Raymond Wicklander is known around his hometown of Washburn as a retired implement dealer and buffalo rancher. Many do not know of his service during World War II as a Navy dive bomber pilot and recipient of the Navy Cross. On October 25th, 1944 Ray participated in one of the great naval battles of the war against Japan. That morning, Wicklander attacked the Japanese carrier, Zuikaku, the last surviving carrier that had launched strikes against Pearl Harbor almost 3 years before. In the afternoon, Ray flew another mission and dived on a Fuso Class Battleship and put a bomb just forward of the front gun turret.
On November 5th, 1944, Wicklander was on the Lexington when it was struck during one of the first organized Kamikaze attacks of the war. Ray was seriously wounded with shrapnel and flash burns. 5 of Ray’s squadron mates were killed in the attack. Wicklander was transferred to the Hospital Ship, Solace, and on this date, they had a very special visitor.
Ray, along with about 10 other recovering officers were comparing notes on where they were when the Lexington was hit. All the sudden, there came a hustle and bustle in the passageway, and in through the sick bay hatch came the bull himself, Halsey that is, Fleet Commander Admiral William F Halsey!
The next few minutes were a blur of Halsey speaking to each of the occupants, including Ray, about their welfare and recovery. As Halsey turned to leave, he stopped at the hatch, looked back at the wounded and declared, “OK boys, 30 days leave, then back at em. Right?! With that he was gone, but before one of his aides had made it out of the room, a very wounded Commander in the bunk next to Ray let out a string of profanity, declaring that the Admiral was out of his “blankity blank” mind. The aide froze on the spot, gave the Commander an Icy stare, but held his tongue, jammed on his cap, then left the room to irreverent howls and roaring laughter. Ray never did find out if the Admiral heard about the rebuttal to his gung-ho comments.
For Ray the war was over. He was sent back to the states to continue his recovery and to be reunited with his wife and baby daughter.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
Sources: Personal interview with Ray Wicklander; phone interview with Bill Emerson (Ray’s Sqd. Mate), and Air GP 19 and USS Lexington records.