Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Ted Wenzlaff Connected Sutton with Distant Places and Events

A military career offers a wide variety of opportunities beyond that of most civilian jobs. The career of Sutton’s Col. Theodore C. Wenzlaff is one illustration. How else could Sutton be linked to a post-WWII dispute between Britain and Russia over coal deliveries, to a girls’ high school in Seoul, Korea and to John F. Kennedy’s funeral procession? 

Captain Theodore C. Wenzlaff on Milly Russell
The historical society acquired a copy of Wenzlaff’s 1967, 24-page Autobiographical Highlights from his son Bill of Wichita. The document concentrates on the colonel’s nearly 33 year military career describing those distant events and many others.

Ted Wenzlaff graduated from Sutton High in 1921 and attended one semester at the University of Nebraska before his father pulled the purse strings shut. He applied for and received an appointment from 5th District Congressman Andrews to West Point where he was commissioned as a cavalry officer in 1926.

His early army career was a parade of cavalry assignments in Wyoming, Kansas, South Dakota, Fort Robinson, Nebraska, Vermont and Texas until he was assigned to Fort Reno, Oklahoma in the quartermaster corps reporting on November 22, 1941. Military opportunities broadened a few weeks later but he was able to spend several months at Fort Reno.

In June, 1942 Wenzlaff as assigned to a unit near Seattle and moved there with his family. Only when he arrived did he learn that his unit would be going to Europe out of New York City in just a few days. He had to locate and turn around his household goods shipment and get his family back to Sutton.

He worked in logistics and transportation in offices England earning his promotion to “temporary” colonel and “permanent” major. (Don’t ask. It makes sense, but takes a long time to explain. It’s why General Custer was really a Lieutenant Colonel. Again, don’t ask.) In early March, 1944 he became part of the Control Office that planned the Normandy invasion. After the invasion he served as a transportation officer in France working in a wing of the palace of Versailles for a time – that had to be cool.

Col. Wenzlaff was in Berlin after the war and became involved in negotiations between the Russians, British and American occupation forces. He described in detail an episode involving the trading of “brown” coal and anthracite coal between the Russians and British. He was not impressed with Russian negotiating techniques or their trustworthiness.

Col. Wenzlaff found himself in a state of army limbo after the war as he was still technically a cavalry officer though there was no cavalry. He found a home in the quartermaster corps eventually returning to Fort Reno, Oklahoma in 1952 taking command of the Remount Station where he found himself again in the horse business and in charge of finding some 10,500 cavalry riding and artillery draft horses plus 6,000 pack mules for a foreign military aid program to the Turkish Army.

While scrounging around the Southwest finding horses for Turkey, he received a more modest request from Fort Myer, Virginia for a small number of grey artillery draft horses and one grey cavalry riding horse. He went to some length to locate seven grey draft horses and the riding horse shipping them east in 1952 where they were to support funeral details at Arlington Cemetery.
The Kennedy funeral caisson, November 25, 1963. Three of the six horses were acquired by Col. Wenzlaff for this duty
as was the riding horse, tail just barely visible on the left.

During the televised funeral of President John F. Kennedy in November, 1963, Col. Wenzlaff noticed that the caisson bearing the casket was drawn by six grey draft horses and the section chief rode a grey horse. He inquired and learned that three of the draft horses and the riding horse were ones he’d sent several years earlier. He had ridden the cavalry horse several times but found it to be too lazy for his own taste, but as it turned out, that was a perfect trait for funeral duty.

Horse duty completed, Col. Wenzlaff assumed command of the 23rd Quartermaster Group of 100 officers and 2,000 enlisted men in Seoul, Korea for sixteen months beginning in July, 1953 – as that war was ending.

His group was quartered in a girls’ high school building which had been abandoned by the school early in the war as people fled to the south end of the Korean peninsula to evade North Korean troops. When the faculty and students returned they found their school occupied by Col. Wenzlaff and his command. Our hero shuffled his troops around, took over nearby buildings and built temporary structures providing space for the school. School enrollment grew from 750 to 1,250 as the military unit and the school worked closely together.  The school principal became a good friend entertaining Col. Wenzlaff and his officers in her home introducing them to Korean cuisine and customs. The Mayor of Seoul thanked the colonel for his unit’s help for the school in a scroll of appreciation.

Col. Wenzlaff retired from the army on June 30, 1955 returning to Sutton where he taught freshman and junior English at Sutton High for one year (he didn’t care too much for that.) He served on the city council and took up golf.

He began to research the story of the Germans from Russia traveling to Russia and Germany eventually writing “Pioneers on Two Continents: The Ochsner-Griess History and Genealogy” in 1974.

Col. Wenzlaff’s Autobiography was written in 1967 before he was elected to the Nebraska Senate. He died in 1988 at the age of 85 and is buried in the Sutton Cemetery.

This article first appeared in the August, 2011 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. For more information about this local Sutton publication visit www.suttonlifemagazine.com or contact Jarod Griess at neighborhoodlife@yahoo.com or 402-773-4203.

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