Bio: Henchen, Wilbert (Army Veteran Service -
Contact: Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon
Surnames: Henchen, Smith, Lezotte, Cook, Ludovic, Kresh
----Source: Clark County Press (Neillsville, Clark Co., WI) 1/07/2015
Henchen, Wilbert (Army Veteran Service - 2015)
Henchen Receives Certificate of Recognition from American Legion
Wilbert Henchen recalls his service In the U.S. Army during an interview at his Center Street home in Neillsville. Henchen was honored for his military service at a program Monday evening at the Neillsville American Legion Post 73. (Photo by Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)
By Todd Schmidt
American Legion Post 73 honored Wilbert Henchen, 88, of Neillsville, Monday evening for his nearly two years of service in the U.S. Army.
American Legion Commander Mike Smith presented Henchen with a certificate of recognition, continuing a program of recognizing veterans for their military service. The programs have become a highlight of Legion meetings held at the clubhouse on Boon Boulevard at 6 p.m. the first Monday of each month.
Henchen was drafted in 1951 at age 25, just prior to the cut-off at age 26. He was the fourth of five sons of Arnold and Helen Henchen to serve in the military. Arnold was also drafted and served in WWI as a member of a U. S. Army artillery unit.
Henchen’s brother Herb served in the U.S. Army during WWII. His brother Eddie also served in the U.S. Army, while his brother Raymond served in the U. S. Marines, stationed mainly in the Aleutian Islands. His sibling Leo was the only Henchen boy who did not serve in the military.
Prior to his enlistment, Henchen attended Globe School located a quarter-mile north of HOG Corners through the eighth grade. He then farmed with his parents and worked out on several other farms in the area. Henchen was hired at Neillsville Milk Products, becoming a licensed butter maker.
“We made butter and cheese and did everything else that came around,” Henchen recalled.
Wilbert Henchen served in the U.S. Army from October 1951 until September 1953 as a member of the BT Maintenance 370 EASR unit. (Contributed photo)
He began his Army service Oct. 25, 1951, with intake in Minneapolis. Henchen received his honorable discharge Sept. 10, 1953.
“I was drafted,” Henchen said. “They caught me before I got away. Actually, it was OK. Serving in the Army was a very good experience.”
Basic training was held at Fort Knox, KY. Recruits were introduced to Army life, receiving training in firearms use, marching, crawling under wires in the mud and how to do KP duty properly.
“We were disappointed we didn’t see any gold at Fort Knox,” Henchen mused.
His BT Maintenance 370 EASR unit comprised of about 200 soldiers received a three-week furlough in April 1952. The unit then reported to Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. Before shipping out, many of the soldiers took in the Giants vs. Dodgers major league baseball game in Brooklyn.
In May 1952, the Army unit got on a ship in New Jersey and headed for Puerto Rico, where they dropped off some personnel. Then it was on to Fort Sherman in the Panama Canal one. Henchen said his unit stayed on the Atlantic side, while soldier Jerry Johnson of Neillsville was stationed on the Pacific side.
Henchen’s initial duty was repairing landing craft motors. During inspection one day, Henchen volunteered to serve as a maintenance man for indoor and outdoor sports facilities. He then moved on to work as a projectionist in the movie theater located on the base.
“I learned how to splice the reels and make sure they were good,” Henchen said. “It was quite a job. I had to watch closely for a spot on the film to get ready for a reel change. It was something to get used to.”
Henchen said the weather in Panama was hot and humid during the summer months, with rain almost every day. Conditions turned beautiful during the fall dry season.
The barracks were located in a four-story building, with bunks on the top floor. Other floors housed offices, equipment rooms and the mess hall. The building’s windows were screened in only.
“We conducted many night patrols,” Henchen said. “Even then we returned hot and sweaty. When we got back we had to wash our clothes and ourselves.”
The troops had good food to eat, particularly at Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. “That’s when the big shots would show up,” Henchen smiled.
His unit made another stop in Puerto Rico on its way back to the mainland, Henchen was officially discharged at Fort Sheridan, IL, after Foreign Service totaling 1 year, 4 months and 11 days. At that time the Korean War was still going on.
“We were fortunate that we did not have to go over to Korea,” Henchen said. “A lot of people did.”
Henchen didn’t have much of an opportunity to advance in rank. He wrote home at least once per month, always sending some money along to his parents.
“It went to a good place,” Henchen said. “They could use it.” Henchen accumulated 33 days of unused paid leave by his discharge date.
“I was glad I served in the Army.” Henchen said. “It was quite an experience. I learned many different things. When I went in, I was not a real mechanic.”
Henchen recalled the day he was discharged “a wonderful day.” He boarded a train and headed for Merrillan, where his parents picked him up.
Henchen went back to work at Neillsville Milk Products. One summer, he went to Idaho to work with his cousin creosoting lumber and logs, which were loaded and shipped on railcars.
Henchen then worked as a maintenance man at the Clark County Courthouse. At age 40, Henchen began working at Melson Muffler in Neillsville, retiring at age 63. “I got the job at Nelson Muffler after running into plant manager Gus Lezotte at the golf course,” Henchen said. “I said, I was ready to go to work, and he told me to report the next day.”
Henchen always worked as a volunteer at the American Legion Hall. He also served as commander twice and second vice commander once.
He married Dorothy (Cook) Ludovic in May 1975. They met at the legion Club early in 1975. She was a waitress and he was a volunteer fish fryer.
Naturally, their wedding dance was held at the Legion Club on Hewett Street in Neillsville. She was his first and only wife, while Henchen was her second husband. She had two children, Leroy and Nicholas Ludovic.
“Wilbert got to be a husband, father and grandfather all in one fell swoop,” Dorothy said.
Henchen added, “I have a good wife to take care of me.”
Henchen joined the American Legion to give back to the community.
“I work many Friday nights,” Henchen said. “It was much simpler then, in the old building, than it is now in the new building.”
Henchen worked a few years at the new American Legion Hall. He also participated in Memorial Day and Veterans Day programs as a member of the color guard and firing squad. “I can’t walk much anymore,” Henchen said. “I had to give it all up, because it got to be too much.”
When his health was better, Henchen enjoyed golfing, bowling, fishing, and deer, squirrel and partridge hunting. Since 1945 Henchen has been a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Neillsville, serving several terms on the church council.
In November 2005, Henchen participated in the Veterans History Project (VHP). VHP director Diane Kresh wrote, “Your participation in this historic and important project will contribute to the development of a lasting body of knowledge chronicling the wartime memories and experience of our nation’s war veterans. Future generation will be grateful to be able to learn from those who served.”
Henchen said being recognized by the American legion was a nice gesture that he was a little reticent to accept.
“Some of them really deserve it,” he said. “Many of the veterans saw action overseas during WWII and the Korean War, while I didn’t.”
Wilbert Henchen receives a certificate of recognition from Neillsville American Legion Post 73 Commander Mike Smith Monday evening during the monthly Legion meeting. Henchen served in the U.S. Army from 1951 to 1953. (Todd Schmidt/Clark County Press)
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