Lt. Col. Theodore Francis Wickord
| Lt. Col. Theodore F. Wickord was born on August 2, 1907, in Chicago, to Peter H. Wickord & Julia Nevecerel-Wickord. He married Marie Falisiewicz and with his wife lived at 1839 South 7th Avenue in Maywood, Illinois. The couple became the parents 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. |
Wickord started his military career in the Citizens Military Training Corps in 1924 and 1925. He next joined the 33rd Infantry in Chicago and remained with the unit from 1926 to 1927. On June 9, 1927, he joined the Illinois National Guard's tank company in Maywood, Illinois, and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant on April 14, 1936. He was promoted to 1st Lieutenant on May 3, 1937. From February to May 1940, he attended tank school at Ft. Benning, Georgia. 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 21, 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. It was at this time while he was riding on the back of his tank, that a tree branch knocked him from the tank. The result was he suffered a back injury that would bother him the entire time he was a Prisoner of War.
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. On December 23 and 24, the battalion was in the area of Urdaneta. The bridge they were going to use to cross the Agno River was destroyed and the tankers made an end run to get south of river. As they did this, they ran into Japanese resistance early in the evening. They successfully crossed at the river in the Bayambang Province.
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 company of his tanks parked along the road. The crews were asleep inside the tanks. The company was awakened and became the last American unit to enter Bataan.
A Company also took part in the Battle of the Pockets to wipe out Japanese Marines who had been trapped behind the main defensive line. The tanks would enter the pocket one at a time to replace a tank in the pocket. Another tank did not enter the pocket until a tank had left the pocket.
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.
The tankers received the order at 6:45 A.M. on April 9, and Bataan was surrendered to the Japanese at 7:00 A.M.. It was on this date that Lt. Col. Ted 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 April 11, 1942.
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 arrived at Camp O'Donnell on April 18. The camp was an unfinished Filipino training base that was pressed into use as a POW camp on April 1, 1942. When they arrived at the camp, the Japanese confiscated any extra clothing that the POWs had and refused to return it to them. They searched the POWs and if a man was found to have Japanese money on them, they were taken to the guardhouse. Over the next several days, gunshots were heard to the southeast of the camp. These POWs had been executed for looting.
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. He wrote down that detail left Camp O'Donnell on May 1st with 1000 POWs on it. Upon arriving in Calaun, the work group was divided into three details of 250 men or more. Two details would build bridges while the other detail would work at a sawmill providing lumber.
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.
While working 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 nourishment.
When Wickord 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 fists.
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, he was sent to Cabanatuan. The camp was actually three camps. Camp 1 was where the men who captured on Bataan and taken part in the death march where held. Camp 2 did not have an adequate water supply and was closed. It later reopened and housed Naval POWs. Camp 3 was where those men captured when Corregidor surrender were taken. In addition, men from Bataan who had been hospitalized when the surrender came were sent to the camp. Camp 3 was later consolidated into Camp 1.
Rice was the main food given to the POWs fed to them as "lugow" which meant "wet rice." During their time in the camp, they received few vegetables and almost no fruit. Once in awhile, they received bread.
The POWs arrived at night and were housed in five flimsy barracks that were unheated and had dirt floors. The POWs slept on two sets of platforms along the perimeter of each barracks. To reach the upper bunks the POWs used ladders. Each POW received five blankets made of peanut shell fiber and a pillow stuffed with rice husks.
In mid-January 1943, Wickord was one of 150 officers who left Tanagawa and sent by rail to the Island of Shikoku to a camp at
Wickord was one of the officers selected to go to another camp. The POWs were boarded into boxcars and baggage cars, but by this point in the war, American planes roamed the skies over Japan at will. During the trip, on several occasions, the Japanese uncoupled the engine from the cars, and left the cars sitting on the rails as a target, when they believed the train was going to be strafed. The POWs made it safely to their new camp.
Of his time in the camps he recalled, "We certainly had some odd concoctions in the way of 'food.' 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 Illinois.