One of the joys of being able to work with the many artifacts that call the Wabash County
Museum home is that each item has a tale to tell. So, sit back, grab a cup-of-Joe, and let me tell you about an artifact, the hero that it belonged to, and the day that person went above and beyond the call of duty, giving the “Last full measure of devotion.”
Look at any soldiers’ personal effects and chances are high that you will find a cigarette lighter. Mention a soldier and lighter in the same sentence and many will think of a Zippo. Often referred to as the “official lighter of the military”, Zippos are reliable, compact, and have had a long history with the troops. But our artifact today was not manufactured by Zippo but was made by a lesser-known brand today. However, in its heyday it was a leader of the industry. The Lighter in question was made by Ronson.
Starting life as The Art Metal Works in 1897 and becoming incorporated a year later, Ronson lighters have had a long and storied history. Inventing and owning many patents, one of which was for a wick and flint lighter in 1913. It was this patent that got Ronson selling fuel-based lighters. It wasn’t long before they were the leader in the industry, producing various looks and product lines that made lighters fashionable. In 1925 they patented a new “automatic operation” banjo lighter which ignited and extinguished the lighter in a single push. This design would become a staple of their products for years to come.
Over the next fifteen years Ronson produced many lighter designs. In 1941 Ronson produced the “Whirlwind” which was slightly larger than the standard variant of the day. The unique feature of this lighter was a windshield/windscreen that could be pulled up out of the lighter’s body to help shield the flame when using outdoors. It was this model of Ronson lighter that came to be in possession of one Harold D. Rudicel, a 22-year-old sergeant of the United States Army, from Wabash, IN.
Born on September 29, 1922, Harold D. Rudicel graduated from Wabash High School in 1940. Known in high school as “Don Juan”, he was a member of the Hi-Y (a boys only organization that was part of the YMCA program in high schools), the science club, student council, the Sycamore staff (yearbook) and participated in the senior play. Following graduation, he went on to attend business school in Fort Wayne when, like many young people of the time, he entered the United States Army (December 5, 1942) to serve his country during World War II.
Two years later and seven months after the 1944 D-Day landings in Normandy, Sgt. Rudicel, now 22yrs old, found himself fighting the Germans in Eastern France.
On December 19, 1944, Sgt. Harold Rudicel’s platoon was ordered to take a German road block. As his squad moved forward to rejoin the platoon, his lead scout was shot by a German sniper. Immediately Sgt. Rudicel went to the aid of his wounded comrade and was subsequently shot by the same sniper, killing him instantly. When his body was retrieved it was discovered that the bullet which struck Sgt. Rudicel,
entered his chest in the left breast pocket area, striking his Ronson Whirlwind lighter before killing him.
Several weeks later his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Alvah Rudicel of Stitt Street in Wabash, IN, were notified of his death by the War Department. Shortly thereafter his parents received a small, nondescript carboard box from the Army Effects Bureau. Inside was his named Purple Heart and a small cloth pouch with "Ronson" on it. This pouch held that Ronson lighter that was in Sgt. Rudicel’s breast pocket when he was shot by the German sniper.
Today, the Wabash County Museum is proud to have the personal effects of Sgt. Harold D. Rudicel, in its collection.