Lt. Col. Theodore Francis Wickord
| Lt. Col. Theodore F.
Wickord was born on August 2, 1907, in Chicago, to
Peter & Julia Wickord. With his wife,
Marie, he lived at 1839 South 7th Avenue in
Maywood, Illinois. He was the father of two
sons. He was employed as a Field Engineer by
the Public Service Company of Northern Illinois,
in its operating department, which supplied gas
and electric power to the Chicago area.
On June 9, 1927, he joined the Illinois National Guard in Maywood, Illinois. He was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant on April 14, 1936. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on May 3, 1937. On November 7, 1940, he was promoted to captain and became the commanding officer of 33rd Tank Company when they were called to federal service on November 25, 1940.
When Headquarters Company was formed, in
January, 1941, with soldiers from the four
letter companies of the 192nd Tank
Battalion, Capt. Theodore Wickord became
the Executive Officer of the battalion.
In early September, the
battalion traveled to Camp Polk, Louisiana, to
take part in maneuvers. After the
maneuvers, they remained behind instead of
returning to Ft. Knox. It was at this
time, officers of the battalion, too old for
their rank, were released from federal
service. This included the
battalion's commanding officer.
On December 8, 1941, just ten hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Major Wickord lived through the attack on Clark Field. Having heard the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor, his tanks had been deployed around the perimeter of the airfield. This was done to prevent the Japanese from using paratroopers to capture the field.
When the planes approached the airfield, Wickord took his camera, that he had bought so that he could film his time in the Philippines, and filmed the planes. He stood like the other men in awe of the planes. It was only when he saw the bombs falling from the planes, through the magnification of the camera lens, that the spell was broken. He threw the camera down and ordered his men into action.
Sometime around December 21st, Wickord was promoted to Lt. Colonel. On that day, he was given orders to send a platoon of tanks north to Lingayen Gulf . As it turned out, the tanks he sent were from B Company his original company of Illinois National Guardsmen.
Under Lt. Col. Wickord's command, 13 tanks of the 192nd were deployed as the rear guard of the North Luzon Force as it retreated into the Bataan Peninsula. His battalion was the last American unit to withdraw into the peninsula.
During the withdraw into the peninsula, Wickord crossed over the last bridge which was mined and about to be blown. He wanted to see if all Allied forces had crossed the bridge. On the other side of the bridge, he discovered a platoon of his tanks parked along the road. The crews were asleep inside the tanks. Over the next several months, the battalion fought battle after battle with tanks that were not designed for jungle warfare.
For five days, during the Battle of the Anyasan Pocket, American tank forces had attempted to recover a tank as salvage. It was during this battle that Lt. Col. Wickord, personally led an effort to recover a tank.
On February 6, while under heavy fire, Lt Col. Wickord took his own command tank into combat to tow out the disabled tank. The crew of the tank had been killed and the tank was being used by the Japanese as a hostile strong point. Lt. Col. Wickord's actions inspired the supporting tank maintenance and tank troops to make the salvage possible. For his actions on this day, Lt. Col. Wickord received the Silver Star for gallantry in action.
When Bataan surrendered to the Japanese, Lt. Col. Wickord became a Prisoner of War. He was aware like the other members of the battalion that the Japanese had promised that the Americans would be loaded onto ships and sent to San Francisco. Smelling something rotten, he attempted to get his men taken to Manila. Unfortunately, when the trucks they were riding in stopped, they found themselves at Mariveles at the southern tip of Bataan. It was from there that Lt. Col. Ted Wickord began what was to become know as the "Bataan Death March."
On the march, Lt. Col. Wickord witnessed the kindness and great courage that the Filipino people showed by throwing food to the starving POWs. The Filipinos would make balls out of rice and throw them to the marchers. The marchers had to catch the rice balls "just right" or they would disintegrate and the POWs would get nothing to eat.
It took Lt. Col. Wickord four days to complete the march and reach San Fernando. It was there that a Japanese officer told the American prisoners that all American cities had been blown off the face of the map. The officer would say, "Chicago - boom, boom! No more! Detroit -boom, boom! No more! " One prisoner shouted, "Baloney!" The officer answered, "Baloney-boom, boom! No more!"
As a POW, Lt. Col. Wickord was first imprisoned at Camp O'Donnell. While at Camp O'Donnell, he was selected to be the American commanding officer of a work detail that was being sent out to rebuild bridges near the town of Calaun. Upon arriving in Calaun, the work group was divided into two details of 75 men each. One detail would build a bridge at Calaun while the other detail would work at a sawmill.
Lt. Col. Wickord filled as many of the worker positions on this detail with men of his own battalion to get them out of the Camp O'Donnell. Since at this time, as many as fifty men a day were dying in the camp, it was his hope that doing this would save some of their lives. On the detail, he was also given the authority to decide which prisoners were strong enough to work that day and which ones were not strong enough to work.
