After completing his training as an infantryman he was sent to Europe to join the 3rd Infantry Division as a replacement. He was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment. By late January 1944, he had attained the rank of Sergeant and was a machine gunner.
Olson landed with the 3rd Infantry Division at the Anzio beaches in Italy as part of Operation Shingle on January 22, 1944. Just over a week later, with the precarious, five-mile deep beachhead threatened by Nazi counter attacks, Olson and his comrades were locked in combat around the town of Cisterna.
The battle plan for Cisterna was to seize key transportation routes that the Germans required to keep their defenses to the south supplied. The 7th Infantry Regiment would attack along the left or north flank of the town in a supporting effort. Unfortunately, the combined American and British forces met heavier resistance then they had anticipated and were quickly pinned down by the enemy.
After a full day of fighting on January 30, one-third of Olson's company had become casualties and only had the one remaining machine gun manned by him as heavy firepower to beat back the German counterattack that was all but certain. One-by-one, the other soldiers in Olson's machine gun crew were cut down by the enemy, leaving him to fight alone all night. Physically exhausted and having his strength drained by repeated wounds that would prove fatal, Truman Olson nonetheless manned his weapon, repelling a Nazi assault by 200 men that assuredly would have overrun his unit had he not kept up his one man fight.
A little more than one year later after this heroic solo stand, Truman Olson's father was presented with the Medal of Honor his son so justly earned in Italy.
From Medal of Honor Citations for World War II (M-S):
|Photo from Military Times' Hall of Valor|
Rank and organization: Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company B, 7th Infantry, 3d Infantry Division
Place and date: Near Cisterna di Littoria, Italy, 30-31 January 1944
Entered service at: Cambridge, Wis.
G.O. No.: 6, 24 January 1945
Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Olson, a light machine gunner, elected to sacrifice his life to save his company from annihilation. On the night of 30 January 1944, after a 16-hour assault on entrenched enemy positions in the course of which over one-third of Company B became casualties, the survivors dug in behind a horseshoe elevation, placing Sgt. Olson and his crew, with the 1 available machinegun, forward of their lines and in an exposed position to bear the brunt of the expected German counterattack. Although he had been fighting without respite, Sgt. Olson stuck grimly to his post all night while his guncrew was cut down, 1 by 1, by accurate and overwhelming enemy fire. Weary from over 24 hours of continuous battle and suffering from an arm wound, received during the night engagement, Sgt. Olson manned his gun alone, meeting the full force of an all-out enemy assault by approximately 200 men supported by mortar and machinegun fire which the Germans launched at daybreak on the morning of 31 January. After 30 minutes of fighting, Sgt. Olson was mortally wounded, yet, knowing that only his weapons stood between his company and complete destruction, he refused evacuation. For an hour and a half after receiving his second and fatal wound he continued to fire his machinegun, killing at least 20 of the enemy, wounding many more, and forcing the assaulting German elements to withdraw.
Sergeant Olson's remains were repatriated to the United States and laid to rest in the West Koshkonong Lutheran Church Cemetery in Stoughton, Wisconsin. Olson's original grave marker predated his Medal of Honor award and did not reflect his status as one of America's greatest heroes. That has since been rectified, although it would appear they got his middle initial wrong on the replacement!
1st Battalion, 7th Infantry is today inactive. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the regiment are active with the modern 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia.