Winnebago County, Illinois
KELLER, LEONARD B.
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company A, 3d Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division. place and date: Ap Bac Zone, Republic of Vietnam, 2 May 1967. Entered service at: Chicago, Ill. Born: 25 February 1947, Rockford, Ill. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sweeping through an area where an enemy ambush had occurred earlier, Sgt. Keller's unit suddenly came under Intense automatic weapons and small-arms fire from a number of enemy bunkers and numerous snipers in nearby trees. Sgt. Keller quickly moved to a position where he could fire at a bunker from which automatic fire was received, killing 1 Viet Cong who attempted to escape. Leaping to the top of a dike, he and a comrade charged the enemy bunkers, dangerously exposing themselves to the enemy fire. Armed with a light machine gun, Sgt. Keller and his comrade began a systematic assault on the enemy bunkers. While Sgt. Keller neutralized the fire from the first bunker with his machine gun, the other soldier threw in a hand grenade killing its occupant. Then he and the other soldier charged a second bunker, killing its occupant. A third bunker contained an automatic rifleman who had pinned down much of the friendly platoon. Again, with utter disregard for the fire directed to them, the 2 men charged, killing the enemy within. Continuing their attack, Sgt. Keller and his comrade assaulted 4 more bunkers, killing the enemy within. During their furious assault, Sgt. Keller and his comrade had been almost continuously exposed to intense sniper fire as the enemy desperately sought to stop their attack. The ferocity of their assault had carried the soldiers beyond the line of bunkers into the treeline, forcing snipers to flee. The 2 men gave immediate chase, driving the enemy away from the friendly unit. When his ammunition was exhausted, Sgt. Keller returned to the platoon to assist in the evacuation of the wounded. The 2-man assault had driven an enemy platoon from a well prepared position, accounted for numerous enemy dead, and prevented further friendly casualties. Sgt. Keller's selfless heroism and indomitable fighting spirit saved the lives of many of his comrades and inflicted serious damage on the enemy. His acts were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army. [Source: U.S. Army Center of Military History]
Leonard Keller in the News:
[NOTE: The following articles transcibed exactly at they appeared at the time they were published--factual information may be dated, for instance, Leonard Keller was one of two Winnebago County natives to receive the MOH--the other was Jerry Wayne Wickam]
CHERRY VALLEY GI TO GET HONOR MEDAL THURSDAY
SGT. KELLER WINS FIRST AREA AWARD
WASHINGTON--Sgt. Leonard Keller, 21, Cherry Valley, will receive the Congresional Medal of Honor, this nation's highest military award, in White House ceremonies Thursday, the Defense Department announced today. Keller will be the first resident of the Rockford area to receive the Medal of Honor, reserved for the nation's finest combat heroes. Keller, then a private first class, won the silver star for bravery in June, 1967. At that time it was announced he had been nominated for the nation's highest military award. According to information received through the office of Rep. John B. Anderson, R-ILL., who will attend the ceremony, the award will take place at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
Keller, a former service station attendant, enlisted in Chicago on Aug. 16, 1966, and served in Vietnam from January to December 1967.
The awarding of the Silver Star and the same action for which he will receive the Congressional Medal, occurred in May 1967, in which Keller's unit was on a sweep through the At Bac zone. Keller's unit, Co. A, 69th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, came under intense fire from automatic weapons while on the sweep through the area where several ambushed had occurred.
According to citation at the time of the awarding of the Silver Star, Keller, and a buddy, Pcf. Raymond Wright, St. Mineville, N.Y., teamed up to storm six Viet Cong bunkers from which the fire was coming. The two captured the bunkers while tossing grenades and "spewing bullets from a machine gun and an M-16 rifle," according to 2nd Lt. Joseph C. Pilcher, Norwalk, Conn., their platoon leader. Keller also won an award similar to the Silver Star from the South Vietnamese government for this action. In a letter to his parents, Homer Keller, 404 Cannon St., and Mrs. Maynard Saunders, Pecatonica, the former Guilford High School student expressed regrets at his hero's role. "They've made me a carpenter," he wrote shortly after being honored, "I hate to leave all the guys I have been with, but I guess I'll get by on my own. I'm sure going to miss my machine gun crew. We sure had some good times together. But at least you'll know I'm safe and sound."
