Monday, September 23, 2013

The story of an American Patriot...

So back around Memorial Day of this year, while my husband and I were shopping at our local Giant, we ran into an elderly man who was wearing one of those black hats with his war service stitched on the front. I walked over to him to shake his hand and tell him thank you for his service, when I realized that his man's generation will soon be gone forever.  His name is MSG. (R) Howard W. Wickert, and I will forever be proud to have shaken his hand.  He took the time to speak with me for about 25 minutes for a phone interview recently.  This is his story:

Mr. Wickert was born on September 24, 1923, in West Point, Nebraska. There were 9 children born to Penrose Wickert, and Clara Moody, Mr. Wickert's parents. Six boys and three girls. One child, Marvin, died at the young age of 1 1/2.  Howard and the rest of his siblings grew up during a time when the balance of the world teetered on the head of a pin.  Hitler was rising to power, and the world would soon know the atrocities of the death camps in Europe.  Howard and his brothers Lloyd, Irvin and Arnold, all left for the military to serve during World War II. Their brother Richard tried to join, but was not medically cleared because of a leg injury.  

While neither their father, mother, nor sisters served in the military, an uncle, Sam served during WWI. So with the horrible attack of Pearl Harbor not far from their memory, on October 9, 1942 Howard and his brother Lloyd both enlisted.  Irvin enlisted in November 1942, and Arnold enlisted January 1943.  All brothers served during WWII, and all returned home.    

Mr. Wickert continued his service, and was eventually assigned to the USS Bataan (CVL-29) in the Yellow Sea during the Korean War (June 1953). While there, the carrier would carry out missions and drop napalm on the North Korean soldiers, and in one particular incident, were helping a company that was surrounded by NK soldiers.  They were out for 15 days at a time, at the 38th parallel, and would be relieved by part of the Royal Australian Navy to refuel and resupply so there was always someone there for cover support.

Howard returned home shortly after the Armistice was signed that effectively ended the fighting in North Korea and South Korea. He stayed in the Marines, and retired a Master Sergeant in 1969 after 26 years of service.  Lloyd Wickert went on to continue service as well, going on to serve during the Korean War, where he was awarded the Bronze Star, and then served in Vietnam.  Lloyd recently passed away at the age of 92.  Arnold, Richard, Evaline, and Grace are all deceased.  Mr. Wickert's siblings Irvin who is now 91, and Dorothy Fenske (née) Wickert, 80, are still alive as well.

Mr. Wickert met a lady named Margaret Wickert (née) Peters while he was stationed at the Naval Air Station in Oakland, California. Margaret happened to also have an uncle that served during WWI in Germany. Soon after meeting they were married on April 4, 1948.  This year they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary!  They were blessed with two sons, Howard (64), and Michael (58).

I have always made it a point to reach out and personally thank a veteran or service member, especially the older generations, by shaking their hands. Their honor and sacrifice is something that can rarely be matched. The men and women that lived and served between The Great Depression and the Korean War were called "The Greatest Generation", not because of fortune or fame, but because they sacrificed everything to fight evil, to keep this world safe. Mr.Wickert and those of his generation, have a caliber that I think we as a nation have lost for the most part. Young men who were 16 and 17 years old were lying about their age to enlist back then. There was a sense of shame and failure if you did not at least try to go and fight.  Today many in that same young age group are too busy playing Grand Theft Auto and not caring about history, past or present.  

I asked Mr. Wickert what drove him and his brothers to enlist.  This was his answer.  "We were at war.  We had been attacked at Pearl Harbor, and we wanted to help. We all enlisted. One brother, Richard, could not serve because of a leg injury." 

"We were at war" still rings in my head today.  We now face a new type of enemy where there are no front lines, and the cost is more than we could have imagined.  I pray for Mr. Wickert and his family, and those of his generation.  We can only hope to measure up to what they laid down for us, and we must be willing to give our all if it means freedom for the next generations.  

So next time you see a veteran, esp. one that is of that great generation, please go and shake their hands and tell them two simple words: Thank You!

                                                  Great history of the USS Bataan