Wayne L. Wilson, Miller native and graduate of the MHS class of ’50, says he and some of his buddies grew up quickly that year.
Wilson was a member of the 196 Regimental Combat Team when it was activated that summer, along with about 15 classmates. LaVern Kortan, who was also from Miller, was their captain.
On September 21, 1950, The Miller Press carried a front page photo of the members of Company L, National Guard, on their way to serve were: Lt. Rex Jordeth, John Morris, Forrest Dalton, Lavern Taylor, Charles Weidner, Donald Wilson, Donald Phillips, Lester Eschenbaum, Harold Houck, Merlyn Karst, Donald Juhl, Harold Bennett, Lowell Grogan, Rodger Beaner, Glen Speirs, Robert Leckner, Wayne Wilson, Robert VanCleve, Hubert Clement, Arthur Miessner, Richard Froning, Raymond Jenner, Theron Phinney, Kenneth Titze, Jack Struse, Lyle Yost, Howard Peterka, Richard Titus and Wendell Augspurger.
The 196th RCT was originally made up of soldiers from the South Dakota Army National Guard.
Fifteen seniors from Miller joined. Wilson remembers, “At the time of activation, there were only about 30 men in the group. There were another 20 men who were with us, but were able to go back in their Reserve Unit, joined the Navy or did not pass the physical examination, and three were still in high school.”
Eventually, 1,100 men from South Dakota were with the 196th.
“We were at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin when the Korean War broke out. We were notified about 36 days later that we would be called to active duty as of September 1, 1950. For most of us, we were happy to be part of the group,” he commented, but added he didn’t know how parents felt about it all.
“The first information we had is we would get about six weeks of additional training and go straight to Korea. However, by the time we arrived at Camp Carson, they could see that it was not a police action, but a war.”
Immediately after arriving at Camp Carson, the group was joined by 500 Reserve men from the Second World War, both commissioned officers and enlisted men.
“We were placed in a Cadre Training Program and were trained to be squad leaders and platoon sergeants for incoming draftees. “We greeted some of the first draftees into the Korean War. They were men who missed being called in World War II. They were fine men and all came together, and it was a nice unit.”
Eventually the regiment grew to 4,795 soldiers.
After training from September into late July 1951, the unit went to Ft. Richardson, Alaska. “This assignment was in the event an invasion would come to the United States, whether it would come from the Soviet Union or China. They were ready.”
The men trained on arctic survival and were prepared to defend Alaska in case of attack from the Bering Sea. The 196th RCT remained in Alaska until October 1954.
The SD National Guard was reorganized and the 196th RCT deactivated on September 14, 1956.
Wilson explained, “I left the unit in May 1951 and went elsewhere, so I don’t know just how things stacked up for the other men.”
Wilson, now of Cokato, Minn., says the group organized their first reunion in 1987. The event was held in a different location every two years.
“Somehow I got interested in the reunions in the mid 1990s. I was elected president in 2004-2006, and put on a big reunion in Sioux Falls in 2006.”
Wilson explained, “We were proud to be a part of the Army and the 196th and ready to do our part. Being back together with these boys is a feeling you can’t explain or give up.”
Wilson is again at the helm. “September 2010, our 60th reunion was held in Colorado Springs, as this is where we came together in 1950, and it was here that they wanted me to take the position of president.”
One reason he accepted the presidency, says Wilson, is “The average age of the members is 84 years old. I being only 81 would be considered one of the younger men, and for that reason I accepted the position.”
The 62-year reunion in 2012 was held at Cragun’s Resort in Brainerd, Minnesota. The guest speaker was Dr. Joe Westphal, Under Secretary of the U.S. Army.
Westphal ended his talk by thanking the members for their service to the country.
At the resort, members decided that 2012 would be the last reunion, but the group will continue to have a Regimental Combat Team Website (www.196rct.org), and will continue to publish the quarterly “Foxhole” magazine about the 196th.
Wilson acknowledges the members of the 196th are “not getting any younger,” but their service and dedication some 63 years ago helped wage a war, affected the lives of all concerned, and the memories the men share has lasted over the decades.
Wayne Wilson’s son, Col. Kevin Wilson, will be guest speaker Monday, May 27 at the Memorial Day program at the Miller Armory at 10 a.m.