He also informed his parents that his commanding officer had told him he "was going to do everything possible" to get his the Medal of Honor. The nomination had been forward at that time to division headquarters for approval, and they were to send it to the White House. Keller is now stationed at Fort Meade, Md. [--Rockford Register-Republic, September 16, 1968]
FRIENDS RECALL MEDAL OF HONOR WINNER
'LENNIE WASN'T AFRAID OF SCUFFLES'
Leonard Keller's heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam, which earned him the nation's highest military honer, the Medal of Honor, came as little surprise to his friends in Cherry Valley. "As I look back at Lennie, I can see him getting this," recalled Mrs. Janet Gustafson, his grade school principal, who now teaches special education in Rockford schools. "There wasn't anything he was afraid of," she said, "Yet, he was a very polite young man and that was somthing very outstanding about him."
Keller, 21, will receive the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson at White House ceremonies Thursday. Keller and a fellow Army private, Raymond Wright, Mineville, N.Y. stormed six Viet Cong bunkers to knock out automatic weapons fire which had pinned down their unit on a May day in 1967.
"He was never malicious," Mrs. Gustafson said. "But whenever there was a scuffle, Lennie wasn't afraid to get into it."
Kellers school records show he was an average student. While at Cherry Valley Elementary School, he began to date JoAnn Benjamin, now 19, a pretty Cherry Valley girl. They still date occasionally when he is home.
"He felt pretty strongly against getting the honor," Miss Benjamin said. "He said he didn't really feel he deserved it. He said he was only fighting to save his own life, as human instinct would have him do."
Following his graduation from grade school, Keller attended Guilford High School, but activities like hunting and fishing were more appealing to him than studying and he dropped out during his junior year. Miss Benjamin said he finished his high school education in the Army. Before entering the Army in 1966, Keller combined hunting and fishing with a job pumping gas at the Cherry Valley gulf service station. William Manley, assistant manager of the station, recalled Keller's description of the incident in Vietnam.
"He and that buddy of his were charging up a bunker," he said, "they ran out of ammunition and when they got to the top of the bunker, Lennie ran up to one Viet Cong and kicked him in the teeth."
Keller's friends admitted Winnebago County's first Medal of Honor winner was not always an angel.
"Before, he didn't really car," said Miss Benjamin. "Now he wants to get up there. Now, he really wants to make something of himself."
"Lennie always had the potential to be a leader," Mrs. Gustafson said. She described him as "quite a little basketball player" who, despite his small stature in grade school, like to mix it up with the bigger boys.
"He went for for a baseball team we had here," said John Fisher, a Cherry Valley businessman. "He really gave it all he had. Whatever he lacked, he made up for in effort."
Keller, now vacationing in Florida, is scheduled to return home tonight before leaving for Washington Wednesday. He will be accompanied by his father, Homer, 2131 Harrison Ave.; his mother, Mrs. Maynard Saunders, Pecatonica; two brothers, Louis and Lonnie, and two sisters, Lorraine and Lisa. Keller will receive the Medal of Honor at ceremonies beginning at 10:30 a.m. (CDT) at the White House. [Rockford Register-Republic, September 17, 1968]
BEYOND CALL OF DUTY
Rockford and Winnebago County share a deep sense of pride in 21-year-old Leonard Keller, the first man from this county to win the Medal of Honor.
Army Sgt. Keller, then a private first class, won the hight U.S. honor for bravery as a result of his heroic exploits in Vietnam in May, 1967.
The U.S. Defense Department, in announcing the award to Keller, said the young GI stormed sic Viet Cong bunkers with grenades and his machine gun, knocking out enemy fire that has his infatntry unit pinned down.
President Lyndon B. Johnson, as commander-in-chief of the U.S. armed forces, will present the medal to Keller in White House ceremonies Thursday.
Keller's father and brother of Rockford, and his mother and two sisters of Pecatonica, accompanied Keller to Washington for the presidential ceremonies.
Federal law limits presentation of the Medal of Honor to those military servicemen who "distinguish themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty."
Relatively few servicemen have won the honor. Fewer than 30 men are Medal of Honor recipients as a result of the fighting in Vietnam.
Keller was previously honored by the South Vietnamese government and was awarded the Army Silver Star for the action in the At Bac zone in South Vietnam.
