- Wilson's Veterans
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Ellsworth County Independent/Reporter
220 N. Douglas, Ellsworth KS 67439
Special to the I-R
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
He asked that the
I-R publish the experiences of these veterans to honor their
Ordinance Company (tank) (HM)
Francis was born and raised in Wilson.
He graduated from High School in 1939. After he married
Gladys Heinze, Aug. 9, 1941, they moved to Wichita, where he
worked at Boeing for one and a half years.
Francisí dad, Frank David Olds, called him to let him know there was
an article in the newspaper that said the Kansas Dealers Association
was recruiting mechanics. Most of the mechanics at that time were
out of work, due to the fact that new cars were not being
manufactured anymore because of the war. The Kansas Dealers
Association was forming a new company, needing mechanics to train
for the Army to service vehicles.
Francis and Gladys left for Topeka and signed up with the 503rd
Ordinance Company (Tank) (HM) in the summer of 1942. There were a
total of 105 men from Kansas. It would be their job to maintain,
repair and modify the heavy equipment, weapons and vehicles.
Other men were from Indiana and Ohio. Most of them were former
mechanics, whereas others were farmers that had worked on farm
machinery. A total of 205 men were part of the 503rd Ordinance
Company. It was said at a later reunion that one of the officers
admitted that when he first saw the men in his unit, he said to
himself, "how are we ever going to win this war?"
503rd Ordinance served with the Second Armored Division. This
company was trained to maintain and repair battlefield damage on
location instead of having them shipped out to be repaired.
Mechanics of this type would actually travel with the army, but
never before used in a war until World War II. Throughout the war,
they were assigned to other divisions as needed. They served with
the First Army until Oct. 22, 1944, and with the Ninth Army from
Oct. 22, 1944 to June 15, 1945. On June 15, 1945, they were assigned
to the Seventh Army.
September 1942, Francis was inducted into the army at Jefferson
Barracks in Missouri, which is on the south end of St. Louis by the
Missouri River. From there, they were transported by train to Camp
Perry, Ohio, which is located next to Lake Erie. Most of the other
men reported to Camp Perry in October, 1942, for basic training and
engine and tank school.
Francis attended mechanical training, where he familiarized himself
with the vehicles, equipment and weapons he would be handling in the
war. The 503rd Ordinance was divided into six sections: the small
arms section, artillery section, instrument section, supply section,
recovery section, and automotive section. Francis was part of the
largest section, the automotive section. The small arms section
worked mostly on repairing rifles and pistols. The supply section
was in charge of stacking the 18-wheelers with spare parts needed.
The recovery section was in charge of unloading tanks that needed
servicing and then reloading them.
Each crew had six men plus crew chiefs. Francis was a crew chief in
the automotive section, and had the non-commissioned rank of
sergeant. His section mostly repaired tanks, but also worked on
jeeps and trucks. The officers would tell them what to do on a
certain vehicle to get it up and running. Francis was there to help
and supervise the work, then road test the equipment before bringing
them back to the army.
the soldiers spent their time training in basic army infantry, rifle
range, marching, conditioning and hiking, plus working on building
and repairing tanks and engines.
Francis was then sent to mechanical training at the Chrysler Tank
Arsenal in Detroit, Mich. Chrysler was the first to come up with an
engine that had horsepower enough to propel the tanks. These engines
were only used in the Sherman tanks. Francis and Jack Ream stayed in
hotels and ate at restaurants while they went to school.
Francis then went to Aberdine, Md. to an army post to work and train
on General Motors twin diesel motors. He worked mostly on 30 ton M3
Sherman battle tanks. There were more of these that were used in the
war than any other type of tank. For all their shortcomings, the
Shermans were a triumph of American mass production techniques.
First of all, they were wonderfully reliable, in sharp contrast to
the Panthers and Tigers, which were German tanks. In addition, the
GIís were far more experienced in the working of the internal
combustion engine than were their enemy. The Americans were also
infinitely better at recovering damaged tanks and patching them up
to go back into action.
Germans had nothing like the American maintenance battalions.
