Regular drills of the unit were in a special room he built onto his home in Maplewood. Later, when the Army Reserve Armory was built in Lake Charles, he commanded troops at its dedication and later commanded a Quartermaster Battalion there.
From 1964-68 Wise returned to active military service as a Maj. Gen. and Adj. Gen. of Louisiana, with duties as commander of the Louisiana Army and Air National Guard, State Director of Selective Service and State Director of Civil Defense. From his headquarters at Jackson Barracks in New Orleans, he led during the turbulent years of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights marches in Louisiana and through two disastrous hurricanes. He secured legislative funding to largely rebuild the long-neglected, historic buildings of Jackson Barracks, and to build many new National Guard armories in the state. He retired from the U.S. Army in 1969 as a Maj. Gen., after 29 years of active and reserve service.
Upon his return from WWII, Erbon and Marie began establishing, buying and selling weekly and daily newspapers and court news publications across Louisiana and southeast Texas. Over many years they owned papers in Maplewood, Natchitoches, Gretna, Metairie, New Orleans, Chalmette, Slidell, Covington, Sulphur, DeRidder, Leesville, Westlake, Vinton, Iowa, Lake Arthur, Cameron, Rosepine, Lake Charles, Moss Bluffand Shreveport, and in Texas at Beaumont, Groves, Bridge City and Orange.
He built weekly newspapers into dailies in Sulphur, DeRidder and Leesville. He was the first to begin web offset printing of La. newspapers, and the first to give free newspaper distribution. He built the small Fort Polk military weekly into a large, modern, twice-weekly and prize-winning newspaper, the Fort Polk Guardian. He and Marie retired in 1998 from 52 years of publishing newspapers.
In 1987 they donated about 4,000 genealogical books to establish the Erbon and Marie Wise Genealogical Library in the new Louisiana State Archives building in Baton Rouge. In 1991 they established an educational trust to fund yearly college scholarships in advanced education in journalism. In 2004, they donated funds to establish the first One Million Dollar Endowed Chair at Northwestern State University, from which they had both graduated decades earlier. This donation continues to support the teaching of journalism and communications. He was an establishing member of the NSU Foundation and served on its Board of Directors since its inception in 1960, and continuously for 60 years.
Wise received many awards though the years, including the Louisiana Distinguished Service Medal, Outstanding Civilian Service Award of the Dept. of the Army, NSU Long Purple Line Hall of Distinction (the first recipient), Touchstone Award from the US Army ROTC Demon Battalion of NSU, Diocese of Lake Charles 1996 Citizen of the Year, Chairman of the 1980 Louisiana Heart Fund and Listing in the Who’s Who in America, beginning in 1970.
Always a storyteller, he authored 21 books on history, genealogy, travel, hunting and fishing, including some autobiographies of his military and newspaper careers. He and Marie loved to travel the world and visited 85 countries, often with their children.
He enjoyed many hobbies, sports and interests, particularly genealogy, fishing, hunting, traveling, long walks and tennis. Gardening was a favorite activity, as he landscaped 40 acres of flower gardens and citrus orchards around his rural Sulphur home. He took great pride in giving walking tours of his flora. Local photographers often used his gardens for their backdrops and innumerable brides had their wedding photos shot there. For decades, when his hundreds of azalea and camellia bushes bloomed, he invited the public to see the wondrous flowers and thousands came.
Erbon Wise is survived by his four children, Bonnie Everett of Sulphur, Edmond W. Wise II and wife Inessa of Leesville, Ann Wise of Estes Park, Colo., and Larry Wise and wife Dr. Myra Wise of Sulphur; 12 grandchildren (including three sets of twins!; six great-grandchildren; and five great-great grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his parents and by his twin brothers, Jack Bridwell Wise of Thibodaux and Jerry Edmond Wise of DeQuincy.
Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18 at Hixson-Sulphur Memorial Funeral Chapel, followed by a private burial. Visitation will be from 5-7 p.m. at the funeral home. Facemasks are required and personal distancing is strongly encouraged. The family understands that Covid may limit your choosing to visit. The funeral will be live-streamed and may be viewed at www.facebook.com/hixsonsulphur .
Fond memories and expressions of sympathy may be shared at www.hixsonsulphurmemorial.com for the Wise family.