While in command of this detail, one POW assigned to the sawmill detail escaped during the night. Because of this, Lt. Col. Wickord was informed by the ranking Japanese officer that he was being sent to the sawmill to witness the execution of ten prisoners because the one POW had escaped.
The American commanding officer of the sawmill detail was told by the ranking Japanese officer that he had to select ten prisoners for execution. The officer first considered a lottery to select who would die, but later decided that the five men who had slept nearest to the escapee's left or right would be executed. No matter what decision the officer made, he could not win.
The morning of the execution all the POWs were silent. Finally, one of those selected to be executed asked the American commanding officer if there was some way he could stop the execution. The officer simply said, "No." Another of the chosen men simply said, "I guess I'll never see Denver again." Still another of the "selected" POWs was the brother of another POW on the detail. Even though other POWs offered to take his place, the Japanese would not allow the switch. The prisoners were offered blindfolds but refused them. They were lined up next to their grave and shot.
After the execution, Lt. Col. Wickord was shown the grave and told that he had to tell his men what had been done because one POW had escaped. He was told to inform his men that if they attempted to escape the same thing would be done to them.
As it turned out, a prisoner on the bridge detail attempted to escape. The man made a break and ran down the main road in Calaun before being stopped by a guard. The Filipino doctor who provided medical treatment to the Americans convinced the Japanese that the POW was mentally ill and could not be held accountable for his actions. By doing this, the doctor saved the lives of the ten other prisoners. The POW who had tried to escape was returned to the main camp.
After the bridge building was completed at
Calaun, the POWs were sent further south to
Batangas. Again, the prisoners rebuilt a
bridge that had been destroyed. There the
Sisters of the Good Shepherd invited
twelve POWs for a dinner. The Japanese
commanding officer gave his permission and
allowed Lt. Col. Wickord to pick the twelve
men. Lt. Col. Wickord picked six Catholic
and six Protestant POWs who were the most
emaciated. The thirteen men were allowed
to attend this meal with only one guard.
Again the prisoners were moved to build another
bridge. This time they were moved north to
Candelaria. The prisoners slept in an old
coconut mill which was surrounded by
fencing. Again, the Filipino people showed
their courage by aiding the prisoners.
Twice a week two Filipinos would bring bread and
food to the POWs to supplement their diet.
on the detail, Wickord told of a Japanese guard
who was somewhat decent to the POWs. The
guard told Wickord he could go to the PX and get
himself unsweetened gelatin. Wickord knew
from having it before that it had no taste, but
it would provide him with some
had eaten it, he thought of the other fourteen
men he was working with and bought fourteen
packs of cigarettes and took them to the
men. The guard that sold him the
cigarettes at the PX reported him to his
commanding officer. Another guard asked
Wickord if he had purchased the cigarettes. When
Wickord stated he had, he was taken to the
commandant's office and questioned. The
Japanese were angry because he had bought so
many cigarettes. Wickord was marched out
of the office by three guards, two with fixed
bayonets. The three guards led him to a
wall and beat him unconscious with their
The guard who was relatively nice to the POWs came up to Wickord, the next day, and offered him a little doll that was dressed like his sister had been at her wedding. The guard was extremely upset about the beating.
When this detail was completed in September of 1942, Lt. Col. Wickord was sent to Cabanatuan and would remain there until November of 1942. At that time, he was selected to be sent to Japan. At Manila, he was boarded onto the Japanese "hell ship" Nagato Maru in early November. On the ship he was reunited with Capt. Ruben Schwass, Lt. Richard Danca, Lt. Tom Savage and Lt. Ben Morin. It was during this trip that Lt. Richard Danca died and was cremated on Formosa. Lt. Col. Wickord was given his ashes for safe keeping after the cremation. But, they would later be lost in a Japanese POW Camp.
in Japan, Lt. Col. Ted Wickord was assigned to
Umeda Bunsho on November 26, 1942. In
August of 1943, he was sent to Zentsuji
Camp on Shikoku Island. There he was
reunited with 2nd Lt. Ben Morin of Company
B. Lt. Col. Wickord was next sent to
Rokuroshi on Honshu on June 25,
1945. The POWs there farmed to feed
Of his time
in the camps he recalled,
"We had rice for every meal, regardless of
what camp we were in; once in awhile we were
given some 'vegetable' soup. The soup
had the roots of weeds, leaves of sweet
potatoes, horse bones, and sometimes
cucumbers in it. Afterwards, the
meatless bones would be carefully saved and
used a few more times. Finally, they
would be raffled, and the lucky winner could
then break open the bones and scrape out the
marrow to eat."
After the war, Wickord returned to the
Public Service Company of Northern Illinois
and was associated with safety work.
On January 19, 1952, he was appointed safety
supervisor for the Public Service Company,
in charge of all the safety activities for
the company's five divisions covering 11,000
square miles in the northern part of