Mid-Missouri native helped save wounded friend in WWI

Reuben Templeton grew up on a farm near Olean, Missouri, one of eleven children born to Samuel and Mary Templeton. He later moved to Saline County, where he was drafted in World War I and served in combat overseas. (Courtesy of Allen Templeton)

Reuben Stanley Templeton was the grandson of brave pioneer families who had emigrated from Kentucky to Missouri. As he came of age, he revealed the same bold spirit that defined his ancestors when, despite threats to his own safety in World War I, left the marginal safety of his fighting position to aid a wounded friend.

Born Oct. 5, 1891, Reuben Templeton was one of 11 children born to Samuel Templeton and Mary Enloe. Raised on a farm near Olean, he attended a local one-room school with many of his siblings and, as he grew older, worked for several farmers in the area.

"Reuben Templeton went to Saline County (on) Saturday to work for George Hankins," printed the Miller County Autogram-Sentinel on Feb. 27, 1913. "Charley Templeton (Reuben's older brother) and Elbert Hankins of Saline County were here last week to purchase horses for Geo. L. Hankins, who has recently moved to that county and rented a 400-acre farm," the newspaper added.

The 25-year-old Reuben Templeton complied with the mandate of the Selective Service Act, registering for the military draft on June 5, 1917, at his local precinct in Saline County. At the time, he was employed as a farm laborer by John J. Kennedy.

Three months later, on Sept. 21, 1917, he was inducted into the military in Marshall and assigned to Company K, 356th Infantry Regiment -- a component of the U.S. Army's 89th Infantry Division. Entering the service with him was Charley Olinger of Marshall, a friend with whom he served throughout the war.

"The History of the 89th Infantry Division" explains that the 356th Infantry Regiment was "... filled with men from northwest Missouri." The division began their combat preparatory training at Camp Funston, a military site located in present-day Fort Riley, Kansas.

"Of course, the main pursuit of the division was military training, to which everything else was necessarily subordinate," the division history explained. "It was realized that the Great War had introduced new methods which no one in America was familiar except by report."

The book continued, "The war of position or trench warfare developed as a result of the improvement in fire power through the use of rapid-fire weapons, particularly the machine gun."

Templeton and Olinger completed the rigorous training cycle at Camp Funston and, on April 1, 1918, were transferred to Company B, 138th Infantry Regiment -- a regiment created through the consolidation of two Missouri National Guard regiments. On May 3, 1918, they departed New York Harbor aboard the transport SS Leicestershire.

According to the History of the Missouri National Guard printed in November 1934, the regiment docked at Liverpool (England) on May 16 (1918), and soon moved to Le Havre, France.

"The regiment was moved almost immediately after arriving in France to Eu Flanders, where it saw service with the British," the National Guard historical explained. "The middle of June, the regiment started the uphill hike to Boussat."

Templeton and the soldiers of the regiment soon experienced trench warfare in the Vosges Mountains.

After spending two months in the trenches, the next major milestone for Templeton and Olinger came with the advent of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Now under the 35th Division, their regiment received instructions in mid-September 1918 to relieve the 73rd French Division in the woods near Beauchamp.

"The real offensive in the Argonne started on Sept. 26, and was the bitterest battle of America's participation in the war," the National Guard historical explained. "The Germans resorted largely to machine guns and had these strongly fortified nests located throughout this entire area."

It was on Sept. 27, that Templeton and his friend, Olinger, were in dugouts across the road from one another and received orders to move forward against enemy forces. Enemy guns began firing shells toward their positions, with one bursting nearby.

"As soon as the dirt and smoke cleared Reuben called over to Charlie," reported the Weekly Democrat-News on Nov. 20, 1930. "He and another buddy went over and found Charley lying face down with a gaping wound in his back. Others lay dead. The shrapnel had done its duty."

Exposing themselves to enemy shelling, Templeton and his fellow soldier carried Olinger to a safer area and provided immediate first aid. When he was evacuated for further treatment, Templeton did not believe his friend would survive the wounds.

The following day, Templeton was himself wounded by shrapnel and remained in a hospital for nearly 100 days. Returning to his company on Dec. 31, 1918, he soon received a letter from Olinger.

"After the doctor had given him all the aid possible while he lay on the board ... Charley was taken to a field hospital ... and then sent to Bordeaux, France," reported the Daily Democrat-News on March 6, 1940.

"After recuperating sufficiently for the ocean trip, (Olinger) was returned to his home near Slater -- a return almost from the grave."

Following his discharge in the spring of 1919, Templeton returned to Saline County, later marrying Margaret Smith in October 1927. He was employed at the Standard Oil Station in Marshall and continued his close friendship with Olinger, who later became a deputy sheriff for the county.

The 48-year-old Templeton died unexpectedly Oct. 1, 1941, and was interred in Ridge Park Cemetery in Marshall, leaving behind no children to perpetuate his legacy.

"In those days, we did not trust anyone who had not been in the war," wrote Ernest Hemingway in the "A Moveable Feast," a memoir about his own life after World War I.

Despite being but a moment from Templeton's past, his friendship with Olinger and other local veterans of the war remained a cherished part of his existence in later years. It was a camaraderie, he demonstrated, that was forged under combat and could not be diminished by the passing of time.

Jeremy P. Ämick is the author of "Hidden History of Cole County."