Indeed, no army in the world had such a capability. Within two days
of being put out of action by German shells, about half of the
damaged Shermans had been repaired by the 503rd and other
maintenance battalions and were back on the line. Most of the German
tanks were left where they were, while the Americans were able to
drag the tanks back to the maintenance depots for repair, or repair
them on site after they were damaged.
Francis also trained on M10 tank destroyers. The M10 tank destroyer
had armor plates with slanted sides and an opening in the top with
bigger 90 caliber guns. It was first thought these tanks would be
used to destroy German tanks. But it was later found out the German
tanks were more powerful and improved. They could put a hole right
through our tanks.
also had a smaller tank called the M5 light tank. It was powered by
a twin Cadillac engine. They were easier to maneuver and faster, but
had less firepower. These were used mostly for scouting. The other
engine, which was developed by Ford, was a simple V-8 engine that
was used in the Sherman tanks.
Before Christmas, 1942, the unit was transferred to Camp Campbell,
Ky., which is now Fort Campbell, and the home of the 82nd and 101st
Airborne Divisions. At the time, Francis was still in Aberdeen. He
came to Camp Campbell later.
the summer of 1942, Gladys and her soon-to-be-born baby moved back
to Wilson. The Oldsí first daughter, Peggy, was scheduled to arrive
in December. Dr. McEvoy delivered Peggy Lynn Olds Dec. 21, 1942.
Francis called home to check on Gladys and Peggy. He found out Peggy
had arrived that morning. Francis then called his commanding
officer, Capt. Nichols, for a pass to go home to see them. Capt.
Nichols said he could not get a pass because the headquarters wasnít
open, but to go ahead and leave without one. He would mail the pass
to Wilson. Francis hitchhiked to the railroad station in Hopkins,
Ky. He took a direct train on the L&N (Lousiville and Nashville)
Railroad to Kansas City. There he switched trains to Union Pacific
and stopped in Ellsworth. He hitchhiked from the train depot to a
truck stop on Highway 40 and rode with a trucker to Wilson. It
turned out Francis knew the girlfriend of the trucker. She was from
Wilson. Francis walked down the Main Street of Wilson to see his
wife and brand new daughter. Luckily, his leave pass was mailed
directly to Wilson by the time he got there. Francis was stopped by
the military police in Kansas City on his way back to Kentucky, but
had no problems because he had his pass by then.
Capt. Nichols allowed the men to take as much leave as possible.
There was a time when he let more men go on leave than he should
have. To cover up for the number of men who were gone, Capt. Nichols
staged a lot of activity to make it appear there were still plenty
of soldiers in the camp. The men went home and returned, and the
Colonel never found out. Everyone knew they were destined to go
overseas. After all, the reason they were in the army was to be
trained to be in the war. Capt. Nichols took a lot of heat for his
soldiers. He was a good buffer for his men. The unit spent Christmas
at Camp Campbell and trained there until spring.
February 1943, the 503rd was sent on maneuvers in Tennessee. This
was another step in the preparation of their wartime effort. They
were there to gain the experience needed to repair the tanks they
would have to do in Europe. They did the maneuvers in the wastelands
with small hills. This was thought to be close to the type of land
they would encounter in Europe. They lived in pup tents and worked
on the tanks.
Soon after arriving there, Francis went back to Wilson to bring
Gladys and Peggy, now three months old, to stay with him. Francis
remembers hitchhiking to Guthrie, Ky. to find Gladys and Peggy a
place to live. He always wore his military uniform, and hitchhiking
back then was no problem. Gladys and Peggy lived in a two bedroom
apartment in Guthrie. By August 1943, the 503rd was done with
maneuvers and started to pack for overseas.
day after Thanksgiving, 1943, Francis left Camp Campbell for Camp
Shanks in New York City. Hilda Betz, Gladysí sister, came up by
train to help Gladys and Peggy travel back to Wilson. They, along
with Margaret Krueger, took their cars and drove back to Wilson.
Francisí boss in the automotive section was Lt. Jarvis. McMery who
was the shop manager. Lt. Bell was in charge of other sections.
