CORSICANA, Texas — Bill Olsen, 93, of Corsicana flew to Washington D.C. this past weekend, part of an Honor Flight taking World War II veterans to the nation’s capital.
He and more than a dozen other vets were the guests of the family of Temple “TR” Kennedy, which paid for the trip. They went to the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, Iwo Jima Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial, as well as the 624-acre Arlington Cemetery.
Olsen left early Friday and got back late Saturday. It was a whirlwind journey, but one that meant a lot.
“The most impressive part was Arlington Cemetery,” Olsen said. “Every U.S. citizen should see it to know the price the nation has faced for our freedom.”
The group also toured the World War II Memorial, which was only dedicated in 2004. There, Olsen found the marker where his unit served, and he took pictures with fellow tourists who shook his hand and thanked him for his service.
“The visit brought vivid memories back of World War II,” he said. “I thought ‘Here I am, sitting with a group that had experienced the same things I did.’ That brought the whole thing home to me. Some good and some bad.
“The camaraderie of the group, that brought good memories back,” Olsen said. The bad were the memories of brothers at arms who never made it home, or who have since died, Olsen explained.
Helping to make the trip a positive experience was his guide, U.S. Coast Guard officer Jonathan Schafler. Each of the veterans was assigned their own active duty guide on the trip. Schafler offered information about the stops, and took most of the photos for Olsen.
“I thoroughly enjoyed the trip,” Olsen said.
Olsen was scheduled to leave from Austin Friday morning, and he left Corsicana around 6 a.m. to make the flight. When there was a wreck on Interstate 35, he and his daughter Pam Dunn got a little antsy, but they made it fine.
When they arrived, Olsen and all the other veterans were escorted with a bagpiper and honor guard through the airport to their departure area.
“People just stopped what they were doing and applauded,” Dunn said. “It was very impressive.”
In September 1945, about a month after atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of HIroshima and Nagasaki, Bill Olsen was assigned to those cities, part of the Allied occupying forces. He went to Hiroshima first, then was dispatched to Nagasaki to help destroy planes that had survived the blast near that city. Olsen served in the 24th Infantry, 21st Regiment, K Company of the U.S. Army.
“People in later days cussed old Truman (for ordering the bombs dropped), but he saved my life,” Olsen said. The buildings made of brick and cement were turned into dust, he recalled.
“The Japanese people were scared to death of us. They expected us to kill all of them. After about three months, that disappeared. They realized we weren’t barbarians.”
Olsen’s earlier service in the Philippines, as a scout slogging through the jungles with a Thompson machine gun, was day-to-day survival, he said. He contracted malaria while over there.
The young man from Corsicana was drafted into service, and he didn’t want to reenlist, although he was promised he could get home sooner if he did. When he got home, he went into ranching. Olsen and his late wife, Jane Hill Olsen, had two daughters, Pam Dunn and Becky Myers. Adjusting to peace again was a challenge, Olsen admitted, joking: “I’m not sure I’ve adjusted yet.”
He applied to be part of an Honor Flight in 2011, so he was very surprised to get the call a few weeks ago that he’d been put on a list to go in April.
“We’d forgotten about it because he applied so long ago,” Pam said. “When they called, we were both so surprised. I think it’s wonderful they’re doing this.”