NewsMission Service


Red Oak's sacrifice in WWII remembered 80 years later: More sons lost per capita than any town in the U.S.

Posted at 6:58 PM, Mar 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-08 15:18:38-05

RED OAK, Iowa (KMTV) — Red Oak, Iowa resident Lynn Adams has 91 years of stories to tell.

“Everything has an interesting story. You got time to hear it?” he chuckled.

Lynn has been able to tell those stories to visitors at the Restored Burlington Northern Depot.

“Amtrak always goes by twice a day, but it’s three hours late each time.”

Red Oak's train depot, originally built in 1903, hasn’t been operating as one for quite some time.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Lynn, his late wife and a group of volunteers who fought to keep the historic depot, it wouldn’t be there. Nor would it be in the condition it is in.

“The state recognized us as an outstanding restoration,” he said with pride.

Part of that restoration has been turning it into a World War II Museum.

When it comes to military service, Red Oak has always answered the call. Residents of the southwest Iowa community have fought for their country in every engagement since the Civil War.

Lynn served in the Korean War and grew up during WWII.

“Pearl Harbor is ten days before my tenth birthday, so I remember,” he said.

He remembers what it was like in the community. Constant scrap drives for guns and weapons as well as mandatory blackouts every night over the fear of a German air raid.

His father was one of the town’s air raid wardens.

“I remember going around and one house was all lit up. We pounded on the door, nothing happened,” he recalls. “Then, we saw some old man, about my age now, running naked through the house! He couldn’t get to the light switch.”

Despite their worries, they were all safe back home. However, their family members serving in the 168th Regiment, known as Iowa's finest, fighting in North Africa in February of 1943 were not.

“Part way up on the way to Tunisia, our boys, they were divided. Some under French command, some under British command, some under ours,” Lynn explains. “So, things were confusing. They didn’t have a lot of training; they didn’t have a lot of equipment.”

It resulted in the regiment being overwhelmed and ambushed.

Villisca, Iowa’s Company F, led by Commander Robert Moore was able to find a way out during the night.

Lynn recited to me what Moore had told his men and him once he returned to Villisca after the war.

“When it gets dark, lay down your rifles, we’re going to get in a long column. We will march right down to the Germans and they’ll think we’re prisoners of war,” he said. ”He took 480 men and saved their lives.”

Red Oak’s Company M wasn’t as fortunate.

red oak pic 2.jpeg

“Most of our guys spent the rest of their time in prisoner-at-war camps.”

In March, the news that Red Oak natives were missing in action began to arrive.

“They started to say we got some telegrams, some news about your boys. So, people started gathering and waiting for the telegrams to come in,” Lynn remembers.

“I knew a boy who delivered the telegrams. He says they would see him coming, pull the shades, wouldn’t go to the door, because they knew it was going to be bad news.”

The most tragic day was March 6.

More than 100 telegrams arrived. One woman’s nightmare became reality.

“Two sons and a son-in-law, and all three telegrams came on the same day,” Lynn recalls.

Red Oak lost more of its sons, per capita, than any other community in the United States during the war.

The toll caught the entire country’s attention and the government wanted to honor the town’s sacrifice.

“They said we should do something nice for this little town,” Lynn said. “So, we’re going to name a ship ‘The Red Oak Victory.’”

The Red Oak Victory was commissioned in 1944 as a US Navy Vessel. Serving as an auxiliary cargo ship for nearly 25 years.

SS Red Oak pic 4.jpeg

The ship now resides as a museum in Richmond, California, the home of the Kaiser Shipyard. Where it and 746 other ships were built during WWII.

“The only ship made in Kaiser Shipyard that’s still afloat is the Red Oak Victory,” Lynn said.

The sacrifices made by those from this “little town” will never be forgotten.

SS Red Oak NPS.jpeg

Remembered every day at the depot and Red Oak’s Historic Fountain Square Park, and by its residents.

“Oh, yeah. It’s just our history."

To learn more about the Restored Burlington Northern Depot and World War II Museum, and when it is open, click here.

If there is a person or topic you think we should cover or highlight for Mission Service, tell us.

Send an email to: