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ONLINE EXTRA: Treumann Lykken's war: Rural Adams, N.D., native's service in 164th launched lifetime of vet involvement (Aug. 12, 2007)

Treumann Lykken didn't know it when he and other members of North Dakota National Guard's 164th Infantry Regiment left for basic training in early 1941 at the U.S. Army's Camp Claiborne in central Louisiana. But in effect, they were going off to war.

Treumann Lykken didn't know it when he and other members of North Dakota National Guard's 164th Infantry Regiment left for basic training in early 1941 at the U.S. Army's Camp Claiborne in central Louisiana. But in effect, they were going off to war.

"I was on a weekend pass down in Beaumont, Texas" in December of that year, recalled Lykken, 21 then, now 87 and a Grand Forks resident. "Four, five of us got in a car and drove down there, just for the weekend. Just looking the sights over down on the beach there.

"Well, we come to the gas station, we were going to gas up for the trip back home (to Camp Claiborne), and the guy says, `Are you ready? ' And we said, `Ready for what? '

That's when they learned about the Japanese attack on Hawaii's Pearl Harbor.

"So, we said, `Well, we better head back to camp.'"


Lykken was among the first troops sent to the Pacific Northwest - the nation's, not the ocean's. His squad was assigned to guard a railroad bridge at American Falls, Idaho. "We slept in a boxcar right outside the bridge and ate uptown at the cafe."

They ultimately were sent by ship to Australia, then New Caledonia, both in the South Pacific, in 1942.

By the time the rural Adams, N.D., native's Pacific Theatre tour of duty was over, it was latter 1945, and World War II had just ended.

Lucky and unlucky

Recuperated from a bout with jaundice that late summer, Lykken was aboard a ship bound for the States that had stopped at Hawaii for repairs when word came that the Japanese had surrendered.

"I was one of the last (discharged)," a chuckling Lykken said. "I guess I wasn't lucky.

"You took it a day at a time. Not much you could do about it. ... I was happy to serve, of course. There were ups and downs, but I come through it hale and hardy."

Not completely. After dodging malaria throughout his island-hopping combat service in the Pacific, Lykken says, he was stricken at home by the infectious tropical and sub-tropical disease around Thanksgiving and Christmas.


But return home, he did.

Not all members of the 164th - which, at the battle of Guadalcanal, became the first U.S. Army unit to take the combat offensive in World War II - were as fortunate, Lykken knows all too well.

The records show that the war killed 325 members of the 164th and wounded nearly 1,200 more.

"We were lucky to get through it alive," said Lykken, assigned to 60-millimeter mortars during the war. "We're grateful."

Active veteran

He's come a long way from the high school kid who went with several friends in the late 1930s to sign up with the National Guard's Grafton, N.D.-based C Company. Then, he was paying little attention to the uneasiness in Europe involving Germany's rising Nazi Party.

"Really, I just wanted to get into the service. Hope I'd pass the physical and so on," he recalled, laughing softly.

Post-war, Lykken quickly left farming when North Dakota dirt and dust gave him frequent nosebleeds. He worked eight years in retail sales for Gamble stores in Grafton, Carrington and Bismarck, and in Webster, S.D. Shortly after moving the family to Grand Forks in 1954, he began a 28-year career at Sears, retiring in 1982.


But he didn't abandon his military ties. Back in '45, Lykken and an older brother, Harvey, an Air Force mechanic in the war's European Theatre, quickly joined the American Legion post in Adams. "I guess most guys were joining veterans organizations at the time," Treumann said.

He became an active, involved member, serving twice as a post commander, at Carrington and Grand Forks; and once as state commander, in 1975-76. He also spent three terms of three years each on the Legion's National Americanism Commission.

A den in his home contains memorabilia from 60-plus years of service in the Legion and other veterans organizations.

He lives alone now.

His wife of 56 years, the former Margaret Lothspeich of Langdon, N.D., died in May 2002. She spent most of the war years in Washington as a secretary for the offices of the War Production Board, which oversaw the wartime rationing of fuel, rubber and other materials. They married in 1946. Three of their five children - Diane Kraemer, Warren Lykken and Debra Muus - live in Grand Forks.

Treumann Lykken's life may be far removed from his first combat experience in 1942. But he hasn't forgotten Guadalcanal.

Restless nights

From Australia, the 164th were sent to join other troops to form the Americal Division at New Caledonia. Then, they were sent by small boats to Guadalcanal to help Marines defend Henderson Field, a vital airstrip to the war effort, from Japanese naval and infantry attacks.


Reaching Guadalcanal in October 1942, Lykken and other 164th soldiers saw beach debris and other evidence of shelling. "We got our first casualty while unloading," he recalled. "He was killed by a sniper."

On Guadalcanal, the soldiers quickly tried to find places to dig a sufficiently deep fox holes amid the shale and rock. The landscape "was infested with roaches and other insects, you know. They'd chirp at night. Pitch black. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face. Any movement, you'd think it was (Japanese soldiers)."

For several days, "we were really bombed from land, sea and air. I don't know, but a lot of people said we really could have been pushed back into the ocean very easily. But we held on. ... We almost lost (Henderson Field) many of times. It was bombed and strafed, of course, and we had very few aircraft left at one point."

The 164th's C Company was several miles from the field, and some other companies took higher casualties. In the Battle for Henderson Field, the 164th saw 26 of its own killed and double that number injured.

"I know I spent 30 days in the foxhole without getting a bath or a darned thing," Lykken recalled. "Thirty days on the line, (under fire) anytime, all the time," with only C-rations - prepared canned food - for meals. "I spent a lot of restless nights there."

Deadly individual battles and patrols replaced the fierce fighting of those first weeks. The 164th saw nearly 150 of its soldiers killed by the time it left the island in early 1943.

Closest call

From Guadalcanal, Lykken and others got some rest, relaxation and more training on the Fiji Islands before being sent in late 1943 to Bougainville, part of the Solomon Islands.


The 164th stayed there for most of 1944, going out on patrols, checking for signs of Japanese combatants.

At Bougainville, Lykken says, he came closest to losing his life.

"We were advancing on a ridge. There happened to be a ridge to our right, and it was higher up than we were, actually. The Japanese had a pill box there, and we got strafed by machine gun fire, you know. So, we got off of that hill as fast as we could, of course, on our stomachs.

"That's where my gunner was hurt, and I think the lieutenant up ahead of me there, he was hurt. ... The shells were peppering all right around me, and it took the front sight off my rifle. ... It scared me."

Shock of loss

Combat training helped save his life, but it couldn't prepare him for a different loss that occurred while at Bougainville.

An Army chaplain found Lykken at his position in the Solomon Island hills one day and delivered a letter with news from home.

"I lost my mother when I was in Bougainville," he recalled somberly. Ragna Lykken had not been sick. "Not really," he said. "She died in the Langdon hospital. That's where they went. She had a blood problem of some kind. ... She wasn't very old. 47, 48. Maybe a little older than that.


"Never expecting anything at all, you know, that was wrong with her," Lykken recalled, his voice softening. "So, it was shocking."

That news from home, he says, remains one of his most distinct war memories.

A year later, back in the States, Lykken was discharged at Fort Lewis, Wash., and he took a long bus ride across the Rocky Mountains and Northern Plains to Grafton. His sister Beulah picked him up at Grafton and brought him back to the farm home north of Adams.

Once there, one of the very first things Treumann Lykken did was to visit the gravesite of Ragna Lykken.

Copyright (c) 2007 Grand Forks Herald

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