I was born just west of Osceola, the only boy in a family of four children. My three sisters are Kathy, who married Jim Richards, Marilyn who married Steve Wilkens, and Betty Farlow. When I was one or two years old, we moved to a farm near Derby, and when I was in eighth grade, we moved to Winterset for my dad to take a job as a farm-hand on a big farm operation. About a year after we moved, Dad developed cancer and we moved to Osceola. He was in Iowa City for quite awhile before he died at age 37, on February 28, 1955, when I was a sophomore in Clarke Community School. It was a rough time. Years later, while I was overseas in military service, Mom remarried. Her husband, Hoyt Klemme, had two sons, who became my step­brothers. Bill is deceased; Don lives in Des Moines. He was in the military, serving in Vietnam.

I graduated in 1957, and two of my buddies and I joined the Army right out of high school — Fred Poil and Jim Busick. Jim went to Louisiana for basic training. Fred and I went to Fort Hood, Texas, and were in the Armored Division. I was in tanks and he was in the engineers corps. We spent six months training in tanks in a very hot Texas. I was in a reconnaissance outfit. We had a scout platoon, an infantry platoon and a tank platoon. Our main objective in the service was to infiltrate behind enemy lines and get information. Our mission wasn't to do battle but to gather information to send back to troops behind us. Our scouts would go in, the tanks would follow the scouts, and the infantry came in behind the tanks, so if we met any opposition the tanks were there to protect the scouts. Of course, at that time, we didn't have any opposition, so this was just in case of conflict.

This was during "peace time," although people tell me there never was a peace time, but there wasn't a lot happening the entire time I was in the service. It was a tense time, called the "cold war." Czechoslovakia was part of Russia and there was tension between the United States and Russia. We pulled a lot of border duty on the Czechoslovakian border because it was a little shaky at times; but the Korean War officially ended in 1955, and Vietnam was just beginning to heat up. It didn't start until 1961, so I fell between those dates.

We came home from basic training in November, 1957, and I married Juanita Smith on November 24th, and Fred married Donna Woodard a week later. Then we shipped out for Germany. The following spring Juanita and Donna came over to Germany to join us, and our oldest son, Steve, who now teaches school at Clarke Elementary, was born there. I was in a little town called Schwabach just seven kilometers outside Nurenberg. Fred was in Furth which was a suburb of Nurenberg. We lived in a small town called Nea Katzwang when Juanita came over.

Juanita's parents, Red and Letha Smith came to Europe for a month. I took a 30-day leave while they were there, and we went for a trip through Italy, Switzerland, and France. I had a '53 Ford which we drove. That meant we were on our own, which led to some amusing situations. Crossing borders from country to country was no problem. There were no restrictions. The money exchange was a bit awkward. I had gotten pretty well acquainted with Germany's mark but Italy's lira was a big problem — that and trying to talk to the people. We really didn't know where we were going most of the time. There was a time when we were trying to get from Switzerland to Italy. We went down a road and found ourselves boarding a ferry. We got out of the car and asked the guy, "Where are we going?" He looked at us like he was thinking, "These crazy Americans!" But we ended up where we wanted to go.

Of course, we had to find hotels to stay in, and tried to explain to them what we wanted. In Italy we got locked into one hotel. We had no way of knowing they locked the doors at night. We liked to get up and leave early the next morning, so we got up and were ready to leave when we discovered we were locked in. I crawled out of an upstairs window, jumped down off something that was sticking up, and unlocked the door so we could get out. We were on this trip just about four weeks, and we had some hilarious times.

I wasn't too impressed with France. We weren't there very long. We went into France from Italy and returned to Germany by way of the southern edge of France. Switzerland was a beautiful country, as were parts of Germany. I remember Garmish. It was a mountainous area, part of the Swiss Alps — that was the prettiest place we were.

