A Memorial Day tribute to Lt. Olinger of Ainsworth, the first from his community to fall

By John Butters, The JOURNAL


While in high school, Lt. Olinger was a star basketball player and a member of the team that won the county championship in 1937. He was class president, a member of the Boys Glee Club and played in the school orchestra. He was a standout player on the baseball team.

So said an article in ?Newslites,? a fragile, one-page newsletter published on Sept. 15, 1944, by the Ainsworth School, revealing a few details of James T. Olinger?s service and final place of rest.

When ?Taps? sounds on a Memorial Day in our nation, heads bow and members of the armed forces salute those who did not return from America?s wars.

Among those whose bodies were left in war-torn France, count Lt. James T. Olinger of Ainsworth, the first of his community to lose a life in World War II.

His nephew, Jim Wilson of Washington, rediscovered details of his uncle?s service and untimely death as he prepared for a move into the United Presbyterian Home this spring. Olinger was the brother of Jim?s mother, Frances.

Wilson was born in 1946, so he has no recollection of his uncle. All that remains of his memory are government-issued documents of a life lived, and then surrendered, on a foreign battlefield. That and one small photograph of a white cross, emblazoned with a name and serial number.

Jim?s most treasured sources for information about his uncle are the entries in old editions of ?Newslites.?

A terse entry in the same Sept. 16, 1944 edition of the school paper, relates the sad news of Olinger?s death.

?Mr. and Mrs. William Olinger have received word from the War Department that their son, Second Lieutenant James T. Olinger had died in France August 16 as a result of wounds suffered on August 13,? the lead paragraph reads.

While packing and sorting for his move, Wilson found the official documents that trace his uncle?s journey from civilian to corporal to commissioned officer in the U.S. Army.

Olinger graduated from Ainsworth in 1939. Before graduating, he joined Troop ?F? of the Iowa National guard. His first assignment was keeping the peace at a labor strike in Newton.

On January 12, 1941, he was inducted into the regular army and Camp Bowie, Texas, for training with the 113th Cavalry, a mechanized unit. He was appointed Sergeant of Troop D on Oct. 7 of the same year.

Following that, he spent time training in Louisiana and was stationed on the Mexican border for guard duty.

Sgt. Olinger was then selected for the Officers Candidate School at The Cavalry School at Fort Riley, Kansas, in 1942, where he was awarded the rank of Second Lieutenant.

Following his commission, he completed the Officers Motor Course at the Cavalry School at Fort Riley in June of 1943.

In 1944, Olinger was sent to the War Department?s Commando Combat School in California.

He received 213 hours of training in the subjects of Judo, weapons, aquatics, demolition, tactics, map reading, scouting, basic medical practices and solving field problems.

At that point, the official records in Wilson?s possession end, but a 1945 edition of ?Newslites? Senior and Alumni edition fills in some of the gaps between Olinger?s deployment and his death.

?He spent several days at home at least once a year, but his last furlough at home ended on May 23, 1944, at which time he left for Camp Meade, Maryland,? the school paper reads.

Wilson remembers a family story of his father coming home after taking Olinger to the train in Mt. Pleasant after that final leave, and the prophetic words he spoke at that parting.

?My dad said he shook his hand and James said, ?it will probably be the last time I see you,?? Wilson said.

A valued keepsake Wilson possesses is a black-and-white photo of a white cross, emblazoned with his uncle?s name and serial number.

As with many families of that time, it provides the only record of a loved-ones burial and final resting place.

The school newsletter helps to fill in some of the gaps concerning Olinger?s final rites here at home..

?He is survived by his parents, six sisters and one brother, George, who served in the Aleutian Islands and is now stationed in Ohio. A memorial service was observed at the Ainsworth Methodist Church on Sunday, Sept. 17, at 3 p.m.?

Pastor O.J. Fix was in charge of the services. School superintendent Rev. E.J. Shook gave the principal address. School superintendent E.R. Butterworth and Milburne Spessard spoke at the service.

For this information, we are indebted to ?Newslites? Editor-in-chief Gerard Megchelsen, Associate editor Shirley Simkins and of course, Jim Wilson.