Monday, May 25, 2009

Remembering Grandpa Olsen

I received this as an email from my uncle, Rev. Will Olsen. (He's the young man in the suit. My mother is the eldest girl.) It is a reflection on my grandfather and his family. A wonderful gift of memories on this Memorial Day.

As I drove into Rapid City on an errand today, PBS was on the car radio. They were reading a large quantity of e-mail messages for Memorial Day. Most of them began with something like, “I want to honor [or remember] my Father, Brother, Uncle, etc., etc. for his service during ________ [fill in the war].
I began to think about a man who would not make that program. He never served a day in any of the Armed Forces or fought in any of our wars. Not that he did not try. Before WW2 began, Stan Olsen had tried to get into a couple of the Depression created government programs and was turned down. As the war clouds loomed every closer and every adult male was required to register for the draft, he complied with the order. The US Government, in the person of his local Draft Board, declared Stan Olsen to be deferred from the draft because of his critical job. Telegraphers were in short supply. There weren’t enough to go around and they were badly needed on the home front to keep the trains moving.

After we moved to Watertown, he helped insure that the grain products and meat products moved smoothly from processor to user. There was an Army Air Corps station at the airport. Food and fuel, supplies and men all came to town by rail and he helped insure their safe and timely delivery to that important installation.

I remember how impressed I was with his importance when Dad was told by the Depot Agent and the Division’s Dispatcher [or Roadmaster or someone] that he had to get a phone installed at home so he could be called to work at any hour of the day. When Mom or Dad applied to Bell [the only game in town at that time], they were almost laughed at. “There’s a war on, you know,” was the response their request received. Dad reported his lack of success to the Huron office. Apparently they made the call to the phone company. Within the week, a man was at the house, asking Mom where she wanted the phone put. Dad wanted a wall phone so none of us could talk and sit at the same time. He reminded us that the phone was for emergencies, not for our pleasure. Oh, yes, on top of it all, we had a one-party line. No one would rubber-neck on railroad business or learn about the time of troop trains off that phone.

So, Dad did not go to war, but we saved scrap iron, bacon grease and who knows what all. Dad could have had a business allowance for gas at one time. He elected to pass it up as he felt with careful use of the car we could get by with just an “A” sticker in the windshield. The whole family was enlisted to be faithful citizens in all we did, including the huge garden that he convinced his wife that she should preserve.

So, I believe it is fair to honor and remember a loyal citizen who was told to stay home and do his job well. It would be the best way he could serve and win the war. This does not mean that he did not recognize the value and honor of military service. Both of his sons enlisted in time to serve in the Korean War. Two sons-in-law have worn uniforms. By my count, half his grandsons [Dennis and Per] have served honorably. In the next generation, Dennis and Adam are the only two I know have answered the call to service. It’s a bit interesting that with all the girls in the family, I don’t know of any that have “joined up” [as they used to say].

So, as you reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day, I hope you can look back with renewed appreciation for those that did not earn medals and battle stars, but made it possible for those that did to win. As a final word, I would invite you to save and/or share this with your kids and grandkids. Print it and save it somewhere for their scrap books about this ancestor who advance the cause of freedom by staying out of the fight, but giving all he could.

Peace be with you!

Memorial day memories

When I was growing up, my parents decided that we should all wear POW-MIA bracelets in support of those who were captured during the Viet Nam War. My two sisters and I were in grade school. I must have been about ten when I received my bracelet. I wore it every day and night. The metal plating wore off the inside of the bracelet after a few years. I remember coating the inside of it with maroon fingernail polish so that it wouldn't turn my wrist green.

I wore the bracelet beyond the end of the war and the return of the prisoners. My bracelet bore the name of Commander James Griffin. He did not return from Viet Nam. His plane was shot down over Hanoi and he was taken prisoner. A few days later he died.

When the bracelet broke in half, I had to stop wearing it. But I remember.

The following comes from a web posting made by his wife.

Commander James Lloyd Griffin

Born in Gates, Tennessee, 27 December 1932,

He attended the University ofTennessee at Martin before entering the U.S. Naval Adacemy. Upon graduation from the academy in 1955 he entered flight training in Pensacola, FL and got his wings in 1956. He attended the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA and received a professional degree in aeronautical engineering from University of Michigan in 1963. He served in VA-83, deploying to the Mediterranean and flying missions in Lebanon in 1958 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Essex and in 1959-60 aboard USS Forrestal. He joined RVAH-13 in 1964, servinge in Vietnam on two cruises from 1965-1967. In April of 1967 Commander Griffin had completed 100 combat missions; his plane was shot down over Hanoi on May 19, 1967--HoChi Minh's birthday. Commander Griffin's awards included the Distinguished Flying Cross with gold star; the Air Medal with bronze Star (eight awards); the Naval Commendation Medal with gold star and combat distinguishing device; the Navy Achievement Medal; the Purple Heart; Navy Unit Commendation Medal with bronze star; Republic of Vietnam Meritorious Unit Citation (Gallantry Cross Medal Colorwith Palm); Vietnam Service Medal with three bronze stars; and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

On the day of his "shoot-down" a radio broadcast from Hanoi announced that Commander Griffin and his navigator had been captured, and, although gravely injured, he read a statement which was broadcast. A photo of his military ID card was displayed in a museum in Hanoi. He was carried in a "missing inaction" status until January, 1973, when his death on May 21, 1967 was revealed by the North Vietnamese. On January 16, 1974 the Secretary of the Navy verified that Commander Griffin had died while a prisoner of war. A plaque marking the event of his "shoot down" stands on the corner of a building in downtown Hanoi. Survivors include his wife Dora, his son James, and his daughter Glyn Carol Griffin, his parents, two brothers and a sister.