We drove on the autobahn so there was no speed limit. It was however fast you wanted to drive. We saw several accidents. But the autobahn was the way to travel, even when we were going to a training area. It was like a parade when we took our tanks, jeeps and trucks.

Juanita and I were in Nurenberg various times before and after Red and Letha were there. It was a huge city, probably nearly the size of Munich, which was where Jim Busick ended up. I was off on weekends, so we drove around the city Saturdays and Sundays. Old Nurenberg was a mess. A lot of it was blown apart during the war. Of particular interest was Soldiers' Field, a cemetery for German solders. It was huge, probably several football fields in the arena part of it. It was where Hitler gave his big speeches and marched his troops. That is where the trials took place later on. There were chunks of cement like good size bricks, but each brick was numbered so they would know where and in what position it should be laid when they put the place back together.

I hadn't seen Jim since we'd been over there. In fact, I'd lost track of him. When we were in Grafenvere, a big training area, I heard his outfit was up there training, too. One evening after we were through with the tanks, I went looking for him. I found his outfit and was going around looking in windows. It was cold and there was frost on the windows. I scraped the frost off one of the windows and here was Jim poking wood in an old wood stove. I walked in and surprised him.

I had a surprise, also. It was wintertime when we were in the training area of Grafenvere. For lack of anything better to do, we were out walking in the cold, and I saw Elvis Presley walking around shaking hands with guys. I went over and introduced myself. We shook hands and talked for awhile. That was one of the highlights of my experiences. I really had to admire the guy because he could have done anything he wanted to in the service. He could have been in entertainment or anything, but he was out there like the rest of us, freezing to death.

Villsack was another training area. We were going there one time when we rolled our 52-ton tank 2 1/2 times. The roads were slippery and we slipped off the side of the road and over we went. We were combat-loaded in which case we were equipped with 78 rounds of 90mm shells. I was the gunner at that particular time, and as the tank went over, I was trying to catch these rounds as they fell off the rack. If they fell and exploded, that was it.

There were four fellows in the tanks: the loader, driver, gunner and tank commander. I was the gunner. I started out as a loader, went to driver, then moved to the gunner's seat and when I made Sergeant, I became the tank commander. I was, in fact, on our Lieutenant's tank. When he was in the jeep leading the platoon, I was tank commander in his tank and when we engaged the enemy he would move into the tank commander's seat and I would move in as his gunner. It was interesting.

Another nice memory I have is told in this newspaper clipping:

Promoted In Germany

Acting Sergeant Richard P. McWilliams (left) of Osceola,
receives congratulations from Colonel Edward H. Oswald,
4th Armored Division Trains Commander, after graduating from
the division's Non-Commissioned Officer Academy in New Ulm,
Germany. During the four-week course McWilliams, who is regu­
larly assigned as a tank commander in Troop A of the division's
15th Cavalry in Schwabach, received refresher instruction in
military leadership and advanced combat tactical training. He
entered the Army in June 1957, completed basic training at
Fort Hood, Tex., and arrived in Europe in December 1957. Mc­
Williams, son of Mrs. Vera M. Klemme of Osceola, is a 1957
graduate of Osceola High School. His wife, Jaunita, is with him
in Germany.

I was never in danger. The only time we came close was up on the Czechoslovakian border when they got a little bit rowdy but nothing ever came of it. One guy was killed, but he was asking for it. Why he did it, nobody ever knew, but he went walking across the border into Czechoslovakia and they shot him. Nothing ever came of it.

When Lebanon began to get active, they were going to load us up and send us over there. The only thing that kept us from going was that we were on the Czech border. There was some unrest and they didn't want to pull us off the border. I'd probably have been there quite awhile if they had sent us. They alerted us, alerted the wives and had them packed up ready to send home. But then that died down and nothing came of it. Juanita and Donna Poil came home together, I think in November of '59 and I got out in April of '60. I was over there three years, then I had three years of inactive reserve. Steve had been born and Juanita was pregnant when she came home, so Scott was born after she came home. We have a daughter Shelly who was born after I came back from Germany.

