Staff Sergeant Victor L. Olson: 3 Silver stars, bronze star, purple heart to be presented at CHS Veterans Day program
By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — It has been 71 years since Staff Sergeant Victor L. Olson of Colfax was listed as Killed in Action (KIA) and Missing in Action (MIA) in World War II.
And now, all these years later, medals that Staff Sergeant Olson earned for his bravery and devotion to the service of our country will be presented to his first cousin, Phyllis Peterson, at a Veterans Day program at Colfax High School November 11.
The medals include three Silver Stars for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in connection with military actions in New Guinea on December 5, 1942, December 25, 1942, and January 28, 1944. In addition to the Silver Stars, a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, WWII Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal will be presented to Phyllis Peterson.
The story of the Veterans Day presentation of medals to Victor Olson’s first cousin began back in February when Steve Marris and Mike Hanke spoke to the Colfax Village Board.
Hanke is a member of the council for the AMVETS chapter in Chippewa Falls, and Marris, a Colfax resident, is a member of the Menomonie AMVETS post.
Hanke and Marris told the village board they want to start an AMVETS post in Colfax and were proposing to call it the AMVETS Post No. 1864, after the year Colfax was founded, and that they would also like to name the post after a decorated World War II veteran from Colfax, Victor L. Olson, so that the chapter would be named the Victor L. Olson AMVETS Post No. 1864.
Since Victor Olson died in World War II, in order to name the AMVETS post after him, Victor’s family needed to give their permission, Hanke and Marris said.
Unfortunately, Hanke and Marris had been unable to find any of Victor Olson’s relatives.
Research through the archives of the Colfax Messenger revealed several letters from Victor Olson published in the Colfax Messenger in 1943 and 1944. The Messenger archives also contain the obituary of Victor’s mother published in 1942.
An article published in the Colfax Messenger in February of this year asked anyone with information about the relatives of Victor Olson to call the Messenger office.
The next day after the article was published, Phyllis Peterson called the Messenger to say she was Victor’s first cousin.
The Colfax Messenger sent an e-mail to Hanke and left a voicemail message for Marris saying that a first cousin of Victor Olson’s had been located and that she lived right here in Colfax.
After that, Marris made it his mission to find out more about Victor Olson and to find out the status of his medals from the United States Army.
According to a 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 wartime 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 rope. He made another attempt, and 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 Star, 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.
A letter from Victor L. Olson was published in the Colfax Messenger on April 29, 1943:
“Dear Sir: 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, whose maiden name was an Olson, married Carl J. Olson.
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).
The Veterans Day program at Colfax High School on Wednesday, November 11, will begin at 10 a.m. in the Colfax High School gymnasium.
All veterans and members of the public are invited.
The theme for this year’s program is “Honoring All Who Served: In Times of War, In Times of Peace.”
The UW-Stout ROTC Color Guard will present the colors. Elementary students will sing patriotic songs and share veteran-themed readings. The middle school and high school bands and choir also will perform.
Representatives of the Wisconsin Army National Guard, 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT) 128th Infantry will present the Silver Stars, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, WWII Service Medal and National Defense Service Medal to Phyllis Peterson.
Cookies and coffee will be available for veterans and visitors after the program.
The Veterans Day program will be live-streamed through the Colfax school district’s website — www.colfax.k12.wi.us