PLEASANT GARDEN, N.C. — Decades after one Piedmont Triad veteran traveled across the world to fight an enemy, he finds himself back at home fighting a new danger. Instead of being behind enemy lines, Dr. Wilson Elkins is behind a stethoscope and a mask.
The year was 1971 and the United States was in the middle of the Vietnam War. Elkins was fresh out of Wake Forest Bowman Gray Medical School. He was about to start an internship when a letter in the mail would change his life.
“I received a notice that my friends and neighbors had selected me for a trip to San Francisco,” Elkins said.
It was a draft notice and eventually a ticket to the middle of a war zone.
“The next day they put us on a plane and sent us halfway around the world,” he said.
Honoring the call of his country, Elkins went through the necessary training and prepared to be sent into the heart of the fight. He was based at the Bien Hoa Air Base, north of Saigon in Vietnam.
“I have a fear of flying, so I put it last and typically of the Army you get your last choice,” Elkins said.
He was serving as a flight surgeon in the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion. At the medical clinic, he cared for aviators and even people in the local village. One assignment, investigating aircraft accidents, really sticks out in his mind.
“I investigated approximately 35 deaths by aircraft accidents,” he said. “That was disturbing.”
Those experiences drew him closer to God and the people he loved.
“When life and death might be on a string I feel it’s best to have that faith to be prepared,” he added.
Now 45 years later he’s helping fight a different war and an enemy you can’t see, the coronavirus. It’s a war playing out at his practice in his hometown of Pleasant Garden. Elkins will always be ready to answer, whether it’s 10 or 10,000 miles from home.
“I was called to serve, I think it’s the same thing here,” Elkins said. “I feel my calling is to be a help.”