La Jolla’s Edwin Wrench: Satellite designer, Battle of Bulge survivor dies at 86

By Dave Schwab

Staff Writer

From being a German war prisoner to graduating with a physics degree from UC Berkeley to working on the first hydrogen warhead for the first ICBM for Convair and helping NASA on space program applications, Edwin Henning Wrench Sr.’s life was anything but ordinary.

The longtime La Jolla resident who survived colon cancer surgery in 1984, died Monday, Aug. 8 at Scripps Memorial Hospital. He was 86.

Having worked in San Diego and been a La Jolla resident since 1952, Wrench was involved in the Atlas Missile Program and the development of some of the U.S.’s first satellites.

“He was a design engineer for Convair. They would give him a problem and he would design a solution for it — he was always coming up with ideas,” said son Kirke Wrench.

During World War II, he was captured by the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge and spent several months as a POW before jumping from a train and escaping.

Wrench’s daughter, Kathy Fait, who edited her father’s autobiography, said he was a brilliant and private man with a disarming sense of humor and always willing to tell a joke. Bus she added he was selective in talking about his war experiences, which affected him the rest of his life.

“He didn’t like to talk about himself very much until he got older, then he started sharing more and more,” she said, recounting one humorous anecdote.

“He was just doodling on a piece of paper and the Germans thought he must be a spy or something and they spent all this time trying to decipher the doodling,” she said. “He suspected his one major contribution to the Allied war effort was engaging one German expert in deciphering his drawings.”

Kirke Wrench said his father “was terribly claustrophic,” and in his autobiography noted that he and other prisoners were transported by train, 80 to a car designed for 40, which he likened to “being locked in a crowded elevator with a power failure and the building on fire.”

After living largely on a starvation diet, which included frozen rutabagas and “bad” chicken, Kirke and Kathy said their father could never again stomach either.

Kathy Fowler Eddy, one of Kathy Fait’s best childhood friends who knew Wrench well, said of him,” He was active in mind and in body. I recall going to the Wrench’s house many evenings and he would be reading the paper and listening to the TV news with headphones. He often had some type of engineering project going in the garage, like an early version of solar panels to heat their pool. … He also knew how to relax and enjoy his family.”

Wrench and his wife Marian traveled extensively in Europe, Australia and China. While they still could, they biked 10 miles a day, golfed and swam.

Edwin Wrench used to tell people planning to retire “they should do anything they want to before retirement because they won’t have time afterward.”