Ernie Lichau is a descendant of pioneer settlers

  • Harlan Osborne

Ernie Lichau has one of those readily identifiable names people hear, and they promptly ask if he's related to the namesake of Lichau Road.

He answers them with a smile as he explains it was his great-grandfather, Henry Philip Lichau, a saw-maker by trade, who immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1823 and moved to California in 1856. In 1877, he purchased a 530-acre rock-strewn, west-facing parcel that was once a part of General Mariano Vallejo's Petaluma Rancho that climbs the hillside above what's now Roberts Road and possesses glorious panoramic views of the valley below.

On its southern boundary, Lichau Creek empties into the Petaluma River watershed. Henry Lichau divided the property, portions of which are still in the family, into three ranches among himself and his two sons, Henry Jr., who was Ernie Lichau's grandfather, and Albert.

Ernie, born in 1924, is one of six sons and one daughter born to Edward “Pete” Lichau and his wife, Della, who operated a Penngrove chicken ranch until economic woes brought on by the Depression forced them to lose it. The family then moved to a Two Rock dairy, which suited 7-year-old Ernie and his younger brother, Bob, just fine.

The two boys convinced their father they could milk cows, so he gave each of them a string of six cows that required milking twice a day. After about four years, the family moved to the 160-acre Joseph Himebauch property near Cotati, where they farmed half of the acreage, and Edward worked on Henry Anderson's Petaluma Hill Road farm.

Like many of his male classmates in Petaluma High's Class of 1943, Ernie was soon a member of the United States Army, where he was trained as a communications specialist and sent to the Pacific Theater as a member of the 27th Infantry Division, where he became a front-line combat soldier.

In the June 1944 invasion of Saipan, which the Japanese considered as the decisive battle of the war, and where U.S. dead numbered 3,471, Lichau was struck in the leg and neck and seriously injured by a mortar shell, leading to a 96-day recovery period before he was returned to duty. In the April 1945 invasion of Okinawa, Lichau was wounded by a land mine and spent another 45 days healing from his injury. As his division prepared to invade Japan, word arrived that the war was over, and in December he came home.

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