John Olson oral history interview

John Olson oral history interview

Material Information

John Olson oral history interview
Series Title:
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
Uniform Title:
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects
Olson, John R., 1926-
Hirsh, Michael, 1943-
University of South Florida Libraries -- Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center
University of South Florida -- Library. -- Special & Digital Collections. -- Oral History Program
Place of Publication:
Tampa, Fla
University of South Florida Tampa Library
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
1 sound file (43 min.) : digital, MPEG4 file + ;


Subjects / Keywords:
Concentration camps -- History -- Germany ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Concentration camps -- Germany ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Concentration camps -- Liberation ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Atrocities ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Personal narratives, American ( lcsh )
World War, 1939-1945 -- Veterans -- United States ( lcsh )
Veterans -- Interviews -- United States ( lcsh )
Genocide ( lcsh )
Crimes against humanity ( lcsh )
Oral history. ( local )
Online audio. ( local )
interview ( marcgt )
Oral history ( local )
Online audio ( local )


This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator John Olson. Olson was a member of the 104th Infantry Division, which liberated Nordhausen on April 11, 1945. He arrived in Europe in early 1945 as a replacement, meeting the 104th in the Aachen area. No unit he was with ever suffered casualties; indeed, he only fired his weapon once in combat. They entered the city of Nordhausen as part of a convoy and Olson, who was riding on a trailer, saw the concentration camp as they drove by. Though he did not enter the camp, he saw two prisoners standing at the gate: skeletally thin, with prison uniforms, they smiled when they saw the American soldiers. This image had a profound effect on Olson and remains with him.
Interview conducted July 18, 2008.
Preferred Citation:
The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust (New York: Bantam Books, 2010) and Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project, University of South Florida Libraries, ©2010 Michael Hirsh.
Transcripts, excerpts, or any component of this interview may be used without the author's express written permission only for educational or research purposes. No portion of the interview audio or text may be broadcast, cablecast, webcast, or distributed without the author's express written permission.
General Note:
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsh (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
Statement of Responsibility:
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.

Record Information

Source Institution:
University of South Florida Library
Holding Location:
University of South Florida
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
024897490 ( ALEPH )
656427595 ( OCLC )
C65-00097 ( USFLDC DOI )
c65.97 ( USFLDC Handle )

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Olson, John R.,
John Olson oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (43 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (18 p.)
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsh (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
Interview conducted July 18, 2008.
The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust (New York: Bantam Books, 2010) and Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project, University of South Florida Libraries, 2010 Michael Hirsh.
Transcripts, excerpts, or any component of this interview may be used without the author's express written permission only for educational or research purposes. No portion of the interview audio or text may be broadcast, cablecast, webcast, or distributed without the author's express written permission.
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator John Olson. Olson was a member of the 104th Infantry Division, which liberated Nordhausen on April 11, 1945. He arrived in Europe in early 1945 as a replacement, meeting the 104th in the Aachen area. No unit he was with ever suffered casualties; indeed, he only fired his weapon once in combat. They entered the city of Nordhausen as part of a convoy and Olson, who was riding on a trailer, saw the concentration camp as they drove by. Though he did not enter the camp, he saw two prisoners standing at the gate: skeletally thin, with prison uniforms, they smiled when they saw the American soldiers. This image had a profound effect on Olson and remains with him.
Olson, John R.,
United States.
Infantry Division, 104th.
United States.
Infantry Division, 104th
v Personal narratives.
Nordhausen (Concentration camp)
Concentration camps
z Germany
x History.
World War, 1939-1945
Concentration camps
World War, 1939-1945
Concentration camps
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1939-1945
United States.
United States
Crimes against humanity.
7 655
Oral history.
Online audio.
Hirsh, Michael,
University of South Florida Libraries.
Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.
University of South Florida.
Special & Digital Collections.
Oral History Program.
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.
Concentration camp liberators oral history project.