Sgt. Keller, who has been released from active duty after serving more than two years as an Army volunteer, showed by his actions in South Vietnam that he is representative of the finest in American manhood.
He provides an example and an inspiration for the many young men of Winnebago County and the Rockford area who are now serving in the U.S. armed forces as wella s those who will enter the services in the years ahead. The Morning Star joins the community and the nation in offering its most sincere congratulations to Leonard Keller for his extraordinary heroism. [--Rockford Morning Star, September 18, 1968]
KELLER CITED FOR HEROISM IN VIET ACTION
WASHINGTON--Leonard E. Keller, 21, Rockford, Thursday was presented the nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor by President Johnson on the south lawn of the White House. Keller, who won the medal as a sergeant in Vietnam, was one of five servicemen who received the award.
"We salute you, we thank you, we honor you," said the President in the colorful ceremonies, witnessed by relatives of the five heroes: Defense Secretary Clark Clifford; Army Secretary Stanley Resor; Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. William Westmoreland, former commander of the U.S. troops in Vietnam.
Rep. John B. Anderson (R-Rockford), who was also present, said:
"I came away from the ceremony deeply moved by the moment and the full realization of their courage, devotion and intrepidity. Their exemplary courage and bravery under fire will surely serve as a beacon of inspiration and envy not to the youth of America but for all citizens."
Keller attended school in Cherry Valley and Guilford High School and worked as a service station attendant in Cherry Valley before joining the service. Keller and a buddy, Spec. 4 Raymond R. Wright, 22, Mineville, N.Y., received their first medals from the President in a unique citation. Army Secretary Resor said the two men combined as a two-man assault team May 2, 1967, to overrun a series of enemy bunkers in the Alp Bac zone of Vietnam. The citation said, when the unit came under intense fire from the enemy, "Sgt. Keller quickly moved to a position where he could fire at a bunker from which automatic weapon fire was received, killing one Viet Cong who attempted to escape."
Leaping to the top of a dyke, Keller and Wright charged enemy bunkers. Keller, armed with a light machine gun, and Wright, carrying grenades, began a systematic assault on the enemy bunkers.
"While Sgt. Keller neutralized the fire from the first bunker with his machine gun, the other soldier threw in a hand grenade, killing its occupant," said the citation. "Then he and Wright charged a second bunker, killing its occupant."
Disregarding enemy fire, the two men charge a third bunker and killed a third Viet Cong rifleman.
"Continuing their attack, Sgt. Keller and his comrade assaulted four more bunkers, killing the enemy within," said the citation.
Kelller, 21, was the youngest of the five enlisted men to be awarded the Medal of Honor. The oldest was 1st. Sgt. David H. McNerney, 37, Ft. Dix, N.J. The President awarded Keller and Wright their medals in a joint presentation, as they stood ramrod straigh before their Commander-in-Chief. Keller was discharged from the Army in August and now is in the construction business in California. He is the son of Homer Keller, 2131 Harrison Ave., Rockford, and Mrs. Margaret Saunders, Pecatonica.
The White House said this is the first time a President has awarded as many as five of the top medals at one time though Secretary of War Stanton bestowed six at one time on March 25, 1863, as a result of a famous train chase in the Civil War. Defense Department authorities said this brings to 50 the number of Medals of Honor so far in the Vietnam war, of which half have been bestowed posthumously. In 1968 along, 27 were awarded. During the presentation Johnson appealed anew for patience in the frustrating Southeat Asian struggle.
At the same time, Johnson warned that some--he did not say who--"are ready to forsake out commitment and to ignore our national interests even if it may mean a larger conflict later on."
KNOW FROM WAR
He said the new Medal winners know from the conflict in Vietnam that the times "demand not only the impatience to change but the steadfastness so that what we began in hope will not be discarded in anger and frustration...in the quest of an honorable peace."
He praised the "impatience of Americans seeking progress in economic, educational and civil rights fields. But he said while "much is to be said for impatience" in seeking social reform, the impatience of those who discover that a "length, limited war of insurgency is difficult to fight." is another thing. [--Rockford Morning Star, September 20, 1968]
BUDDIES WIN HIGHEST HONORS
HERO RELIVES TRIUMPH
Situations make heroes, according to Leonard Keller, who received the Congressional Medal of Honor Sept. 19, for bravery in Vietnam.
