Mesa man recalls D-Day experience - East Valley Tribune: News

Mesa man recalls D-Day experience

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Posted: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 5:30 pm | Updated: 2:19 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

When it came to serving in World War II, it was all in the family for Dale Olson and his four brothers.

All five of the brothers - Wayne, John, Robert, Dale and Vern - from the small town of Baker, Mont., were drafted into the service during the war and all served overseas at the same time in different places.

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Mesa man recalls D-Day experience

And although two of the brothers were injured in battle, all of them safely returned home after the war was over in 1945 to be reunited with their parents and four sisters.

To commemorate Veterans Day, Olson, who admits he was sometimes an ornery soldier, and his wife of 63 years, Luella, will participate in a lunch program at their Mesa community of Sunland Village East.

Olson was drafted in January 1943, and assigned to the 457th Anti-Aircraft Battalion as a .50-caliber machine gunner.

"Being patriotic, it's always a special occasion for us," said Olson, 86, a retired banker, who was one of the thousands of soldiers to storm onto Omaha Beach during the second wave of the D-Day Normandy Invasion on June 6, 1944 - the war's worst day of casualties. There were more than 9,000 Allied soldiers killed in the critical turning point in the war.

"It was a hectic time," said Olson, a private first class who was on a landing craft with about 25 other U.S. Army soldiers. "The wind was bad, and the small boats were really rockin'. I never minded water until that."

Olson said because of weather conditions, warships and watercraft that could be seen "as far as the eye could see" sat in the English Channel on June 5 before storming in the next morning. With the help of .50-caliber machine guns, he helped provide cover for the Rangers landing on the cliffs of Normandy so they could land behind enemy lines and attack German bunkers.

"You were scared (expletive)," Olson said. "It was a fact when we went in, we could say hell had taken place a few moments earlier.

"The beach had an incline, and there were hordes of bodies everywhere, and doctors and nurses helping the wounded. All of these big guns from the cliffs above us were bombarding ships in the harbor, and ships farther out in the water were firing inland. Our planes and England's were overhead constantly - I never saw a German plane - we began to move farther in and took control."

After D-Day, Olson fought in the remaining major battles of the European Campaign, including the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, as the soldiers lived in foxholes with blankets and coats. Receiving his honorable discharge in July 1945, Olson was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge and the European/African/Middle Eastern Medal with stars because of the major battles he was in.

To preserve his stories from the war at the coaxing of his four children, Olson wrote them by hand before typing them on a manual typewriter.

Some of Olson's lighter stories include making a moonshine still on Omaha Beach with an Army buddy, staying two nights in the wine cellar of a hotel in a French village with a fellow soldier and narrowly missing their unit pulling out without them.

Most of Olson's stories from the war were typed into the computer by his son, Ken, who bound them in a spiral book with vintage photographs and documents.

Olson also still has his Army jacket from the war with the bullet hole near the neck. The Germans were firing from behind him and he turned around to see where the gunfire was. He said he stepped back at the last second as the bullet narrowly missed him.

Olson said he was glad when his 37 months of serving in the war were over, and that he'd never want to do it all over again.

"It looked like it was going to go on forever," he said.

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