4 856

xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript segment idx 0 time 00:00:0.0 text Michael Hirsh: Just so I have it on tape, give me your full name, please? 1 00:00:4.2 John Olson: John R. Olson. 2 00:00:6.6 MH: And you were in Company D of the 415th Regiment of the 104th Infantry Division. 3 00:00:11.3 JO: Yes. 4 00:00:12.2 MH: Tell me a little bit about where you grew up before you went into the service. 5 00:00:17.3 JO: Where I grew up? 6 00:00:17.6 MH: Yes. 7 00:00:18.2 JO: I grew up in Duluth, Minnesota. 8 00:00:20.5 MH: I forgot to ask you your date of birth. 9 00:00:24.0 JO: Date of birth was February 18, 1926. 10 00:00:29.4 MH: What were you doing just before you went into the Army? 11 00:00:35.2 JO: Oh, I worked an optical shop in Duluth. 12 00:00:41.4 MH: And you volunteered or you were drafted? 13 00:00:44.9 JO: I was drafted. 14 00:00:45.9 MH: Whered they send you? 15 00:00:49.6 JO: I took my basic in Camp Fannin, Texas. 16 00:00:53.6 MH: About what month and year was that? 17 00:00:58.7 JO: Well, it wouldve beenoh, lets see, I think I went in October of forty-five [1945].  I think. 18 00:01:15.3 MH: No. 19 00:01:16.4 JO: No, wait, forty-four [1944]. 20 00:01:18.2 MH: You went in in October of 1944? 21 00:01:20.2 JO: Yeah, I think so.  It was a long time ago. 22 00:01:25.4 MH: I know, well figure that out in a minute.  So, you went through basic in Texas, then what happens? 23 00:01:32.7 JO: Well, then we went out to Fort Meade, Maryland, where we were re-outfitted to go overseas, and I think it was late February or early March that we sailedwent on the ship to Europe. 24 00:01:58.5 MH: You were with the 104th at that time? 25 00:02:0.7 JO: No, I was not.  I was just a replacement. 26 00:02:3.4 MH: Whered the ship take you? 27 00:02:6.9 JO: Went to Le Havre. 28 00:02:9.3 MH: Then what happens? 29 00:02:12.4 JO: Well, from Le Havre, we went by 40 and 8 boxcar train to Verviers, Belgium, I believe it was.  This was just going through the mill as replacements. 30 00:02:33.4 MH: Whats it like riding in the 40 by 8s? 31 00:02:36.8 JO: (laughs) Its not 40 by 8, its 40 and 8.   32 00:02:40.4 MH: 40 and 8. 33 00:02:41.3 JO: Forty men and eight horses. 34 00:02:43.8 MH: I thought it was forty men or eight horses. 35 00:02:47.1 JO: I dont know if its and or or.  I hope its or for the sake of the guys who travel that way.  You just can imagine riding in a boxcar, thats all.  Inconvenient, uncomfortable, but better than walking, I suppose. 36 00:03:6.5 MH: This is in the wintertime? 37 00:03:8.7 JO: Pardon? 38 00:03:9.7 MH: In the winter? 39 00:03:10.6 JO: No.  Well, this wouldve been late winter, early spring.  Im not exactly sure of the dates on that. 40 00:03:22.0 MH: How long were you in the boxcars? 41 00:03:25.2 JO: Well, I suppose it took them three days.  It wasnt very long.  Roughly three days to go into Belgium. 42 00:03:40.0 MH: Had you been on a troop train in the U.S.? 43 00:03:42.0 JO: Had I what? 44 00:03:43.7 MH: Had you been on a troop train in the U.S.? 45 00:03:46.7 JO: Not before that.   46 00:03:48.6 MH: Going from Texas 47 00:03:51.6 JO: Yeah, I suppose we went by troop train.  I was inducted into the Army at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, and we traveled by some kind of a troop train down to Texas, and boy, I dont remember a whole lot about it. 48 00:04:10.8 MH: However bad it was, it was more comfortable than the boxcars. 49 00:04:15.0 JO: Yeah, yeah, almost anything is more comfortable than a 40 and 8. 50 00:04:19.9 MH: You get to Belgium, and then what happens? 51 00:04:24.1 JO: We were in Belgium just a couple days.  We were issued our rifles in Belgium.  We didnt have rifles before that.  But we were issued rifles and ammunition.  And we spent a day on the range, if I remember right.  Then I think we went by truck into Germany, and we camped one night on the Rhine Riverwell, it would been near Aachen, and its there that we were assigned to our unit, so that from that point on, we were with the 104th. 52 00:05:14.2 MH: Did you consider getting an assignment to the 104th good or bad, or didnt you know the different between the units? 53 00:05:22.2 JO: I didnt know the difference.  They were all the same to me. 54 00:05:25.3 MH: And you were about how old at that time? 55 00:05:28.3 JO: I had just turned nineteen. 56 00:05:33.2 MH: Suddenly, war is real. 57 00:05:38.3 JO: Oh, yeah. 58 00:05:39.9 MH: Tell me about your first combat experience. 59 00:05:41.8 JO: Oh, that was an exciting evening.  I dont know where we were, I dont know the name of the town or anything, but there were four or five of us that were trucked up to join the unit.  We were in a small German town when we came in in a truck, and then we unloaded and were told where we were assigned, to Company D in the machine gun squads, and went into the house.  