"I don't think anybody ever said to himself he was going to go out and win a medal before he went into a battle," said the 21-year-old Rockford native.
"Ray and I just did what had to be done," he continued, "and we were pretty fortunate we didn't get killed."
Ray is Raymond Wright, Mineville, N.Y., who was Keller's buddy. Both were privates at the time, but Keller attained the rank of sergeant before his discharge, and Wright made specialist fourth class.
"I don't think I could have won the medal without Ray," Keller said, "And I don't think he could have won it without me. We were a tea,."
What the team did was obliterate seven North Vietnamese bunkers May 2, 1967, releasing their company which had been pinned down.
Two of the bunkers contained enemy machine guns. The pair also took out a mortar emplacement along the way.
Keller explained that his company, Co. A, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, was sent to the aid of another which had run into an ambush set by North Vietnamese regulars.
"We had been through the area several times in previous weeks," Keller said, "and had never drawn any fire."
"But this day, they were there," he added. "That's the way it was. You never knew. Perhaps we should have, because things seemed a lot quieter than usual, but there could have been other reasons for that, too."
In coming to their fellow company's aid," Company A was pinned down by fire from the bunkers Keller and Wright later destroyed.
"We, Ray and I, had to climb over several dikes in a rice paddy to get to them. I don't know why, but I guess they never saw us," he said.
"The bunkers were in a row. I laid down a base of protecting fire, while Ray ran up to the first and threw a hand grenade. Then he laid a base of fire while I hit the second, and that's the way we went down the whole row.
"Finally we realized we were behind enemy lines and running short of ammo," he continued. "So we turned back. As we went back we met the whole company moving foward and we were sent to the rear because we were about out of ammunition."
Keller and Wright were given Silver Star medals the same day by their division commander, and later, transferred to rear echelon jobs.
"The division had put us in for the medals then, I understand, and they wanted to be sure nothing happened to us because they hadn't a Medal of Honor winner yet."
"I guess we were valuable property," he grinned.
Did he think the Medal of Honor would change his life?"
"I'd say it already has," Keller said, recalling the presentation ceremonies in which he met President Lyndon Johnson and other high officials.
"I was especially glad to meet Senator (Everett M.) Dirksen," he said. "I think of him as a great man." And there is one more person Keller is looking forward to meeting--Judi Ford, Belvidere, 1968 Miss America. he will meet her at the Sesquicentennial dinner Dec. 2 at the Faust Hotel. He has also been invited to that dinner as an honored guest.
Keller, who is not yet married, has been taking it easy since his discharge. He is planning on settling down in Rockford and getting a job.
"I haven't looked yet, and I have nothing specific in mind," he said. "But I'm going to start looking Monday, I guess."
Keller is staying temporarily with his brother, Larry, in his apartment at 3105 Merriday Lane. [--Rockford Register-Republic, November 23, 1968]
Leonard B. Keller passed away October 18, 2009, from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in Milton, Florida.
Medal of Honor recipient Leonard B. Keller was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery Monday, 32 years after he and another Soldier performed the brave acts that merited the Unites States' highest military decoration. Keller passed away Oct. 18 from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident in Milton, Fla.
On May 2, 1967, then Sgt. Keller, along with then Spc. Raymond R. Wright were on a combat patrol in the Ap Bac zone when their unit was attacked by snipers and enemies in bunkers. Both Soldiers, members of Company A, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division, cleared seven bunkers while under sniper fire the entire time.
"The two-man assault had driven an enemy platoon from a well prepared position, accounted for numerous enemy dead, and prevented further friendly casualties. Sgt. Keller's selfless heroism and indomitable fighting spirit saved the lives of many of his comrades and inflicted serious damage on the enemy," reads his Medal of Honor citation. "His acts were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army."
After clearing the bunkers, Keller and Wright returned to their unit to assist with the wounded Soldiers.
Both men were presented with the Medal of Honor Sept. 19, 1968 by President Lyndon Johnson.
They represent the courage and the selflessness, the eternal striving of the American spirit," said Johnson during the ceremony. "The men who stand beside me here today [were] impatient men who did not wait in the bunker before the battle was over, but joined it with incredible courage."
