Sunday, October 13, 2013

TFH 10/13-28: Captain Arlo L. Olson, USA

Arlo L. Olson was born on April 20, 1918 in Greenville, Iowa. When he was ten years old, he and his family relocated to Toronto, South Dakota. Olson attended the University of South Dakota from 1936 to 1940. After graduation, he received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army via Reserve Officers' Training Corps and became an infantry officer, with his service beginning on June 28, 1941.

He was promoted to First Lieutenant on February 1, 1942 and then Captain on December 1, 1942. On Christmas 1942, he married Miss Myra Bordeaux in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He left his new wife just a few months later to go to war with the 3rd Infantry Division's 15th Infantry Regiment.

On October 12, 1943, Allied forces on mainland Italy began their attack across the Volturno River, a natural barrier at which the Nazi Germans opted to make their first defensive stand against the Americans and British. The next day, the 15th Infantry was thrown into the fight and for the next fifteen days slammed the enemy back through thirty miles of rough terrain. During each of those fifteen days, Arlo Olson stayed at the front of his soldiers' advance and repeatedly placed himself at extreme risk and time and time again, showed initiative and courage above and beyond the normal call of duty.

His Medal of Honor was assured on October 28, 1943 when, after he was gravely wounded by the enemy, he chose to insure his unit was in proper defensive positions and refused care for himself until all others had been treated. He perished as his soldiers tried to carry their valiant leader to safety.

From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):

Picture from Military Times' Hall of Valor

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.
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 machine gun 150 yards distant opened fire on his company, Capt. Olson advanced upon the position in a slow, deliberate walk. Although 5 German soldiers threw hand grenades 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 machine gun 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 machine gun 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's remains were repatriated to the United States. He rests in peace today in the Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

On June 20, 1999 a memorial plaza in Toronto, South Dakota was dedicated to the town's local hero.

The Captain Olson Memorial in Toronto, SD
About two months after Olson gave his life for the United States and the cause of freedom, his widow gave birth to a little girl, Myra (Sandra) Lavern Olson, in December 1943. I believe she is still living. If she happens to find her way here, I hope she's comforted that there are those of us who will never forget what men like her father, a father she never got to know, did for the rest of us.

To all the children of fighting men who never got to meet their fathers because of their deaths in action, the loss you suffered is unimaginable, and that is something else we will never forget.

Today's modern 3rd Infantry Division has completed multiple combat deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan since September 11, 2001. The division's home is Fort Stewart, Georgia and two battalions of the 15th Infantry are still also with it. 1-15 Infantry is part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team and 3-15 Infantry is assigned to the 4th Brigade Combat Team.

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