Marion H. Oltman, 98, of Pekin — a 20th century survivor of the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression and a World War II prison camp, passed into history peacefully Saturday evening, Jan. 9, 2016 at Apostolic Christian Skylines Home in Peoria.
Marion was born Jan. 4, 1918, at his grandparents’ house in Secor, Ill., to Halley R. and Blanche E. Gish Oltman. His parents soon moved to Mitchell, S.D., where Marion, the eldest of nine children, helped his father work the family farm. His fondest childhood memories were of tending livestock, attending a one-room school house, and enjoying his mother’s home-baked pies. As a teen, he loved to rope and ride horses, which gained him the high school nickname of “Cowboy.” A lifelong storyteller, Marion entertained friends and strangers alike with his tales of Depression-era life on the plains: surviving tornados, dust storms and grasshoppers, seeing the Harlem Globetrotters play at the Corn Palace, and one memorable day when he accidentally surprised a local bootlegger hiding a stash of moonshine on a remote corner of the farm!
In the late 1930s, his family returned to Illinois to farm near Mackinaw, and on April 9, 1941, Marion was inducted into the United States Army, serving as a private first class in the famed 5th “Red Diamond” Infantry Division. He was stationed first in Iceland in 1942, then in Northern Ireland and Britain in 1943-44, as the allies ramped up for the invasion of Europe. His 5th Division landed in France a month after D-Day and was immediately thrown into heavy combat. Leading a machine-gun team, Marion fought across southern France with Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army before being taken prisoner by the Germans in September 1944 and confined in a prison camp at Moosburg, near Munich. Gen. Patton liberated the camp on April 29, 1945 and Marion mustered out of the army five months later. Describing that ordeal, he often said, “I always knew God had his hand on my shoulder.”
After the war, Marion returned to the family farm and also held a number of other jobs, including cheese maker, school bus driver, truck driver and shade-tree mechanic. He loved to dance and go roller skating, first with his sisters and then with a pretty girl he met in Pekin, Helen Lucille Van Dyke. Helen and Marion were married Sep. 14, 1947, in Danvers and later moved to Pekin, where they raised two children.
Marion worked at Keystone Steel and Wire Company in Bartonville for 30 years, starting as a union laborer and retiring in 1982 as Chief Inspector of the steel works. He continued working for many years at Illinois Machine and Tool in North Pekin, before physical ailments forced him to retire for good at the youthful age of 84.
At age 93, he fulfilled a lifelong goal by traveling to Lancaster County, Pa., to find a monument to his sixth great-grandfather, Matthias Gish, who founded his family’s line there in 1733.
Page 2 of 2 – Marion enjoyed a lifetime of hard work and good times spent with his family and many friends, old and new. He was a Boy Scout leader, an avid fisherman, and an expert pinochle player. He loved family reunions, homemade pot roast, German sauerkraut, and sharing a cold Miller Lite with a friend, while watching the geese on the lake in front of his house.
Like many World War II veterans, Marion was deeply proud of his military service and never missed a 4th of July, Memorial Day or Veterans’ Day commemoration. He was a founding member, longtime officer and Commander of the Heart of Illinois Chapter of American Ex-Prisoners of War (AX-POW), and also served a term as Illinois Vice-Commander of that group. For decades, he was an active member of Pekin’s William Schafer American Legion Post 44, and a Life-Member of the Roy L. King Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1232. His last proud achievement was participating in the Greater Peoria Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. on Sept. 29, 2015, where he visited the World War II Memorial and other military monuments, just three months before his death.
Marion Oltman was preceded in death by his wife, Helen Jan. 25, 2003. He was also preceded in death by his parents; one brother, Donald Oltman of Normal; and five sisters, Ruth Seggerman of Decatur, Virginia Davis of Pekin, Shirley Pangle of Jackson, Mich., Dorothy Apel and Beverly Oltman, both of Normal.
Surviving are one daughter, Diane (Donald “Rusty”) Oltman Ayers of Huntley, Ill.; one son, David (Debbie) Oltman of Topeka; two grandchildren, Ashley Oltman and Shawna Oltman; and one great-grandchild, Nolan Seipp. He is also survived by one brother, Delton Oltman of Bloomington; one sister, Norma June Wollenschlager of Normal; and several much-loved cousins, nieces and nephews.
A funeral service will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, at Preston-Hanley Funeral Homes & Crematory in Pekin.
Visitation will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday at the funeral home.
Burial will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday at Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield, where military rites will be accorded by the United States Army and Inter Veterans Burial Detail of Sangamon County.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Greater Peoria Honor Flight, Post Office Box 5072, Peoria, IL 61601-5072 or www.greaterpeoriahonorflight.org.
To offer condolences online, visit www.preston-hanley.com.