Thursday, October 27, 2011

TFH 10/27: Captain Arlo L. Olson, USA

Operation Avalanche was the code name for the Allied invasion of mainland Italy on September 3, 1943. By early October, southern Italy was in American and British hands, but the Allies' advance northward to Naples and Rome ran into fierce Nazi German resistance along prepared defensive lines and natural obstacles such as the Volturno River.

The 15th Infantry Regiment fought in Italy as part of the 3rd Infantry Division. This regiment's motto is "Can Do". For two weeks in October 1943, one young officer of the regiment simply did. That man was Arlo L. Olson.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II:


Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army, 15th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division. Place and date: Crossing of the Volturno River, Italy, 13 October 1943. Entered service at: Toronto, S. Dak. Birth: Greenville, Iowa. G.O. No.: 71, 31 August 1944. Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. On 13 October 1943, when the drive across the Volturno River began, Capt. Olson and his company spearheaded the advance of the regiment through 30 miles of mountainous enemy territory in 13 days. Placing himself at the head of his men, Capt. Olson waded into the chest-deep water of the raging Volturno River and despite pointblank machine-gun fire aimed directly at him made his way to the opposite bank and threw 2 hand grenades into the gun position, killing the crew. When an enemy machinegun 150 yards distant opened fire on his company, Capt. Olson advanced upon the position in a slow, deliberate walk. Although 5 German soldiers threw handgrenades at him from a range of 5 yards, Capt. Olson dispatched them all, picked up a machine pistol and continued toward the enemy. Advancing to within 15 yards of the position he shot it out with the foe, killing 9 and seizing the post. Throughout the next 13 days Capt. Olson led combat patrols, acted as company No. 1 scout and maintained unbroken contact with the enemy. On 27 October 1943, Capt. Olson conducted a platoon in attack on a strongpoint, crawling to within 25 yards of the enemy and then charging the position. Despite continuous machinegun fire which barely missed him, Capt. Olson made his way to the gun and killed the crew with his pistol. When the men saw their leader make this desperate attack they followed him and overran the position. Continuing the advance, Capt. Olson led his company to the next objective at the summit of Monte San Nicola. Although the company to his right was forced to take cover from the furious automatic and small arms fire, which was directed upon him and his men with equal intensity, Capt. Olson waved his company into a skirmish line and despite the fire of a machinegun which singled him out as its sole target led the assault which drove the enemy away. While making a reconnaissance for defensive positions, Capt. Olson was fatally wounded. Ignoring his severe pain, this intrepid officer completed his reconnaissance, Supervised the location of his men in the best defense positions, refused medical aid until all of his men had been cared for, and died as he was being carried down the mountain. 

Captain Olson succumbed to his wounds on October 28, 1943. He rests today in Fort Snelling National Cemetery, Minneapolis, MN.

All of our Nation's heroes embody the motto of the 15th Infantry: Can Do. Today, the 3rd Infantry Division continues to serve our nation. Two battalions of the 15th Infantry still serve with the division; 1st/15th Infantry with the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team and 3rd/15th Infantry with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team.

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