The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Rimer (Wendell D.) Papers
Collection Number: M 394
Volume: .9 cubic feet
Mr. Wendell D. Rimer was born on August 14, 1918 in Mishawaka, Indiana. He grew up on a farm in the small town of Rimer, Ohio (named for his family) near Lima. The town of Rimer is still there today. His father, Oscar H. Rimer, lost everything during the Depression. The family had to move to his grandfather’s farm, where three families lived on his grandfather’s $80-a-month Civil War pension.
Rimer graduated valedictorian of his high school in 1935. He attended business college in Lima, which cost $25 a month. His father, who was a school bus driver by this time, gave him his total monthly income of $25 so he could attend school, which Rimer did for 14 months. He learned typing, shorthand at 120 words per minute, bookkeeping, and accounting.
In August 1940 the army was recruiting men with office skills, and a recruiter convinced Rimer to enlist. He went by bus and trolley to Fort Hayes in Columbus, Ohio, where he was assigned to office work immediately under the supervision of a General Hodges.
In October 1940 the first peacetime draft began in the United States. General Courtney B. Hodges requested volunteers for V Corps to train the National Guard in Louisiana. Rimer signed on and was promoted to staff sergeant. He drove his 1937 Ford to Alexandria, Louisiana. He was stationed at Fort Beauregard, where headquarters for some of the activities and units at Fort Polk and Camp Shelby were located. Units of the Ohio National Guard were stationed at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. At the end of World War II Rimer had been promoted to Master Sergeant with seven service stripes on his sleeve.
While stationed in Alexandria, Rimer met his wife, Faye Lott from Petal, Mississippi. They met in Sunday school class and were married after only six months on December 13, 1941. They got a small apartment, but unfortunately they were only in it for two nights before Rimer was sent to Northern Ireland. Wendell and Faye are the parents of two children. Their son, Dean, was born while Rimer was in Europe. Their daughter, Melva, was born after the war was over.
In December 1942, the U.S. Army Claims Commission was established in four sections of Britain: Chester, Edinburgh, Manchester, and London. Rimer was sent to Chester and he “enjoyed every minute” of his stay there. However, after the Normandy Invasion, the amount of work the Claims Commission had was considerably less. The four sections were consolidated into one in London and Rimer was made Chief Clerk.
In November 1944 Rimer was declared “unassigned,” and was then moved to France. While others were being handed rifles and being sent to the front, Rimer got by on his office skills. He said that his office skills “got him through World War II.” He was reclassified “Key Type Personnel” or K.T.P. and shortly after sent to Paris to work for the War Crimes Investigating Commission.
According to Rimer, the team was self-sufficient and mobile. The team consisted of Major Fulton C. Vowell, Captain Robert G. McCarty, an Army pathologist—Captain Herman Bolker—who performed the autopsies, one French interpreter, one German interpreter, Johnny Gmeineweisser who was also a cook and “good buddy” to Rimer, two drivers, a Jewish-American warrant officer, David Panitz, and other enlisted men. It was the team’s job to investigate burial sites, slave labor camps, and POW camps in Germany.
As secretary on the War Crimes Investigating Team, it was Rimer’s job to accompany team pathologist Bolker and take notes. Rimer would transcribe Bolker’s dictations while Bolker conducted autopsies. Rimer also took witness depositions.
The team investigated sites of possible war crimes in Hadamar, Augsburg, Nordhausen, and Berga-am-Elster, Germany. Berga-am-Elster was the site of a prisoner-of-war camp that housed U.S. prisoners forced to dig a bomb factory site in the side of a mountain. The investigating team also arrived at one slave labor camp near Nordhausen shortly after SS troops had barricaded the prisoners inside the camp’s barracks and set fire to the buildings.
After he returned from Augsburg, Rimer was sent home. The trip home included stops in Casablanca and Miami and included a ride on a cattle train that Rimer called “the longest ride of my life.” He was discharged at Camp Shelby, where he met his three-year-old son for the first time.
After the war Rimer returned to Petal, Mississippi. He worked for Gulf Oil and the Merchants Company. He retired in 1982. Faye Rimer worked in the University of Southern Mississippi Post Office until she retired. Both of their children graduated from William Carey College in Hattiesburg—Dean in 1965 and Melva in 1970. Melva also earned her Masters Degree at Mississippi College in 1980.
Other Finding Aids:
The Wendell D. Rimer papers are an engrossing collection of materials that chronicle Rimer’s life from 1940 when he was stationed at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana to August of 1945, shortly before he returned home from Europe. Over half of the collection consists of correspondence and the remainder consists of photos, postcards, and service medals. The collection has been divided into two series.
Series I: Wendell Rimer’s Service in Louisiana (1940-1941), contains materials relating to Wendell Rimer’s service prior to being sent to Northern Ireland after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The series includes Rimer’s correspondence to his family in Ohio and photographs taken near Alexandria, Louisiana.
The photographs are mostly of the camp, the enlisted men, and inductees. There are also photographs of tanks. In Rimer’s correspondence, he writes about friends in his unit as well as the many trips he took off the base. Through these letters the reader also finds Rimer’s growing interest in his future wife, Faye. The letters are happy ones. Rimer’s time spent in Louisiana seemed to be a peaceful, fun time for him.
Series II: Wendell Rimer’s Service in Europe (1942-1945), contains the bulk of the collection of correspondence from Rimer to his family in Ohio. Rimer’s letters to his family show much enthusiasm over receiving letters and gifts from family and friends. His humor comes through as he often writes jokes or teases his family members. His love for his wife is ever-apparent. She is often the most written about topic in his letters. As the correspondence progresses, Rimer shows a growing desire to return home to his family. The letters do not talk a lot about the war. He often wrote about where he had been traveling on leave, whom he had visited, and how much he missed his family. The letters went through a censor and any sensitive information was blacked out.
Series II also contains a number of photographs documenting Rimer’s time in Europe, including group pictures taken of the men with whom he served, and pictures of the homes and cities he visited. Many of the pictures are of disturbing images, which portray Captain Bolker performing autopsies on the dead found at the burial sites, slave labor camps, and prisoner-of-war camps investigated by the War Crimes Investigating Team. For example, there are a series of photographs that document the situation at a concentration camp near Nordhausen, Germany. The victims in the photographs died after having been burned alive in buildings that been barricaded by SS guards. One photograph in this series depicts the only Italian soldier that survived the camp.
In addition, Series II contains picture postcards that Rimer collected as well as his service medals. Rimer also donated a German children’s book, Mein Tierbilderbuch. It was removed from this collection and transferred to the de Grummond Collection.