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 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. 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
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 23rd and 24th, 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
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.
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 9th, 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 18th. 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.
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,
he was sent to Cabanatuan on September 8, 1942,
there until November 6, 1942. At that
time, he was selected to be sent to Japan and
boarded onto the Nagato Maru.
On the ship he was reunited with Capt. Ruben
Schwass, Lt. Richard Danca, Lt. Tom Savage and
Lt. Ben Morin. He stated that there were
600 POWs in the forward hold and 400 in the rear
Arriving on November 24th, the POWs disembarked and were deloused, showered and issued new clothing. The POWs were taken by ferry to Shimonseki, Honshu, Japan. They next took a long ride along the northern shore of the Inland Sea to the Osaka-Kobe area. Upon arrival, the prisoners were divided into two groups of 500 each. Tom was sent to Tanagawa Camp arriving there on November 27, 1942.
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 Zentsuji and
arrived on January 15, 1943, which was to be his
home for the next two and one half years.
The camp was used in Japanese propaganda to show
how well the POWs were being treated. In
all, there were 700 officers and enlisted men in
the camp, and he met American officers who were
not captured in the Philippines, as well as,
British and Australian officers.
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 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