April 6, 2017 marked the 100th anniversary of the United States entry into World War I. Every other Wednesday, we will present items from our collections that highlight life in Cincinnati, around the nation and from the battlefields during the war.
Ralph J. Wikan was born on August 30, 1894. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on April 28, 1917, shortly after the United States declared war on Germany. Following basic training at Quantico, Virginia, Private Wikan sailed to France and joined the 4th Brigade of the 2nd Marine Division.
During the German Offensive(s) of 1918, Pvt. Wikan participated in the Battles of Aisne, Chateau Thierry, Aisne-Marne, Marbache, St. Mikiel, Meuse-Argonne, Soissons and Thia Court. For gallantry in action at the Marne, and at the risk of his own life, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
In recommending him for the DSC, his commanding officer wrote:
During the engagement near Vierzy, France, July 19, 1918, 2nd Lieut. Ralph Wikan rushed through shell, machine gun and rifle fire, for a distance of one hundred meters, and carried a wounded comrade to a place of safety. This officer, though wounded himself, refused to let his wounds interfere with his duty until after he had carried the wounded man to a place of safety. He then cared for this wounded man, before seeking relief for his own wound.
Private Wikan was also awarded the Silver Star, a Purple Heart medal and promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.
Following the war, Ralph Wikan worked as an estimator for the Moline Bridge Construction Co. of Minneapolis, MN. An avid outdoorsman, he spent his free time hunting and fishing around his lake front home in Minnesota. He died on February 23, 1967.
Wikan’s daughter, Barbara, remembered her father as “a modest man with strong ideals – he did not glorify the horrors of the Great War. He often spoke of the day-to-day experiences of the common soldier – the mud, rats and lice of the trenches.”
2nd Lieutenant Ralph J. Wikan’s United States Marine Corps uniform and M1917 helmet are part of the Cincinnati Museum Center’s permanent history collection.