Who is Staff Sergeant Victor L. Olson?
By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The front pages of the Colfax Messenger during World War II are filled with news about the war and war efforts here at home.
The front pages contain letters that were written by men from Colfax serving in World War II.
There were articles about the activities of a group called the War Mothers.
There were articles about the sale of war bonds, and the quota for the sale of war bonds, and how much money was raised in Colfax from the sale of war bonds.
There were articles about those who had been drafted or who enlisted.
There were articles about the volunteers for the Red Cross.
There were lists of Red Cross volunteers and how many hours they had volunteered.
There were articles asking housewives to save their rancid kitchen fat for the war effort.
There were articles about the Running & Martin store and that the owners had arranged to have the names of every local person serving in World War II painted on the store window.
And among those articles on the front page were news items about those serving in World War II – who had been reported killed in action, who was home on leave, who was leaving for the war.
One of the soldiers from Colfax was Staff Sergeant Victor L. Olson, a decorated war veteran awarded three Silver Stars for bravery in combat who was eventually listed as Killed in Action and Missing in Action.
Steve Marris of Colfax and Mike Hanke of Chippewa Falls, two veterans themselves, are hoping to start an AMVETS post in Colfax and name the post after Victor L. Olson.
Staff Sergeant Olson was an extraordinary World War II veteran, Marris and Hanke told the village board when they attended the February 9 meeting.
To name the AMVETS post after Staff Sergeant Olson requires the permission of his family members, they said, noting that they are having difficulty locating any of his family.
Here is what the Colfax Messenger has been able to find out about Victor L. Olson.
Staff Sergeant Olson was a member of Company A, 128th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division, Red Arrow Infantry Division.
He was awarded Silver Stars for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity” in military actions against the enemy in New Guinea on December 5, 1942; on December 25, 1942; and on January 28, 1944, when he was listed as KIA and MIA.
Victor Olson was the son of Carl J. and Elizabeth Olson of Colfax.
Here is the description of the January 28, 1944, battle from the 32nd Division website (www.32nd-division.org):
A 50-man patrol lead by First Lieutenant George J. Hess, Edgerton, and Lieutenant James E. Barnett, Northport, Alabama, was bound for Cape Iris, a two-mile march northwest of the Mot River in New Guinea.
A pair of war-time dispatches from Robert J. Doyle, war correspondent from the Milwaukee Journal, filed from New Guinea on February 3 and February 4 of 1944 described the patrol’s activities:
“The patrol waded across the rushing river at about 0900 hours and set off on a route parallel to and about a half mile from the beach. After marching through the jungle for about a mile, the patrol turned 90 degrees and emerged onto the beach near the village of Teterei, New Guinea. They were attacked by a larger Japanese force almost immediately.
“The beach being the quickest and easiest route of egress, the patrol headed southeast along the coast in an attempt to get back to the Mot River. They were fired upon and returned fire almost the entire way. Several enemy machine guns (placed) in a coconut grove blocked the patrol’s continued advance along the beach, so they turned 180 degrees to head up the coast to the spot where they originally emerged from the jungle. Again they were fired upon and returned fire almost the entire way.
“Once back in the jungle, the patrol was divided into three parties in the hope it might simplify their return to the Mot River. One group was led by Lt. Barnett, another by Sgt. Aaron Meyers, from University City, Missouri, and the third by 1st Lt. Hess. The first two groups made it back to U.S. lines with little further difficulty, but 1st Lt. Hess’ group encountered some trouble. His group was evacuating the wounded and dead, their movement was slowed, and they received more fire from the pursuing Japanese. They made it back to the river but could not negotiate the swift current with the wounded and dead. The harassment by the Japanese continued.