The company commander was there, I remember that, and the first sergeant, and they were just eating supper.  Thats one thing about the kitchen: even in combat, they tried to always have at least one hot meal a day.  It wasnt always possible, but they were very good at it.  And we hadnt eatenI dont even know if we had lunch that day, so we were hungry.  Anyway, as we went into the house, there was a German mortar barrage going on.  Ive thought about it many times, and I figure the Germans mustve had a forward observer in town or very near the town to focus in on us.  So, they were dropping those mortar shells very close.  We were in a house on the very edge of town.  And every few minutes, a mortar shell would explode somewhere around.  I dont remember them hitting the house. 60 00:07:37.5 MH: Did you get the sense that they were walking them in on you? 61 00:07:40.2 JO: No, they were just being nasty.  We were in theas we joined the outfit, I know I ate some supper.  I didnt have much appetite, but my squad was busy digging a machine gun emplacement, foxhole-like, on the very edge of town and facing toward wherever the German defenders were.  And while we were digging this foxholemachine gun emplacement, it has a C-shaped hole with the guns sitting in the middle, and they were doing a real nice job of it, digging, and piling the dirt up around.  And then the object was to place boards or something over the top of it eventually.  We didnt get that far.  But every few minutes, wed have tothere was a barn right next to where we were digging this. So the older guys, they recognize when the mortar shell was dropped into the tube, so that when they heard that, wed run into the barn and kind of crawl into the hay until those mortar shells quit, and then we went back out and kept digging the hole. 62 00:09:16.7 MH: What made the older guys think that hay would keep the mortars 63 00:09:21.1 JO: Ill say something now.  Im a little hard of hearing. 64 00:09:26.4 MH: I was asking what made them think hay would stop shrapnel. 65 00:09:32.6 JO: I dont know.  I never even thought of it.  I just put my head down.  I was just trying to hide, thats all.  One shell did hit the barn, but it didnt in any wayno shrapnel fell around us.  A mortar shell will explode on the slightest impact with anything. 66 00:10:3.2 MH: I was under mortar fire in Vietnam, so I know a little about what youre talking about.  Howd they treat the new guys?  I know the new guys in Vietnam werent treated very well by the old guys. 67 00:10:18.7 JO: We were treated very well.  We were immediately one of the group, and I never knew anything but real friendship and respect. 68 00:10:32.8 MH: Thats terrific.  So, youre still digging this emplacement, and the Germans are still mortaring you.  Now what happens? 69 00:10:44.3 JO: They told us towe got a telephone message or whatever kind of telephones they had, and they said to bring the gun into the house.  So, after digging that real nice hole and all, we never used it.  And we picked up the gun and our tools and stuff and ran into the house.  We went up to the second floor of the house, and we were in a bedroom, and there we set the gun up in a window, and we hung blackout, you know, blankets and stuff over the windows so we could have a light inside.  And the gun was facing the same direction, and mortar rounds were still coming in a little bit.   70 00:11:36.3 Right across the street from us was an anti-tank outfit, and they hadI think it was a 75mm anti-tank gun, so they were there.  I dont know who else was around, but the mortars kept coming in, and they were coming pretty close.  They knew where we were.  One round hit the house we were in, and I remember our Jeep driver, our squad Jeep was parked in the street on the side of the house, and that round hit the chimney or near the chimney.  Anyway, it knocked the chimney bricks down and our Jeep driver was pretty mad, because the bricks fell on the Jeep and smashed his windshield.  I dont know how it was in Vietnam, but we never had our windshield up; we also had it folded down flat on top of the hood.  So, he was unhappy because they broke his windshieldnot that he ever used it. 71 00:12:48.6 So, we were then in this room, and we had one little candle in the room.  There was a bed in there, so we were taking turns being on watch.  I guess, my being new to the group, they let me be on watch first.   72 00:13:9.0 MH: How many guys were in the room? 73 00:13:11.7 JO: Oh, there mustve been four of us, anyway.  I was told all their names, but I didnt remember any of the names.  Then the telephone that we had rang us or the voice came in, we were the outpost, calling OPand thats something I never learned in basic was how to use a field telephone, so I didnt know whatI tried to answer it, but I never got through.  I tried to explain I was a new guy there, and I didnt know what to do.  And I dont know if nobody could hear me or what.  Anyway, the candle sputtered out, so it was pitch black in there.   74 00:13:59.9 Then I heard heavy boots running up the stairs. I hoped it was my own squad members, and it was.  But they came running up and said, Grab your stuff.  Were pulling out.  I dont know why we suddenly pulled out.  Oh, there was another thing, too. Off in the distance, the direction we were firingwe never did fire. But we could hear a German self-propelled gun, like I suppose they had them in Vietnam, too, like a tank.  Anyway, we could hear it out there, and I think maybe that had fired a few roundsI think they knew that anti-tank gun was there, but they didnt hit it to my knowledge.  But things were moving real fast then.  We were told we were pulling out, so grab your stuff.   75 00:15:6.9 Behind the house, toward the center of town, a very little town, was an orchard.  I think it was an apple orchard; Im not sure.  So, we picked up our gear, and I was an ammo bearer then in the squad, and I grabbedof course, I had my M1, and I did notI dont think I carried my pack.  I think they told me when we first arrived, Just put your pack on the Jeep trailer, and if you need it, we can get at it.  I never carried a pack overseas.  Anyway, we started running.  I was just following the crowd then.  Were running through this orchard, and every, oh, probably every minute or less, a mortar shell would explode somewhere nearby.  I dont remember ever hearing them come in or anything, but I know I did duck down.  It was a rainy, cold night.  In fact, it snowed later on that evening, and I was scared, sure.  And Im just trying to keep up with the rest of the guys and running with what I had, and hit the dirt every once in awhile.  And I remember my helmet fell off one time. 76 00:16:42.3 MH: Youre carrying metal ammo boxes?   77 00:16:46.1 JO: Yes, yeah. 78 00:16:46.2 MH: And your own rifle? 79 00:16:47.4 JO: Yeah.  Made a handful.  We got overwe ran, oh, I would guess 100 yards and came to another house and a barn, theres a big barn, the kind of a barn that had a drive-through in the middle, and it had places for livestock on either side.  But right in the middle in this open area was a great big General Sherman tank, completely filled the opening.  I could barely squeeze by, but thats where the other guys ran, so thats where I ran.  By this time, I had no idea where I was or where I was supposed to be, and I didnt know the names of anybody else in the squad.  All I knew, I was in Company D and in a machine gun squad.  So, I was lost.  I didnt know anybody around me.  There were several guys milling around, waiting for, I suppose, waiting for transportation.  Like I said, it was raining and miserable.  And finally 80 00:18:6.6 MH: Did you have a poncho to keep the water off or not? 81 00:18:8.9 JO: I had a raincoat, but I didnt have it on.  I had one with me, but I wasnt wearing it.  I still have my field jacket that I was wearing at that time, though.  Okay, Ill try to shorten 82 00:18:23.3 MH: No, you dont have to shorten anything.  Im curious, when did you first get a Timberwolf patch, shoulder patch? 83 00:18:28.8 JO: Oh, boy, it mustve been pretty soon.  I dont remember exactly.  I think it was within a week that we were issued a patch and told to sew it on.  Anyway, I found the company headquarters.  I think I asked somebody.  I didnt know where to go; I didnt know who to ask about.  I ended up at company headquartersor it may have been battalion headquarters, for all I know; somebodys headquarters, anywayand explained my dilemma, that I was a new man, I didnt know where I was supposed to be, I didnt know who my fellow soldiers were, I didnt know any names.  But they found out, they did a little telephoning, and found out where I was supposed to be.  And somebody came and got me and led me, and we loaded up on some 6 by 6 trucks and left.  And I dont know where we were going, and I dont know where we went. 84 00:19:40.7 MH: You were a private then? 85 00:19:42.5 JO: That was my first night in combat. 86 00:19:44.5 MH: Right, you were a private? 87 00:19:46.8 JO: Yes. 88 00:19:47.8 MH: The sun comes up the next morning, and what happens? 89 00:19:55.0 JO: I assume that it did, and I dont know where I was at. (MH laughs) I havent any idea. 90 00:19:59.8 MH: You assume it did, but since the sergeant didnt tell you it did, it didnt count. 91 00:20:4.7 JO: I just stayed with the guys I knew.  I was beginning to get a few names and recognize a few people.  Mostly, that night before, I didnt see them in the daylight.  It was just dark, so I never got to identify them that way, but I did get to identify them.  I knew who to stay with.  I dont know where we went.  We went by truck someplace.  