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Brigade commander presents WWII medals to the family of Victor L. Olson

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  It’s not often a brigade commander comes to Colfax to present medals earned in combat.

Especially when the combat occurred more than 70 years ago in World War II.

Colonel Mike Rand, commander of the 32nd Brigade Infantry Brigade Combat Team Wisconsin Army National Guard, and Lieutenant Colonel David Sands, Executive Officer, also of the 32nd Brigade Infantry Brigade Combat Team Wisconsin Army National Guard, took center stage at the Colfax school district’s Veterans Day program November 11 to present three Silver Stars, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart earned by Staff Sergeant Victor Olson to Victor’s first cousin, Phyllis Peterson.

Staff Sergeant Olson, who was from Colfax, died in New Guinea in January of 1944 while attempting a daring river rescue. He was listed as Missing in Action and Killed in Action.

His body was never recovered.

Phyllis Peterson is Victor Olson’s closest living relative in Colfax. And while it is known that Victor Olson has nieces and nephews, none of them could be located.

“We are here today in remembrance of the valor, honor and sacrifice of Staff Sergeant Victor Olson. Sgt. Olson joined Company A, First Battalion 128th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd Division in September of 1941. The unit he joined, the 32nd Infantry Division or the Red Arrow Division, had already established a reputation of valor and tenacity during World War I. The Red Arrows were made up mostly of soldiers in the National Guard from Michigan and Wisconsin. The state mascots are the wolverine and the badger. And the Red Arrow soldiers lived up to these animals’ reputations for being ferocious and tenacious,” Col. Rand said.

“The 32nd was the only unit assigned to the famous Tenth French Army and fought alongside the French Foreign Legion. It was during this time that the division received its ‘nom de guerre’ or war name, as Terribles, The Terrible One, which was given to them by the commanding general of the Tenth Army who witnessed them in combat … during the first World War, the Red Arrow division defeated 23 German divisions to include the infamous Prussian Guard and the 28th Division of the German Army known as the Kaiser’s Own. They were also the first allied unit to break the Hindenburg line and acquired the Red Arrow unit patch we still wear today,” he said.

“Staff Sergeant Victor Olson joined this famous unit that had a reputation for bravery. It was this reputation that caused General McArthur to ask the Red Arrow soldiers to open the Pacific Theater during World War II. At that time, the 32nd was preparing to join the fight in Europe but was immediately rerouted through the Pacific. After a very brief train-up in Australia, the division went into action against the Japanese in the jungles of New Guinea,” Col. Rand said.

“Staff Sergeant Victor Olson repeatedly performed extreme acts of heroism during that campaign until his final act, as described by Sergeant Selmer Larson, and I quote, ‘while assisting other members of his patrol to withdraw across a swift mountain stream after having encountered superior enemy forces on the opposite bank. Though he himself could have reached safety he remained in the river to form a human chain with several others, enabling patrol members to grasp the hand of the last man and thus be pulled ashore. While so engaged the group which constituted the chain was under intense enemy fire from the opposite bank, making its task an extremely hazardous one.’ Staff Sergeant Olson was struck by enemy fire and made the ultimate sacrifice for his fellow soldiers, his state and his nation. Staff Sergeant Victor Olson during his time in the Red Arrow Division was awarded three Silver Stars, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his valor, courage and sacrifice. I’d like to thank the AmVets Post 1864 for preparing the shadow box, and it is a great honor to present this to Staff Sergeant Victor Olson’s cousin, Phyllis Peterson,” Col. Rand said.

Fitting tribute

The Silver Stars were awarded for action on December 2, 1942; December 25, 1942, and January 28, 1944.

“I think it was a very fitting tribute to take place here on Veterans Day and the fact that this all came together over the course of about a six-month period in resurrecting some records and articles and information from over 70 years ago is quite a feat,” said Bill Yingst, school superintendent.

“Why we are here is to recognize our veterans who have faithfully served our country. Staff Sergeant Victor L. Olson is a shining example of the people of Colfax and the commitment and loyalty and resolve to defend our country, our flag and our nation,” he said.

Area veteran Steve Marris of Colfax, along with veteran Ed Flint, brought it to Yingst’s attention that AmVets is working on starting a post in Colfax, that they wanted to name the post after Staff Sergeant Olson and that certain medals Olson earned in World War II had never been awarded.

Marris conducted much of the legwork associated with researching Victor Olson’s Army records and coordinating the presentation of the medals.

Naming an AmVets post after a veteran requires permission from a close living relative if the veteran is deceased.

Phyllis Peterson has given permission for the AmVets Post 1864 to be named for Staff Sergeant Victor Olson.

The 32nd Division’s website notes that at least fifteen 32nd Division soldiers were decorated with the Oak Leaf Cluster (OLC) to the Silver Star (signifying a second Silver Star) during WWII and that Staff Sergeant Victor L. Olson earned three Silver Stars (but possibly four or five) while he was assigned to the 32nd Division.

According to the 32nd Division’s website, “The Silver Star is our nation’s third highest decoration for heroism; it ranks behind the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor. It is the fifth highest overall in the order of precedence of decorations, but the  Defense Distinguished Service Medal and Distinguished Service Medal are awarded for meritorious service, while the Silver Star is awarded for gallantry or valor.”