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Founded: 1873
Population: 781
Elevation: 1689 feet
Latitude: 38į 49' 30" N
Longitude: 98į 28' 30" W
School District: USD 328
ZIP code:  67490 
Area Code: 785

 

 

History - Wilson's Veterans

 

 

Also Read About Francis Olds

 

 

Ellsworth County Independent/Reporter
220 N. Douglas, Ellsworth KS 67439
 

Special to the I-R

 

The Independent-Reporter was approached by Dr. Eugene Jarus of Ellsworth, historian for Wilson American Legion Post 262. In his possession were the written war experiences of two Ellsworth County veterans of World War II ó Jerry Klema and Francis Olds.
 

He asked that the I-R publish the experiences of these veterans to honor their service.

Jerry Klema
 

Jerry was born Sept. 24, 1921. He died in August 2007.
He wrote of his war experiences in 2001.

"I havenít been able to talk about my Army experiences. If I do, I break down. So I will try to write. This all happened about 55 years ago.

Officially, I was wounded four times. Actually, it was several times more. I was very lucky. Some members didnít even last a minute on the line.

My training included basic and advanced Reserve Officers Training Corps at Kansas State University. That was normally a commission. However, we were sent to the officer candidate school at Fort Benning, Ga. and became second lieutenants in the infantry.

Shortly thereafter, a number of us were sent as instructors for the 80th Infantry Division, which was maneuvering against the 104th Infantry Division in the desert. This was in preparation for going overseas. After the maneuvers, and not being assigned to the Division, we were sent overseas to act as replacements.

On a train ride from northern England to the central area, one person said there goes a Spitfire flare. Actually, it was a German rocket which hit a mile west of us. A number of hills with coal were burning. German rockets had set them on fire.

We didnít know about "D-Day." They sent us to the port, and then sent us back to camp. In a couple of days, we would go over as replacements.

I donít remember crossing the English Channel. It may have been because of a concussion. I do remember running up the sandy portion of Normandy Beach. We werenít being fired upon. I was looking around. The lieutenant next to me gave me a shove and said to keep down.

I was assigned to the Ninth Infantry Division. While on line, the lieutenant next to me showed three marks on his rife which was for each of the enemy he had downed. He lasted about two hours more, because he made himself too noticeable.

American troops were only a short way in from the coast, because of the hedgerows. The hedgerows were made by the French for defensive purposes to protect from the Norsemen. They were mounds of rock and dirt with growing trees on both sides. The way they were laid out would throw off your directions. Thanks couldnít even get through them.

The hedgerows kept the Allies from advancing much for four to six weeks. Finally, the tanks put pointed steel bars on the lower portion of the front of the tanks. They could hit the hedgerow, and hit again, and finally get through. At this time, we didnít like tanks around. Their motors made enough noise that enemy artillery would hit the area since they would know infantry was in the area.

In our shore line confined area with infantry, artillery, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, tanks were close in. With all the firing odors, we didnít know if the enemy was using poisonous gas in their effort. We even slept with gas masks on.

One of the activities was when we captured two of their men. Our men were very belligerent, because the enemy was wearing some paratroop jump boots and other American clothing. Our troops were going to kill them. I had to persuade them to send them to our back area. We all checked our clothing to see that we werenít wearing enemy clothing.

We kept trying to advance. Finally, with the Air Force doing the high altitude pin-point bombing in areas, it helped, such as at St. Lo. The enemy troops were killed or stunned, so we could advance. Also, the Army tanks could help more because of their additional construction. Directions were hard to maintain. The tanks could penetrate and start firing. In some cases, they couldnít see the friendly troops in front of them.

Every day we had problems. To move a unit, it could go only so fast or far per day. Since the enemy was falling back, I rode on tanks to check roads, bridges, etc., so the unit could keep advancing. We were now moving south of Paris.

The people were joyous for us. We saw a number of women who had their heads shaved. They had been friendly to the Germans. One place the enemy put lime on the roads to get in our eyes and slow us down. There were some rivers which were tough to cross. It allowed them to have a defensive line. When crossing a river, we were good targets.

We never made much noise moving through trees. When going down a trail, I saw my two lead scouts stopped and still. Opposite of them were two Germans. Both groups were stunned and quiet. I told them to drop their guns. Some things end quickly, and may end okay.

We finally got to the French-German border. The dragon teeth pillars of concrete to stop vehicles were graded over with dirt to let vehicles drive over.

While going through a forest area, we came to an open tree line. I went across, but the rest of the men didnít follow. I went back to see why they didnít come. The unit hesitated, but said they would cross. This was my third crossing, but my assistant didnít make it across. I especially remember him, because he was so good and friendly, and from Pennsylvania.