Keller was originally from Rockport, Ill., and was drafted in 1966 at the age of 19. Keller was discharged from the Army in August 1968, and worked for more than 20 years at the Pensacola Naval Complex, before retiring in December 2008.
"Len Keller is a wonderful example of a modern-day hero, but you would never know it," said Santa Rosa County Commissioner Don Salter, speaking at Keller's retirement ceremony. "In every regard, he is a living example of what every person in uniform should aspire to be."
On a cold, rainy Monday morning, a crowd of more than 40 Family members, fellow servicemembers -including four living Medal of Honor recipients - and friends gathered near section 60 of ANC to say farewell to a man who served his country for nearly 30 years.
Soldiers of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard)'s Caisson platoon led the procession from McClellan Circle to the hero's final resting place. Chap. (Capt.) Jason Nobles said a brief prayer over the casket, before presenting Keller's daughters Michelle and Nichole with a folded American flag.
Keller is remembered by most as a humble man, who simply did what his country asked him to do, and thought of himself as no more special than those that followed in his footsteps to serve America. While he was drafted into service, he held a special regard for the servicemembers who make up today's all-volunteer force.
"I want to say thank you to the young men and women of the armed forces for doing what you do today. I was drafted, you kids today raise your right hand knowing you are going to war," Keller said during his retirement speech in December 2008. "What a great country we live in. There really is nothing better than America." [Source: Army website at www.army.mil]
WICKAM, JERRY WAYNE
F TRP, 2ND SQD, 11TH ARMORED CAVALRY, USARV
Army of the United States
19 January 1942 - 06 January 1968
Panel 33E Line 062
Jerry Wayne Wickam
Rank and organization: Corporal, U.S. Army, Troop F, 2d Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. Place and date: Near Loc Ninh, Republic of Vietnam, 6 January 1968. Entered service at: Chicago, Ill. Born: 19 January 1942, Rockford, Ill. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Cpl. Wickam, distinguished himself while serving with Troop F. Troop F was conducting a reconnaissance in force mission southwest of Loc Ninh when the lead element of the friendly force was subjected to a heavy barrage of rocket, automatic weapons, and small arms fire from a well concealed enemy bunker complex. Disregarding the intense fire, Cpl. Wickam leaped from his armored vehicle and assaulted one of the enemy bunkers and threw a grenade into it, killing 2 enemy soldiers. He moved into the bunker, and with the aid of another soldier, began to remove the body of one Viet Cong when he detected the sound of an enemy grenade being charged. Cpl. Wickam warned his comrade and physically pushed him away from the grenade thus protecting him from the force of the blast. When a second Viet Cong bunker was discovered, he ran through a hail of enemy fire to deliver deadly fire into the bunker, killing one enemy soldier. He also captured 1 Viet Cong who later provided valuable information on enemy activity in the Loc Ninh area. After the patrol withdrew and an air strike was conducted, Cpl. Wickam led his men back to evaluate the success of the strike. They were immediately attacked again by enemy fire. Without hesitation, he charged the bunker from which the fire was being directed, enabling the remainder of his men to seek cover. He threw a grenade inside of the enemy's position killing 2 Viet Cong and destroying the bunker. Moments later he was mortally wounded by enemy fire. Cpl. Wickam's extraordinary heroism at the cost of his life were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army. [Source: U.S. Army Center of Military History]
SERVICEMEN'S NEWS -- 2 AREA MEN STATIONED IN VIETNAM
Two Rockford area men have reported for duty in Vietnam. Army Pfc. Jerry W. Wickam, whose wife, Suzanne, lives in Leaf River, joined the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment near Long Giao. The son of Mr. and Mrs. William L. Wickan, 5821 Guilford Road, he is a scout with the regiment's 2nd squadron. Sgt. Robert J. Trude, son of Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Horton, Thompson, has joined the 4th Infantry Division, based at Pleiku. He was formerly stationed in Savanna. [--Rockford Morning Star, September 7, 1967]
LEAF RIVER GI DIES IN VIETNAM
Cpl. Jerry W. Wickam of Leaf River, father of a 4-month-old son he had never seen, died in Vietnam last Saturday of shrapnel wounds suffered while fighting near the Cambodian border. He and his wife, the former Suzanne Baker of Leaf River, have the one son, Michael. Cpl. Wickam's parents, Mr. and Mrs. William L. Wickam, live at 5821 Guilford Road in Rockford. The young soldier was a squad leader with an armored vehicle unit serving with the 11th Armored Calvary Regiment. He was fatally wounded in fighting against a Viet Cong unit 10 miles from the Cambodian border in Vietnam. Wickam was graduated from Leaf River High School and was employed by Sundstand Corp. in Belvidere for five years before entering the army in September, 1966. Other survivors include his grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Rowe, and three brothers, Tom, Dan and Gregory, all of Rockford. He served a four month tour of duty in Germany before returning to the United States, then left for Vietnam five months ago.
