Fallen Heroes: Private Oscar F. Nicewander

Infantry personnel . Operation Enterprise - 2LT Manlove, Platoon Leader, 3rd Platoon, Company C, 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 9th Infantry - Location: Rach Kien, Vietnam. Photographer: Freddie Duncan

This fallen hero from the hamlet of Dundee had barely been in service three months when he made the ultimate sacrifice in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam.

The Nicewander family came to Ohio from Pennsylvania in the first half of the 19th century with the arrival of Peter Nicewander (1809-1882). The family originally settled in the Massillon area of Stark County. It was there that a son, John Nicewander (1838-1885), was born. John served in the 80th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War and, when it concluded, he married Christina Geis (1847-1931) in Stark County, Ohio. John and Christina’s family ultimately included eight children, though two died in childhood.

One of their sons they named Benjamin Franklin Nicewander (1871-1955), though he often went by the name of Frank. Frank married Anastacia Marie Biddle (1875-1953) in 1894 and the couple worked a farm in Wayne Township, Tuscarawas County. Frank and Anna Nicewander were the parents of five children, including a son they named Benjamin Franklin Nicewander, Junior (1897-1974). Benjamin, with his siblings, grew up on their parents farm but worked in a variety of jobs including mining and working as a teamster.

Photograph of Benjamin Franklin Nicewander, Sr. taken c. 1900. (Source: findagrave.com)
Photograph of Benjamin Franklin Nicewander, Sr. taken c. 1900. (Source: findagrave.com)

Benjamin, Junior waited until he was nearly forty years old before he married a much younger Ruby Marie Landis (1918-2008) in 1937. The family, now living in Dundee, had two daughters and three sons before 1948. One of their sons, born in 1946, they named Oscar Franklin Nicewander (1946-1967). Oscar went to work for the Alsco Aluminum Company in Sugarcreek after finishing high school and, in the winter of 1966, was drafted into the United States Army.

After the completion of his basic training in early 1967, Private Nicewander was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 39th Infantry Regiment as an ammunition bearer in Company A. The 39th Infantry Regiment was a component of the 9th Infantry Division at the time and Private Nicewander was transported to join the unit then serving in the Mekong Delta region of South Vietnam. He arrived in country at the end of February 1967 at a base located in the town of Rach Kien.

Photograph of Oscar Franklin Nicewander, c. 1967. (Source: honorstates.org)
Photograph of Oscar Franklin Nicewander, c. 1967. (Source: honorstates.org)

The 3rd Battalion of the 39th Infantry Regiment had only been in Vietnam a little under two months when Private Nicewander arrived. The soldiers serving at Rach Kien were subjected to frequent attacks by Viet Cong guerillas operating in the Mekong Delta and patrols by United States soldiers often came into contact with enemy troops. Additionally, the Viet Cong had riddled the jungles and swamps with countless booby traps and mines intended to maim and kill the soldiers who ventured out on patrol.

The exact circumstances of Private Nicewander’s death on March 20, 1967 are not readily available, but newspaper accounts of it are. According to one source, Private Nicewander’s unit was overrun by enemy troops while operating about 2 km northwest of the Rach Kien. During the engagement Private Nicewander was struck by small arms fire and killed. His unit was able to recover his body and on March 27, 1967 Private Oscar Franklin Nicewander was laid to rest in Dundee Cemetery.

Private Oscar Franklin Nicewander's headstone in Dundee Cemetery. (Source: findagrave.com)
Private Oscar Franklin Nicewander’s headstone in Dundee Cemetery. (Source: findagrave.com)

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© Noel B. Poirier, 2022.


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