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World War II paratrooper, turning 100 this week, plans to jump again

A Nov. 11, 2015 file photo of retired Army Master Sgt. Paul Olivas, a World War II paratrooper who was serving as one of the grand marshals for the Veterans Day parade at Wahiawa, Hawaii.

ARMANDO R. LIMON/U.S. ARMY

By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: August 20, 2018

HONOLULU (Tribune News Service) — Retired Army Master Sgt. Polito “Paul” Olivas will become a centenarian Wednesday, and he plans to celebrate the way he’s lived his life: with a lot of gusto.

The former paratrooper, who jumped into Normandy on D-Day in 1944 with the 101st Airborne Division, has plans for another parachute drop, this time at Dillingham Airfield on Sunday — but with no one shooting at him as he lands.

“Before I die, I want another jump,” Olivas said. “I haven’t jumped for a long time. They said, ‘What do you want for your birthday?’ I said, ‘A parachute jump.’”

Jumping “is like eating candy,” he said. “You like it.”

The spry, white-haired Mililani resident, who at 120 pounds weighs as much as he did when he stepped out of a C-47 airplane loaded down with a rucksack, parachute and M1 Garand rifle 74 years ago, hasn’t lost the zest for life and adventure that guided him through World War II, the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam and, eventually, retirement.

Along the way he became one of the original members of Army Special Forces, severely fractured an ankle in a training jump in South Korea after the armistice was signed in 1953, and served multiple times with Gen. William Westmoreland, who commanded U.S. forces in Vietnam from 1964 to 1968.

Olivas also is widely known in Hawaii for restoring classic Mustangs and is a founder of the Aloha Mustang and Shelby Club of Hawaii.

About six months ago, while getting gas, another driver pulled up in a fire engine red 1964-1/2 Mustang.

“I said, ‘I like your car,’ and he said, ‘Oh yeah?’ ” Olivas recalled. “I said, ‘I like it, I like it very much.’ He said, ‘It might be your lucky day. I want to sell it.’ I said, ‘I’ll buy it.’”

That “perfectly” restored Mustang now resides in his carport, along with a 1967 Karmann Ghia. A 2000 Mercedes and a newer Volkswagen Beetle are in the driveway. He meticulously washes and dusts them all.

Asked the obligatory “What’s the secret to your longevity?” question, Olivas jokingly responded, “Bud Light!”

“No, you see, here’s the thing,” he said. “And I tell people, you get up in the morning with a positive attitude: ‘I can do it.’”

He said it’s like standing in the door of an airplane as a paratrooper, waiting to jump.

“And you jump. Positive attitude. Do it.”

Some people say they’re too old, Olivas said. “Their foot starts (to hurt), and, ‘Yeah, you’re kind of old. Well, sit down, take to your rocking chair. Don’t do that today.’”

By contrast, Olivas said, “I get up in the morning; I’m going to do it.”

That positive attitude comes despite losing his wife of nearly 56 years, Magdalena, in May.

Friend and former neighbor Maj. Kevin Boyd, a public affairs officer for Special Operations Command Pacific at Camp H.M. Smith, said that when he met Olivas, “I didn’t know how old he was. He certainly didn’t appear to be in his 90s. I thought he was in his 70s.”

In reality, Olivas, who is Spanish and one-third Navajo, was born Aug. 22, 1918, in Sapello, N.M.

“Nothing much there except rattlesnakes and prairie dogs,” he said. “It was cowboy country in New Mexico — way out in the sticks.”

Growing up, Olivas lived with his two brothers, parents and grandparents in a small cabin with a dirt floor and no running water or electricity. His family moved to Colorado, and he eventually joined the National Guard. Olivas later decided to become a paratrooper with the 101st for a princely $55 more a month.

After Normandy, Olivas was in the Battle of the Bulge, and in 1945, at the end of the war in Europe, he made it to Berchtesgaden, the site of Adolf Hitler’s lavish mountain retreat equipped with a well-stocked wine cellar.

Olivas remembers “a great, big beautiful place. (Hitler) had it made. Down in the cellar was all the booze and everything.” His commanding colonel told the soldiers, “OK, my little warriors, all of it is yours — except the bourbon. The bourbon is mine.”

In 1952 Olivas became an original member of the Special Forces “Green Berets” in what was called the 1st Psychological Warfare Unit before it was quickly re-branded as the 10th Special Forces Group, Boyd said.

“Being a qualified paratrooper with combat experience and fluency in Spanish, he was a perfect candidate,” Boyd said.

On Sunday, Olivas’ 3 p.m. takeoff and free-fall tandem jump at Dillingham is expected to be witnessed by over 100 well-wishers, including Special Operations forces and members of Mililani Baptist Church, where Olivas is a deacon.

He’s already making plans for his 101st birthday.

“Do it again,” said Olivas.

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Paul Olivas, third from left, and other American paratroopers hold a Nazi flag captured in a village assault at Utah Beach, France, in 1944.
COURTESY OF PAUL OLIVAS

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