John Wilson was born on April 16, 1922, in Brockport, New York. He enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on April 19, 1940, and went on active duty in the Navy on June 11, 1940. After completing basic training at NTS Newport, Rhode Island, Wilson attended the Submarine School at Submarine Base New London, Connecticut, from August 1940 to January 1941. His first assignment was aboard the submarine USS S-20 (SS-105) from February 1941 to March 1942, followed by service at New London for the fitting out of the submarine USS Grunion (SS-216) from March to April 1942, remaining aboard Grunion after her commissioning on April 11, 1942. SC3c Wilson was killed in action during a confrontation with the armed Japanese freighter Kano Maru on July 30, 1942. On August 22, 2007, a search team organized by the three sons of CDR Mannert Abele (the Captain of the Grunion when she was sunk) used a remotely operated vehicle to find a sunken vessel 3,000 feet down in the Bering Sea north of Kiska Island at the tip of the Aleutian Islands. On October 1, 2008, the U.S. Navy announced that the sunken vessel is the World War II submarine USS Grunion (SS-216).
His Navy Commendation Medal Citation reads:
For meritorious conduct as a member of the crew of the U.S.S. GRUNION which destroyed three enemy destroyers while engaged in a war patrol in enemy controlled waters. Despite severe and persistent anti-submarine measures resulting from these three successful attacks, the GRUNION was brought safely through the counter attacks and continued an aggressive war patrol. As a member of the crew of the GRUNION, your performance of duty was an important and material contribution to the prosecution of this war.