Capt. Nichols was the commanding officer. The second in line was
Capt. Smith. Capt. Nichols was promoted to a higher rank when the
unit was in England. Capt. Smith was then promoted to commanding
503rd left New York Dec. 4, 1943 on a British ship called the HMV
Highland Chieftain bound for Avensmouth, England. The HMV Highland
Chieftain was an old flat-bottomed ship built in 1920, and used as a
beef carrier from South America, up the Amazon, and back to England.
The ship was diverted to New York to pick up soldiers.
deployment from New York was the largest deployment up to that point
in the war. There were about 500 men on the Highland Chieftain. The
ship traveled in a large convey of about 15 destroyers, which was
escorted across the ocean by Navy ships. The convoy traveled as fast
as the slowest ship, but they had to stay together because of the
constant fear of attack by German submarines.
water was rough, and the soldiers were cautioned not to go up on
deck. If they were washed overboard, the ship could not stop to pick
them up. The spray of the water was so cold that at night it would
freeze on the deck. Francis remembers that one of the men had an
appendix attack and died. He had to be thrown overboard. The cabin
below really stank badly. The food was so bad that Francis couldnít
eat anything. He had to go to the PX to buy Almond Hershey bars and
Pepsi Cola all the time. The floors were so greasy, the men could
barely walk on them. The men passed the time playing cards and
took 12 days to travel across to England. The 503rd arrived in
Liverpool, England, then on Dec. 16, 1943, departed for Camp
Warminster, in Wilts, England. Camp Warminster was a British Army
base near Bristol, England.
Francis spent his first Christmas in London, England at a childrens
orphanage. There was a notice on the bulletin board for military
personnel to take part in the Christmas Party. Francis was the only
soldier from the 503rd to volunteer to go. When he was there, he got
to see a lot of bombed out buildings by the Germans. Every night
Francis would hear air raid sirens going off. In spite of the fact
it was Christmas time, the weather was very warm. There was no snow,
only green grass. The 503rd was in England six months schooling on
tanks and getting ready for the war.
January 6, 1944, the unit moved to Camp Sand Hill Longbridge in
June 19, 1944, the 503rd left Southhampton, England for Omaha Beach
in Normandy, France. The soldiers had to wait for some ships to
return from the June 6, 1944 D-Day Invasion. They actually left
twice. They had to return once due to bad weather. The number of
troops going to France was so large they didnít have enough ships to
carry all of the soldiers. They had practiced landings while on
maneuvers before leaving England. They were now going to perform the
landing for the LSTís (Landing Tank Ships).
the Ellsworth Independent/Reporter next week for the second half of
the World War II experiences of veteran Francis Olds.
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June 24, 1944, the 503rd arrived at one of the five beacheads at
Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. They drove their tanks off the
landing ship tanks and up onto the shore. The unit had modified the
tanks with air scoops in case the water was deep. The tanks needed
air for the engines to run. Francis remembers when they arrived at
Omaha Beach, they were also in charge of loading the injured
soldiers. By the time they were able to load all the soldiers back
on the ship to go back across the England the ship was coated with
blood. A rifle squad that arrived on June 6 had only advanced about
a half a mile up the beach by the time the 503rd Ordinance arrived.
The Germans had really closed the beach down, so the Americans were
advancing very slowly. They had many tanks to repair and load back
on the ships as well. The 503rd finally moved into Insigny, France
on July 10, 1944 ó just 20 miles from Omaha Beach.
503rd was supposed to be eating K-rations, but several of the men
had got nosey around the crates in the ships. They found canned
peaches and Vienna sausages. They enjoyed this food for several
throughout the war, Francis remembers it was not possible to fix
some of the tanks, so the soldiers salvaged the parts they could
take with them to place into other tanks which were repairable. They
would leave the unrepairable tanks where they were. Francis was
always "robbing" from one tank to fix another. After the tanks were
fixed, they would drive them up to the army and start fixing others.
They usually stayed a half a mile to two miles behind the front
lines. This gave the army a huge advantage over the Germans.
American army was at a stalemate. So before they could move on to
Paris, thousands of bombers had to come from England and hit St. Lo,
to bomb out all of the hedgerow. Hedgerows are piles of dirt with
trees and brush growing on them. They were up to three feet wide and
six feet tall. The Germans used these hedgerows to hide behind and
when the American tanks would go over them, the Germans would be
waiting and fire heavy artillery up through the bottom of the tanks.