I watched history being made in those years. When I first went over we still occupied Germany, and the German bases belonged to us. While I was there they gave those back to Germany and things changed. When I first got there and went out on maneuvers, we could go anywhere we wanted to. If we wanted to run over a tree, we ran over a tree, but when we gave the land back to Germany, if we ran over a tree, we paid Germany for that tree. If we ran over a chicken, we paid for the chicken and all the eggs it was going to lay. We were then pretty restricted on where we could go. The wall dividing Germany went up while I was there. In fact, I thought it was going to keep me there but it didn't. I really enjoyed my time in the service. I loved being in the tank.

I got out in 1960, 20 years old. I still had three years of inactive reserves so I actually got out in 1963. Fred was the same way, except he got called back in because Vietnam was just starting up. Because he was in engineers, he was called to train people to blow up bridges. He didn't go to Vietnam but trained troops in the States to go to Vietnam. I probably would have been called but by then we had three children and they may have taken that into account.

When I got out of the service, I first worked for Firestone in Des Moines. I wasn't there very long because I hated it. I came back here and went to work for Merle Davenport at the Sinclair station. I worked for him for a year or two before he sold out to Red Smith, my father-in-law. I worked at the same station for him for awhile then started driving the DX tank wagon, delivering gas and fuel around the country. From there I went to Delavan in West Des Moines, was there about 2 1/2 years and they dissolved. When I left there I went to work for Lee Ruble north of town. He had the Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile garage. I worked for him for about five years, when Larry Wilson bought it. I worked for him about a year, and went to the Chevrolet garage for a short time. One day the DX rep came in and talked to me about buying the DX station where Persels had been. That sounded good and I was in there for eight years, doing U Haul rentals, snowplowing business, gas business and a lot of mechanic work. Finally the self-serve type quick-shops started showing up. The service station concept started going downhill so I got out of that.

I had a little shop of my own in the alley behind the businesses on the south side of the square. I took the U-Haul business there, did mechanic work, and got into some body work. That started getting to my health so I was advised to get out of that. I went to work at the NAPA (National Auto Parts Assocation) store. I was there for 12 years and went to Bob's Car Quest. I retired from there recently.

I became active in Am-Vets Post 34, three or four years ago. I am the 2nd Vice Commander and we now have a membership between 35 and 40. The Am-Vets was originally founed for the ones who were in the service but were not eligible for the American Legion, which is for veterans of WWI, WWII, and Vietnam. I was in the Reserves in the time period that qualifies for American Legion membership, and I wasn't in active duty when Vietnam was going on so I wasn't eligible. There were others like myself, and now we have veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. The ones being called up now to serve in those conflicts are mostly Guard units. We thought we needed another organization, and so we formed the Am-Vets. We like to consider ourselves as veterans helping veterans. Within the last few months, we bought a van to transport veterans to Veteran's Hospitals in Des Moines or Knoxville, wherever they need to go but are not able to get there themselves. This has been a good deal.

Our family was pretty well represented in the military. My dad had four brothers and four sisters and three of his brothers were in WWII. They have all died now. My sons were both in the service: Steve joined the Air Force, Scott joined the Army and he was in Germany. Neither of them were in combat.


My Uncles, WWII
Gerald McWilliams
Don McWilliams
Shorty McWillams 
My Cousins 
Jack Ellis
`66-'69 Vietnam 
Marvin Scadden 
Merlin Scadden 
Melvin Scadden 
Babe McNichols 
Curly McNichols
Don Klemme 
'66-'68 Vietnam
Bill Klemme
My Sons
Stephen McWilliams 
Air Force 
Scott McWilliams 
Con McDowell
'55-'56 Germany
His brother: Gary McDowell
John Smith
45-'46 Korea and Philippines







Return to main page for Clarke Veterans by Fern Underwood

Last Revised June 8, 2015