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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 Jerry Klema

 

 

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.

Francis M. Olds

503rd 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?"

The 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.

In 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.

All 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.

The 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.

We 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.

In 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.

In 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.

The 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 officer.

The 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.

The 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.

The 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 relaxing.

It 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 Deverill, England.

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).

See the Ellsworth Independent/Reporter next week for the second half of the World War II experiences of veteran Francis Olds.

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PART 2

On 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.

The 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 days.

All 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.

The 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 the tanks.

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 they met.

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.

On 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 purposes only.

The 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 Holland.

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.

At 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 was found.

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.

In 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 completed.

On 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.

The 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 in pictures.

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.

In 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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