Col. Wendell W. Wichmann

Col. Wendell W. Wichmann

Col. Wendell W. Wichmann, a highly decorated career Army officer who fought in three wars, died May 22 of renal failure at Lorien Mays Chapel Health Center in Timonium.

He was 96.

Wendell Willard Wichmann, the son of farmers, was born and raised in Leonard, N.D., where he graduated in 1934 from Minot High School.

After earning a bachelor's degree in 1939 from what is now North Dakota State University, he taught math for three years in Waubun, Minn.

Because he had attended reserve officers training during his college days and held a reserve officer's commission, he was called to active duty in mid-1941 and sent to Camp Claiborne, La., where he was assigned to Company D, 164th Infantry Regiment.

In March 1942, the 164th left Fort Ord, Calif., joining two other National Guard regiments from Massachusetts and Illinois to form the Americal Division. meaning "American troops on New Caledonia."

"This was the only Army division not to have a numerical designation," said retired Lt. Col. Shirley J. Olgeirson, who is editor of The 164th Infantry News, published in Bismarck, N.D.

The Americal Division fought its way into history when its members landed on Guadalcanal on Oct. 13, 1942.

"The 164th became historically significant as the first Army unit to offensively engage the enemy — in either theater in World War II — when they reinforced the Marines on Guadalcanal," said Colonel Olgeirson.

During the first five days of battle, the 164th lost 117 men, and two weeks later, during the battle for Henderson Air Field, Japanese troops began breaking through the 1st Marine Division's perimeter.

The attack was repulsed after 1st Marines Battalion Cmdr. Lewis Burwell "Chesty" Puller and the 164th's Lt. Col. Robert K. Hall agreed to position 164 soldiers in each Marine foxhole.

"One of his World War II memories was being on Guadalcanal and watching the Japanese fleet sail offshore," said Colonel Wichmann's daughter, Kathlyn Cathell of Phoenix in Baltimore County. "He said, 'When they fired their 14-inch guns at us, it sounded like a freight train approaching. Fortunately for me, the shells went over our position and headed for the air base above us.'"

"This action on Guadalcanal earned the respect of the Marines and was a significant factor in the award of the Navy's Presidential Unit Citation for the 164th and other Americal units that later arrived on Guadalcanal," said Colonel Olgeirson.

During the course of the Pacific campaign, Colonel Wichmann landed at Bougainville and fought in the campaigns for Leyte, Cebu, Negros Oriental, Bohol, and Mindanao in the Philippines.

"After being in three wars, the positive thing was that he was never seriously injured. He did tell the story of a fellow officer who was going to get a plane back to the States the next day who offered to ride deeper into the Philippine jungle that evening with dad," said Mrs. Cathell.

"They were sitting on a log talking when a sniper killed the officer sitting beside him. My dad always said, 'Why him and not me?'"

Colonel Wichmann rose from company commander to regimental intelligence officer, battalion executive officer and battalion commander during his combat days in the Pacific.

After the war, he taught math from 1946 to 1950 at Walsh County Agricultural and Training School in Park River, N.D., while remaining an active reservist.

In 1951, he was recalled to active duty during the Korean conflict with his old regiment and served in counterintelligence in Seoul from 1952 to 1953.

From 1953 to 1957, he was assigned as an adviser to the Army's Advisor Group in Hannibal, Mo., and from 1957 to 1958, he was chief of the Army's technical intelligence branch in Japan.