“Upon his group’s return to the forward command post, Sgt. Meyers found Lt. Col. Gordon M. Clarkson, the battalion commander who had been forward all day to monitor the patrol, and informed him of 1st Lt. Hess’ predicament. Lt. Col. Clarkson and Sgt. Meyers led a hastily assembled group of volunteers back to the river to aid 1st Lt. Hess …
“Meanwhile, 1st Lt. Hess found a rope and attempted to carry it across the river to facilitate the evacuation of his 14 men. He was nearly swept away by the swift current; his men were able to pull him back with a hope. He made another attempt, this time he went upriver as far as the rope would extend before attempting to cross. As he was crossing the river and as the current was carrying him downstream, the rescue party had reached the opposite bank. Six of the men formed a human chain from the river bank as far into the river as they could reach; they were Lt. Col. Clarkson, Lt. Joseph J. Hartigan, S. Sgt. Victor L. Olson, Sgt. John F. Christie, Sgt. Thomas Reno Reed Jr., and Cpl. Arnold D. Mahon. Lt. Col. Clarkson was the anchorman on the river bank but the exact order of the other men is not known. The last man in the chain was just able to grab 1st Lt. Hess’ hand as the river carried him past …
“At that moment, a Japanese machine gun opened fire on the rescue party. S. Sgt. Olson, Co. A, 128th Inf., was KIA by the machine gun burst and has been MIA ever since; the other men, except Lt. Col. Clarkson, ducked under water to escape the fire.” (from: www.32nd-division.org/history/ww2/32ww2-6.html)
The article goes on to say that Victor L. Olson, from Colfax, was a private in Company A, 128th Inf., Wisconsin National Guard, at Menomonie, when the 32nd Division mobilized on October 15, 1940. He earned two Silver Stars for his actions at Buna, the first Silver Star for his actions on December 5, 1942, and the second Silver Star for his actions on Christmas Day, 1942. He earned the third Silver Start, bestowed posthumously, for his actions during the rescue attempt on January 28, 1944, near Teterei. He also earned the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. Staff Sergeant Olson is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery.
Here is a letter from Victor L. Olson published in the Colfax Messenger on April 29, 1943:
“Olson wrote from Australia to The Messenger, and the following is his letter received Tuesday under the April 15 date line:
“The Colfax Messenger
“I am getting the news regular and it’s a great help to hear how things are going in Colfax and all the things that happen. We have been getting our mail every day since we came back to Australia.
“We have got a lot of training to do now, so we don’t get much time off to write whenever we want to. They have been giving out furloughs, and I was lucky enough to be one of the first ones to go. I met a lot of good people, and they treated us like kings wherever we went. I saw a lot of country I won’t forget. I enjoyed every day from the day I left. We got seven days and two days travel time.
“When I got back to camp, they gave me another surprise. They said the order went through on my second Silver Star which I didn’t expect. So that makes an oak leaf cluster, and they didn’t give very many of them out in the Division. They will hold another formation and our three star general will award them to us. They really had a very nice review on the first award. They took a lot of pictures of it. Maybe you have seen them. They will hold another formation on the next award, too. There were a few from Dunn County. I wasn’t there when the order came down, but they will have them sent into the paper.
“They have a news reel of some of the things that happened on one day. It might come to Colfax some time in the future.
“They had a lot of pictures in the Life magazine and maybe you have seen them already. It’s too bad I couldn’t tell you some of the stories which I have heard, and I have seen much myself. I picked up a lot of souvenirs. I had five watches and 2500 yens of Jap money. The money in all was worth between seven and eight hundred dollars in our money before the war. I gave most of it to the men because they never had the chance to get it like I did. I got a bunch of Jap pictures, too. I had a chance to get a Jap flag but I passed it up, which I feel sorry for now. I found pictures that belonged to one of our guys and some from another guy in the — infantry. I had to turn in some of the things I would have liked to have had.
“Well, I have to close. Give all the people my regards.
Two years before Victor L. Olson was killed in World War II, his mother, Elizabeth Olson, died from polio on February 2, 1942.
Her obituary was published in the Colfax Messenger on February 5, 1942.
Elizabeth Olson is buried at the Holden Lutheran Church cemetery on county Highway M north of Colfax.
Elizabeth Olson was the daughter of Nels Olson and Mary Nerison, and she was born in Sand Creek on May 12, 1893. In August of 1908 she was united in marriage to Carl J. Olson.
Elizabeth and Carl had five sons and four daughters: Harold, Victor, Vernon, Clifford and Duane; and Gladys (Mrs. H.R. Thom of Mississippi); Loretta (Mrs. W.D. Conradi of St. Paul); Lorraine (Menomonie) and Betty (at home).
Elizabeth Olson, at the time of her death, also had five surviving brothers and one sister: Oscar, Melvin, Henry, Nordin and Sam Olson, all of Colfax; and Mary (Mrs. Oscar Israelson of Chicago) and four grandchildren.
If you know of any of the relatives of any of the people included in this story, please contact LeAnn at the Colfax Messenger: (715) 962-3535 or call LeAnn on her cell phone or send her a text message: (715) 308-6336