At two different times about a month apart, we advanced quietly and carefully as always. Four Germans were walking four abreast and 20 feet in front of us. One shot would have gotten all four of them. I did a lot of firing, but I hate to fire directly on a human. I yelled "halt" and they disappeared immediately.

We were advancing up a roadbed, which was lower than the fields on each side. It had trees on each side of the road. The enemy was advancing toward us and firing repeatedly. We had no place to go. They were just on the other side of the turn in the road. We fired closely at the edge of the bend in the road. They finally pushed back, so when we went forward, we saw we were accurate in hitting them without seeing them. They had removed clothing and packs.

The enemy and tanks were on the south edge of a town. They seemed to be pulling back. We went to the top floor of the building to look out. They were coming back and firing rapidly. They riddled the lower area, but we were on the top floor so we got by.

We were soon in the Hurtgen Forrest. We were advancing against an area which ended up as a German pill box. The barbed wire and stuff was difficult. We finally had the area, and it was getting dark. We decided to take cover in their foxholes. There were only 10 of us left.

I asked for help to get my two corpses out of my foxhole. They jumped up yelling "Komrad, Komrad." It was a U-shaped foxhole, so I had to watch them. It was pitch dark ó about 5 a.m., when we heard a lot of fire and then quiet. We didnít know what was in the area. I had the two prisoners stand up with their arms in the air. The area was clear, so we got back with our unit.

When you sleep at night, you try to find a low area. We slept with our helmets on. In the morning, the boy sleeping with me didnít get up. On checking, we found a piece of shrapnel had gone through his helmet.

When you join a unit in combat, you donít know anyoneís name. Also, we leave as a casualty or fatality, so we donít know names.

With our first aid man we went through a lot. This particular day, shrapnel went through his stomach area. The guts were falling out, but they were not torn. We had to shove them up and in. The next day, I had shell fragments go through my shoulder blade and I started spitting blood. It had hit part of my lung. I managed to get to the aid station. My first aid man was still there. They couldnít send him on yet. Eventually, I was put on a first aid train. The enemy is not supposed to attack such facilities. The train was an old timer. You could see clear through the train. The cots were three on each side. A nurse was shooting all the patients with the all-new penicillin. Even standing on a stool and bouncing all over.

We finally got to the hospital area. It was a school in Belgium. German planes struck the area the night before. Two nurses were injured. The gym and several rooms were being used.

The nurse said they had a nurse from Missouri. She said she would have her stop by. As it finally happened, there were three nurses from Wilson. That was a really great happening to be able to see someone you know. They also had nurse from North Africa. I was moving around too much and the cot was getting bloody. So they helped clean it up. That was really wonderful to see them.

Eventually, I got back to England and the hospital. They operated and things went well. If you are injured in the Army, you are not sick and you heal speedily.

I was still in England when the Germans made the big push ó The Battle of the Bulge. I got back with the unit on the Rhine River. All the bridges on the Rhine had been destroyed, but a Remagen. The Remagen Bridge was very weak. To build up and protect the area, smoke screens, anti-aircraft guns, pontoon bridges were needed for heavy traffic and to save the area. Everything that goes up, must come down. Our own fire sounded like enemy fire when it came down.

It didnít take long for me. I got a bullet through my right shoulder. The weak bridge with 85 people working on it was the source of travel for light first aid ambulances. After crossing the bridge, we started up the bank when we heard a crash. The driver got out and looked. He said the bridge had fallen. I was too weak to look out. This was another time that I was lucky.

While being a patient and flying back to England, we had a good trip. However, on landing, an oil transport got partly in the way and they had some contact.

While in the hospital, "V.E." Day was celebrated. Operations and service were discontinued for the day.

I donít remember much about the trip to New York and Kansas City. There was a two-section train from Kansas City to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Alyce (Jerryís wife) made it there. She was on the other section. I was a patient, but not an invalid. My trouble was because of the bullet that went through my right shoulder.

While in Santa Fe, we met Ernest Klema of Salina. He was working at Los Alamos. In a couple of weeks, two atomic bombs were dropped on Japan and we were fortunate to have "V.J." day shortly.

Hitler was responsible for the murder of six million people. He also was responsible for the loss of lives of soldiers and civilians.

After getting home and building the new "Klema IGA Market and Locker Plant," I still stayed in the reserves. I was captain of the artillery unit in Russell. I went to several summer camps. I even went to the officer artillery school in Fort Sill, Okla. Thinking about the past and other things, I wanted out. I left with 15 years service, a major in rank, and 30 percent disability.

I forgot to mention about our first aid man who had his guts shot out. We met him in Houston, Texas, with several other motorcyclists. He said to hop on. We went 100 miles per hour ó go up to a stop sign then zoom out. I said I didnít want any more."

During his service in the U.S. Army, Major Jerry Klema earned four purple heart medals, a bronze star, the combat infantryman badge and the European Campaign ribbon.

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