The planes started bombing on July 25, Francisí birthday. Some of
the planes were shot down, but the sky was still full of planes. The
infantry laid panels for the bombers to follow, but there were so
many planes in the sky, they lost their sites and had begun to hit
inside the American lines. It was only about a quarter of a mile
down the road from where their infantry was. Francis remembers the
constant bombing overhead for over 24 hours. General McNair was
killed in the bombing. Fort McNair in Washington, D.C. is named for
him. The bombing still did not blow out all of the hedgerows. The
503rd had to build a front end called tusks onto the tanks. They
were used to break through the dirt in the hedgerows. In order to
make these tusks, they had to gather to German railroad rail that
were in the water off of Omaha Beach. These railroad rails were
placed in the water by the Germans to stop the Americans from
getting close to the beach. They would have to cut them with torches
to certain lengths, sharpen one end, and attach them to the front of
While they were in St. Lo, they would hide in pits the Germans had
dug down in the earth. They used them to sleep and protect
themselves from all the bombing that was going on. One night, Hughie
Pearce, Jack Ream, guys from Francisí crew, found a white angora
rabbit that was probably someoneís pet. They killed it and brought
it down into the hole that he was staying in with Francis. They were
cooking the rabbit when Lt. Jarvis came by and asked them what they
were doing. When they told Lt. Jarvis about the rabbit, he was not
happy. But Hughie, Jack and Francis ate well that night, while the
others enjoyed their K-rations.
While they were several miles outside of Paris, but within sight of
the Eifel Tower, they had an unusual experience. The Germans also
lunched "buzz bombs." There were two kinds of buzz bombs. One was
the B-1, a bomb that made a lot of noise. The other was the B-2
rocket buzz bomb. You could not hear the B-2. One day when it was
still dark, the men in the 503rd were having breakfast. They heard a
noise. The men thought it was an American plane when they say a
light coming. All of a sudden, the light went out and motor went
off. They realized it was a buzz bomb. They all dove for cover, and
then heard the explosion. One of the men dove under the water
trailer and never spilled his breakfast. When daylight came, they
saw a huge hole about the size of a house where the bomb landed. The
unit had been the target of the bomb, but they were not hit. It
landed about a quarter of a mile away.
Sept. 10, 1944. The 503rd enters Kortessen, Belgium.
Francis remembers a tank that was brought to him which needed a new
clutch put in it. The battle crew was still with the tank. Francis
got to talking to one of the guys and found out he was Red Shaw from
Dorrance. He had fire red hair and a mustache that he waxed up on
the ends. After the war, they both joined the Elks Club. Red loved
to drink and boast about knowing Francis. He would tell everyone how
Sept. 22, 1944. The 503rd enters Margraten, Holland.
Thereís a small dish factory in Holland where Francis bought two
sets of dishes, one for Gladys and a tea set for Peggy. He mailed
them home. The dish factory worker, John, was befriended by Gus
Krueger. After the war, Gus helped sponsor him and moved his family
to the United States. Gus had to guarantee him a job and help with
expenses. They moved to Ellsworth and worked at the Dryden Pottery
Factory making pottery. Later, they moved to Arkansas.
Oct. 22, 1944. The 503rd is assigned to the Ninth Army.
Dec. 2, 1944, the unit entered Germany. The military had a policy in
effect in which soldiers were not permitted to "fraternize" with the
German people. The only contact they were allowed was for business
movement (motor marches) of the 503rd was determined by the progress
of operations on the European continent. It was more dangerous for
the soldiers now that they were in Germany. The German military
would construct "dragons teeth," which were barriers to keep out
tanks. These were on the border of Germany as they passed through
When there was a vacant building, the 503rd would set up their shops
in them so they could repair and rebuild tanks.