I don't have any idea where we went. 92 00:20:42.1 MH: When was the next combat? 93 00:20:44.3 JO: Oh, it mustve been probably two or three days later.  Our outfit was supposedly known to make attacks from the rear.  We would walk around a town and come in the back door.  So, we did a lot of nighttime walking.  Wed take off just about dark and we would walk sometimes all night.  And then wed come into a town through the back, you know, the back door.  I know at least one town we went through, we walked right by the house that the German defenders were in.  They werent any serious threat, really.  They were mostly older men and young kids, led by one SS trooper.  But thats the way we would come in.   94 00:22:1.2 We might have a little firefight if the defenders wanted to fight; you know, we gave it to them.  And we would go in, wed set our gun up wherever the squad leader said to put it and hoped it was in a good position.  We were oftenwed go into a house where the civilians were down in hiding, down in the basement of the house, and that was all right with us, just as long as we had a window to stick our gun out of.  And then wed have a short firefight, maybe last an hour, maybe a little more.  I never experiencedI never knew of any American soldier being killed or wounded at the time that I was with them.  We never suffered any casualties. 95 00:23:3.7 MH: Do you remember the first time you actually fired at the Germans, you personally? 96 00:23:9.5 JO: Yeah.  Well, it wasnt long, probably a couple of weeks, that I got boosted up to second gunner.  Second gunner was the guy who carries the gun.  At that time, I wasI had already been issued a carbine, M1 carbine, because I was carrying those ammo cans, and then when they upped me to second gunner, so I was carrying a gun, then they gave me a .45 to carry.   97 00:23:43.5 MH: So, you went from an M1 rifle to a carbine to a .45. 98 00:23:47.6 JO: Yeah.  Interesting thing, I never fired my M1 rifle except when it was issued to me in Belgium and we went on the range.  I never fired the carbine.  I remember shortly after I got it, I found out it didnt even work right.  The clip would not push the ammunition up.  I tore the whole thing apart, the gun and the clip and everything, oiled everything up, cleaned it all up and got it in good shape, but I never fired it.  Then I got issued the .45.  I never fired the .45 in combat, and I never fired it until I got out to California.  Just never had any occasion to. 99 00:24:40.5 MH: What machine gun were you carrying? 100 00:24:42.1 JO: That was a .30 caliber water-cooled jacket on it. 101 00:24:51.2 MH: Which means what, which means you have to carry a container with 102 00:24:56.0 JO: No, it didnt have any fluid container or anything.  I was told that they just filled the jacket with antifreeze, because it was in the winter, but we never had one of those tanks and the hose that goes with it.  I never had it; and in fact, even the flash hider broke off one day, so I didnt even have a flash hider on it.  Lets seeI tell you, the only time I fired a gun in combat was the last fight we were in, Bitterfeld, Germany. 103 00:25:41.6 MH: Whats the name of the town? 104 00:25:42.7 JO: Bitterfeld. 105 00:25:43.3 MH: Bitterfeld, okay. 106 00:25:45.0 JO:  Its near the Mulde River, I think.  But its a coal mining area.  In the province of Saxony, if I remember right. 107 00:25:56.7 MH: Is this all mountainous area youre going through? 108 00:25:58.8 JO: No, it wasnt mountainous.  Quite flat country.  We did go throughwhen I first got in the outfit, we walked through the Hartz Mountains, and that was very mountainous, very beautiful country.  Not big mountains, big hills, really.  But in Bitterfeld, we were on the third floor of an apartment building, and the gunner was firing.  We had the gun set up on a tripod on a kitchen table, and it was my job as second gunner to make sure I steady the gun and it doesnt kick itself off the table or something.   109 00:26:53.4 Anyway, we were just kind of looking around.  Some riflemen were with us, and one of the riflemen said he was looking out the window, I guess 150 yards off, there was a bridge going over a railroad track, and he said he thought he saw some German soldiers going under that bridge.  And it looked like they were carrying Panzerfausts; thats the German bazooka.  Yeah, and he had an M1, and I said, Shoot down there where you think you saw No, no, I dont want to shoot.  I said, Give me the gun, and so I took the gun, and he told me about where to fire, so I emptied a clipload of ammo down that way.  I never did see anybody; it was just brush and grass, so I dont know if there was anybody there or not.  Thats the only time I fired a gun in combat.  So, its not a very exciting adventure.  Oh, it was exciting, but 110 00:28:9.4 MH: War usually is exciting or very boring.  