James "Bob" Wilson, a World War II bomber pilot who flew 55 missions in the South Pacific, died Wednesday at the East Rockaway home he built with his own hands 65 years ago.
Wilson, who operated B-24 Liberators and reached the rank of major, died of complications of a stroke. He was 94.
Wilson's parents moved to East Rockaway when he was 4. He was working for a Manhattan insurance company in 1943 when he decided to enlist in the Army, said his daughter, Kim Polite. He married his high school sweetheart, Margaret Dunn, just days before he shipped off to flight school in Texas.
"He joined like everyone else did then, to protect our country," said Polite, of Coram.
After earning his pilot's wings, he was sent to the South Pacific, where he flew combat missions over the Philippines, Papua New Guinea and Borneo.
His daughter said although the planes he flew were hit, Wilson would always say flight crews on missions in Europe faced greater danger, and were more deserving of praise.
He left the military in 1946 and returned to the insurance business, eventually opening an insurance company of his own. With offices in Manhattan and Bay Shore, his J.P. Tilden Ltd. wrote policies for everything from Volkswagen Beetles to oceangoing oil tankers, Polite said.
After retiring in the 1990s, Wilson spent time tending his garden, following the New York Giants and other favored sports teams, and clamming in the Great South Bay.
"He would take an inner tube and go out there barefoot and nobody could beat him," said Polite, who described her father as both affable and precise. "He'd have a bushel full in an hour when everyone else had two or three. He was a great clammer."
In addition to Polite and his wife, survivors include daughters Beth Wilson of Port Jefferson Station and Meg Wilson of Nyack.
Visiting is Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m., at Donza Funeral Home, 333 Atlantic Ave., East Rockaway. Committal services are Monday, 10:30 a.m., at Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn.
Memorial contributions can be sent to woundedwarriorproject.org or honorflight.org.