January, 1945. Wagonfabrik, Talbot (Plant), Aachen, Germany.
night, the soldiers would have to post guard duty. The sergeant of
the guard would oversee them. They would have to walk around the
German buildings. There were many German soldiers and civilians that
would try to get to them. Francis remembers one night when he was
the sergeant of the guard, they heard a bunch of noises. They
shouted to warn whoever was there and went to investigate. No one
While in Aachen, Germany, the soldiers had the opportunity to see
Mickey Rooney. He did not entertain them, but he visited with the
unit. The unit did have the opportunity to partake in USO
activities. The activities usually included music and dancing
outside. This was at the time when the Battle of the Bulge was going
on. The army was experiencing a shortage of soldiers. It was
understood the 503rd had papers which would order them to go fight
in this battle. Luckily, it was thought they would be better used as
maintenance people than front line soldiers. A lot of cooks and
other people were taken to be soldiers.
Francis and Hughie Pearce had the opportunity to have their names
drawn out of a hat for a three day leave to Brussels, Belgium for
sightseeing. Brussels is well-known for its statues.
March, 1945, the unit moved to Rheydt, Germany. They worked in Aug
Dilthey and Sons Factory. It was very crowded and there was not much
cover. This was a factory where they made a lot of German planes.
Some were under construction, and some were close to being
March 31, 1945, the 503rd moved to a coal mine in the vicinity of
Dorsten, Germany. Francis got to go down into the coal mine. They
were able to go down the shaft and travel to the actual spot where
they were mining coal. He even got to mine some coal with an air
gun. The unit traveled there in blackout conditions. They couldnít
even turn on their headlights. They could only use a cat eye light
on the front and rear of the trucks. The soldiers could see as far
as the next vehicle in front of them.
During the next few months of 1945, the unit was in a high state of
mobility. On April 30, Adolf Hitler committed suicide. On May 8, the
war in Europe officially ended. On May 16, the unit was assigned to
the Second Armored Division. It was decided the 503rd would move
south to Augusburg and Munich. They were to be assigned to General
George Pattonís Third Army. One day, Gen. Patton was in the 503rdís
area checking out the tanks and getting advice. Francis got to meet
Gen. Patton, but he didnít get to talk to him.
Because they didnít have to work, Francis remembers a time when he
and two other fellows set out on a Sunday to go see Hilterís
hideout. They were only 50 miles away from it, so they thought they
should see it before they had to leave. Hitlerís hideout had been
built to entertain the big shots. They also used it for planning
meetings with the Generals. It was located in the Bavarian Alps.
Francis had gotten a vehicle, although he didnít have a trip ticket.
They got jammed in traffic, so they left their car to check things
out. They ended up seeing General Dwight Eisenhower and his staff
cars, which were Cadillacs. They were going to see Hitlerís hideout
too. There were police cars and sirens blaring. Francis and his
soldiers had to wait in the parking lot until Gen. Eisenhower and
his group were gone. Then they finally got to go into the hideout.
503rd ordinance was disbanded and sent home at different times. It
was difficult for the soldiers, because some of them had been
together for two and a half years. A point system determined when
you were sent home. The government set up this system to have an
orderly way of sending so many soldiers home. Soldiers earned the
points by the number of battles they were in, years of service, age,
etc. Francis had 80 points, which was considered a high number. He
had more points, because he was in four battles, married, had one
child, and had a higher rank. Francis was transferred to Marseille,
France, which is on the gulf of the Mediterranean Sea. Then he spent
eight days on a Victory ship bound for New York City. The Victory
ship was a smaller, more modern boat, therefore faster when
traveling. After arriving at Camp Shanks in New York, Francis was
sent by train to Fort Leavenworth.
Francis was discharged from the army on Nov. 1. He was given a ride
to Kansas City, then took the train to Ellsworth to meet Gladys and
Peggy. He brought Peggy a bear. Peggy remembers being scared to
death of her dad. She started to cry. Her memories of her dad were
According to Lt. Jarvis, the 503rd was a great group of men. There
will never be a group quite like them ever again. They did a tough
job under difficult conditions and did it well. They were valuable
to the war effort. They bravely served their country and aided in
the effort to make the world a better place.
1947, some of the Kansas members decided to get together and have a
reunion. In 1949, men from Ohio and the eastern United States joined
the reunion, which has been held every year. Francis and Gladys have
been very instrumental in planning the reunions and have kept a
scrapbook of all the memories. In 1981, the men met in Cleveland and
visited Camp Perry. In 2002, the reunion was held in Cleveland, and
the men were interviewed by the local news.
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