Washington Evening Journal

Fairfield Ledger   Mt. Pleasant News
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 21, 2018

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

May 14, 2018

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.


Comments (1)
Posted by: Glen Peiffer | May 17, 2018 14:06

Celina Biniaz Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz ‘52, the youngest person on Oskar Schindler’s list is giving the commencement address at her alma mater on Monday, May 21. During the commencement ceremony, in which approximately 380 seniors are receiving Bachelor of Arts degrees, Biniaz is being awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

Grinnell College's Commencement exercises, which are open to the public, is starting at 10 a.m. Monday, May 21, in central campus. If the weather is inclement, the ceremony will be held in the Charles Benson Bear '39 Recreation and Athletic

Center. No tickets are required. The ceremony also will be live-streamed on Grinnell's website.

Biniaz, whose story was mirrored in Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler's List is a key supporter of Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation. The organization has collected more than 50,000 video testimonies and survivor stories from Nazi Germany’s attempt to exterminate the Jews of Europe. Six million Jewish people perished along with millions of other Europeans.

Two days after the Germans surrendered in 1945, the Soviets liberated Biniaz’s concentration camp: Auschwitz, the most notorious of the death camps, where an estimated 1.1 million inmates were killed. Biniaz, who was 14 and weighed only 70 pounds, hitchhiked to her hometown of Krakow, Poland, with her parents. They fled to Slovakia after Jews were attacked in a pogrom, and Biniaz attended school in a convent there until May 1947, when her family emigrated to the United States.

Her uncle from Des Moines met the family in New York City and drove them to Iowa’s capital city. Biniaz graduated from North High School and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Grinnell College in 1952.

She continued her studies at Columbia University, where she received a master’s degree in education and met Amir Biniaz. The pair married and moved to Long Island, where Celina Biniaz began her long and distinguished teaching career, retiring in 1992.

Silent about her Holocaust experiences before the release of Schindler’s List in 1993, Biniaz was inspired by the movie to tell her story. Since then she has been sharing her recollections and the lessons she learned. Despite the horrors she witnessed, Biniaz says hate is corrosive and stresses the importance of moving forward in love.

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