Captain Ollie Wikle, A Vintage Vignette

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Captain Ollie Wikle
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
October 19, 2008

Madison native Alice Brewer Hilson, mother of Brian Hilson, President and CEO of the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, has an old newspaper clipping that tells of Ollie Wikle’s exploits in World War 2 as follows:

“JESSE O. WIKLE IN AFRICA FLIGHT – Madison Boy is Pilot of ‘Flaming Mayme’, Account of AP Reveals. Lieutenant Jesse O. Wikle, Jr., son of Dr. and Mrs. J. O. Wikle of Madison, is the first Madison County boy to have the distinction of participating in the battle for Tunisia. He has been in foreign service approximately six months, most of it in England. Lieutenant Wikle received his B.A. degree from the University of Alabama in January 1941 and continued his military training at Brooks and Kelly fields in Texas and at McDill field, Tampa, Florida. He was 22 {on} November 2 and is the only child of Dr. and Mrs. Wikle”.

“The pilot of the Flying Fortress “Flaming Mayme”, Lieutenant Wikle and his crew have been credited with destroying two Nazi planes over France before they got to the Mediterranean area, and two over Tunis. According to an Associated Press report of the heaviest raid on the German-held airdrome at Tunis, at least nine enemy planes were destroyed, as well as severe damage done to hangars and warehouses.”

“The tail-gunner of the ‘Flaming Mayme’, Sgt. John Burge, 22, Jefferson, N.Y., opened fire on one of the latest type Messerschmitt 109-G’s and fired steadily until the Nazi was within 100 yards, before it finally went down in flames. Soon afterward, another Messerschmitt attacked from the rear, and both Burge and the radioman-gunner, Sgt. S. J. Hansen, 22, of Ben Lomond, Cal., opened fire and watched their attacker dive for the ground amid flames. Lt. Wikle and his co-pilot, Lt. J. A. Balaban, 28, of Tuttle, N. D., first knew of these engagements when they began to feel the vibration of their guns and heard over the headphones the arguments the gunners as to who had hit the Germans.”

The AP article must have been written in early 1943 or December of 1942, since the 1930 census shows that Ollie was born in 1920. Some of the older lifetime residents of Madison have related that Ollie Wikle named his Boeing-built B-17 bomber “Flaming Mayme” after his Madison sweetheart, Mayme Louise Dublin, daughter of Clyde H. Dublin for whom Madison’s central city park is named. She had flaming red hair, thereby giving rise to the aircraft’s name and pin-up style nose art depicting her likeness. However, they were not destined to wed, as Ollie and the Flaming Mayme went down in flames over Tunisia, soon after the Associated Press article was written.

The 1944 issue of the Madison High School yearbook was dedicated the memories of former students Captain Ollie Wikle (mistakenly shown as “Wilkie”) Jr., Sergeant Harry Landers, and Sergeant Murphy Bates. Several historical articles refer to Ollie as a Captain, so apparently he attained that rank before his death. Another former Madison High student, Thomas Stewart from the Class of 1944, lost his life in the sinking of the cruiser USS Indianapolis on July 30, 1945 at 14 minutes after midnight. The ship was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine and sank within 12 minutes. There were 1196 sailors and marines on board, and about 900 initially survived the sinking. However, only 300 remained alive when the survivors were discovered by accident on August 4. The Indianapolis had just delivered (on July 26) critical parts for America’s first atomic bomb, “Little Boy,” that accelerated the end of the war with Japan when it was dropped on Hiroshima. Of the many war heroes from Madison, the Veterans’ Park at the junction of Church Street with Front Street is named after Captain Jesse Ollie Wikle, but it commemorates all of the war dead of the town.

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