"Jerry felt we were needed over there," his father recalled in Rockford Monday night. [--Rockford Morning Star, January 9, 1968]
WICKAM, Jerry W. , 25, Leaf River, died Jan. 6, 1968, in Vietnam from wounds received in battle. Born Jan. 19, 1942, in Rockford, son of Mr. and Mrs. William L. Wickam. Lived 12 years in Leaf River, going there from Rockford. Married to the former Suzanne Baker in Leaf River Aug. 11, 1962. Employed as a shipping clerk by Sundstrand Corp., Belvidere, for 5 years. Member of United Methodist Church of Leaf River, and of American Legion Drill Team of Leaf River. Graduated from Leaf River High School in 1960. Survivors include: his widow; one son, Michael; parents, Janet and William L. Wickam, Rockford; three brothers, Tom, Dan, and Gregory, Rockford; maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Lloyd Rowe, Rockford; one niece, Melissa Wickand, and one nephew, Patrick Wickam, both of Rockford; his parents-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Emerson Baker, Leaf River, and one sister-in-law, Teresa Baker, Leaf River. Services at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 14, in United Methodist Church Youth Center, Leaf River, with the Rev. Jack Guinn, and the Rev. William Zopp, pastor of officiating. Burial at Lightsville Cemetery, Leaf River. Arrangments by BARKENER-MORRISON FUNERAL HOME, Byron. Friends may call at the funeral home from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. [Rockford Register-Republic, January 12, 1968]
HERO NEVER SAW HIS SON
FALLEN WARRIOR FINDS PEACE
LEAF RIVER--Lofty pine trees and a lone American flag stand as sentries over the grave of Army Cpl. Jerry W. Wickam, the first Rockford area Medal of Honor winner killed in Vietnam. Wickam's gravesite is located in the small, peaceful Lightsville Cemetery, two miles north of here. In January, 1968, he was buried in the new addition to the serene cemetery. He was killed on a reconnaissance mission in South Vietnam. Along with two other Leaf River residents, Wickam's grave overlooks the majestic cornfields south of Lightsville, a small town that was abandoned when the railroad decided to locate its track through what is now Leaf River. Only seven or eight of Lightsville's original buildings are left standing and only a few new homes dot the agricultural landscape of the community. Almost everyone in this tiny community located on Illinois 72, six miles west of Byron, knew Cpl. Wickam. According to Harry Poggioli, manager of a grocery store here, the local American Legion Post is planning to rename the post in honor of Wickam. Residents still speak in reverent tones about Wiskam and Cpl. Donald Kretsinger, Leaf River's other Vietnam casualty. Kretsinger is buried in Silver Creek Cemetery. Wickam's family will attend the Medal of Honor ceremonies next Tuesday in Washington. Vice President Spiro T. Agnew will present the nation's highest combat heroism award.
According to unofficial Pentagon sources, the citation to be read at the ceremony will read: "On Jan. 6, 1968, while on a reconnassaince mission in the Loc Ninh area of South Vietnam Cpl. Jerry W. Wickam's column was subjected to a heavy barrage of rocket and small arms fire. Cpl. Wickam leaped from his armored vehicle and knocked out an enemy bunker with a hand grenade. While making a search of the bunker, Wickam heard the click of an enemy grenade, warned a comrade in the bunker with him and physically removed his comrade from the bunker, saving his life. A second bunker was discovered and Cpl. Wickam successfully attacked the bunker killing one Viet Cong and capturing another..."
Cpl. Wickam's mother, Mrs. William L. Wickam, 3810 High Crest Road, Rockford, said information given to her about her son's death indicated he attacked a third bunker and killed all but one occupant who shot Wickam from behind after being left for dead. Besides Wickam's parents, his widow, the former Suzanne Baker and a son, Michael, 2, will attend the ceremony in Washington. Wickam never saw his son, only four months old when his father died. [Rockford Register-Republic, November 13, 1969]
DESIRE FOR SON SET STAGE FOR MEDAL OF HONOR HERO
DIED KEEPING PRAYERFUL PROMISE
WASHINGTON--Vice President Spiro T. Agnew today presented the Medal of Honor to the young widow and the parents of Cpl. Jerry W. Wickam of Rockford and Leaf River, Ill., an Army squad leader who risked his life again and again "beyond the call of duty" in Vietnam and finally lost it. The citation for the nation's highest award for heroism, read by the Vice President, doesn't explain that Cpl. Jerry Wickam had the best reasons to hold on to life with a miser's grasp. He had an infant son he'd prayed for but never seen. He had a close-knit family--his wife, the former Suzanne Baker of Leaf River, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. William Wickam, Rockford, and three brothers. His widow explained: "We'd been married four years when he went in." (Jerry Wickam was drafted in September, 1966, away from his job in the shipping department at Sundstrand Corp., Belvidere, where his father works.) "We hadn't had any children. He asked God to give us a son and he made a promise that he'd volunteer for Vietnam if the prayer was answered," Suzanne said.
TELLS OF PLEDGE
"When I told him I was pregnant, he told me about his promise," she continued. Wickam had been assign in Germany and he volunteered to go from there to Vietnam. "I was for it. I knew how much it meant to him. He couldn't have lived with himself if he hadn't gone," Suzanne Wickam said. "Jerry was a great all-around guy," his mother said. "You could sum it up by the way he played football," said his father, "He had to go all the way to whip the other fellow. Our son was quite the young man."
The citation tells what happened Jan. 6, 1968, seven months after he arrived in Vietnam. Wickam and others of Troop F, 2nd. Squadron, 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, were on a reconnaissance mission in their armored personnel carriers, southwest of Loc Ninh. The enemy, concealed in bunkers opened fire with rockets, machine guns and small arms.
"Disregarding the intense fire, Wickam leaped from his armored vehicle and assaulted one of the enemy bunkers and threw a grenade into it, killing two enemy soldiers. He moved into the bunker, and with the aid of another soldier, began to remove the body of one Viet Cong when he detected the sound of an enemy grenade being charged. Wickam warned his comrade and physically pushed him away from the grenade, thus protecting him from the force of the blast.
"When a second Viet Cong bunker was discovered, he ran through a hail of enemy fire to deliver deadly fire into the bunker, killing one enemy soldier. He also captured one Viet Cong who later provided valuable information on enemy activity in the Loc Ninh area west of Saigon. After the patrol withdrew and an airstrike was conducted, Corporal Wickam led his men back to evaluate the success of the strike.
"They were immediately attacked again by enemy fire. Without hesitation, he charged the bunker from which the fire was being directed, enabling the remainder of his men to seek cover. He threw a grenade inside of the enemy's position killing two Viet Cong and destroying the bunker. Moments later he was mortally wounded by enemy fire. Corporal Wickam's conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism and intrepidity at the cost of his own life were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army."
The Vice President presented the families of two other infantrymen with the Congressional Medal of Honor in the names of their sons. They were Sgt. Gordon D. Yntema of Holland, Mich., who died using his rifle as a club to keep the enemy away from wounded comrades, and Pfc. Carlos J. Lozada of Puerto Rico, who ignored an order to retreat, remaining as a one-man rear guard so his company would withdraw with its wounded. Wickam was the second Rockford area man to win the Medal of Honor for valor in Vietnam. The first was Leonard Keller, Cherry Valley, Ill., who is now a Rockford factory worker.
Jerry Wickam's family describes him as the kind of young man Rockford and Leaf River know well. He had no intention of leaving that part of the state. He loved football, horses, old cars and hunting pheasants and deer the way his father had taught him. He was two weeks short of his 26th birthday when he died. "He definitely thought he should be over there fighting," his father said. "He'd rather fight them there than closer to home."
"So many people ask about it--if we leave Vietnam, won't Jerry have died in vain? I don't believe anyone who believed in what he was doing could have died in vain. He believed, so we have to too," he said. [Rockford Register-Republic, November 18, 1969]
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