Tell me, at that pointexcuse me, I have a bad cough; hang on one second. (coughs) 111 00:28:26.8 JO: Pardon? 112 00:28:27.8 MH: I just said I have a bad cough. 113 00:28:29.9 JO: Oh, yeah. 114 00:28:30.7 MH: At that point, did you know anything about the concentration camps or the death camps? 115 00:28:35.3 JO: No, no more than what I saw at Nordhausen or that one camp that I mentioned.  That was prior to this last experience. 116 00:28:50.7 MH: Lets go back to your approach to Nordhausen.   117 00:28:55.4 JO: I dont know anything about the approach; all I remember is going into the town.  And why we were riding on the Jeep trailer, I dont know, but we were (inaudible).  But I remember it was a dark kind of rainy day.  We were just in a long column of trucks, tanks, and Jeeps.  I dont know if we were near the beginning of it.  I think probably we were near the beginning of the line, because we just came into town and I was sitting on the trailer facing to the left.  And as we went along the street, I looked down this other side street, and I saw this ten-foot-high wire fence and a big gate, and the gate was open, and I saw these two prisoners in their striped suits standing by the gate, standing at the gate opening there; it was a big gate for trucks to get through.  They had these beautiful smiles on their faces, because they knew now they were being set free.  We never went into the camp ourselves; that was other units.  I read letters by other guys who went in or were part of the detail that went in there to actually liberate the people and take care of the prisoners.  But I never even talked to any of our guys who did go into the camp, the prison camp. 118 00:30:44.5 But I just saw these two there, and I hope I never forget what they looked like.  They just beamed, although they were just like human skeletons, so thin.  And they had these striped suits on.  I had no idea what kind of a camp it was.  Id heard about concentration camps, but I really didnt know much about them.  I dont think Americans knew much about them at all. 119 00:31:18.6 MH: Thats what Im hearing. 120 00:31:21.6 JO: I doubt that we have any appreciation for what all was going on.  Go ahead. 121 00:31:28.9 MH: How close were you to those two men? 122 00:31:33.4 JO: How what? 123 00:31:34.8 MH: How close were you to those two men? 124 00:31:36.7 JO: Within a block, or maybe even less than that.  Maybe half a block, I dont know. 125 00:31:41.2 MH: You had to be pretty close if you could see the smiles. 126 00:31:43.5 JO: Yeah.  Well, we were close enough I could see that, yeah.  Maybe it was a half a block.  I may have said a block, but it was, you know, close enough.  I dont know if we waved at them or not, but just saw them, you know, and I dont know where we were heading.  I dont know where we went after that.  The only thing I remember about Nordhausen, the city, was seeing those two guys at that gate to that prison camp.  Years later, I read about what it was, what the prison camp was, that it was a place where they built parts of something for the V-2 rocket, the German rocket or they did something.  And there was thousands of prisoners held there.  I dont even know if half of them survived.  I understand that our men, our division, went in and released them, those who could walk or could get out: they took them out, and they forced all the civilians along that road to leave their houses, and they put the prisoners, housed the prisoners in those houses and got food and a comfortable place to stay for awhile.  But this was behind, you know, behind us. 127 00:33:27.2 MH: When you saw those two guys, did you say anything to the other troops you were riding with on that Jeep trailer? 128 00:33:35.8 JO: I dont remember.  I think they saw them, also.  I dont remember saying anything to anybody.  I think I was a little bit struck or shocked, you know, and almost sort of speechless.  I suppose we may have talked about it later, but I dont remember. 129 00:33:59.7 MH: Do you remember writing home about that? 130 00:34:3.8 JO: I probably did.  If I did, they may have censored it.  I know it was still a few weeks away from the end of the war.   131 00:34:21.4 MH: That was the only camp you saw? 132 00:34:23.3 JO: Pardon me? 133 00:34:25.0 MH: That was the only camp you saw? 134 00:34:26.7 JO: Yes, it is, yeah. 135 00:34:29.2 MH: Its now sixty-three years later, and you still see those images. 136 00:34:35.4 JO: Oh, I could look at them like I was looking at them right now.  I can see those two guys standing there, very impressive.  And Im not exactly sure what all my emotions were at the time, but I justI could almost feel theI dont know if it was joy they were feeling or just relief of getting out, you know, being set free from that camp or what, but I could almost feel it as I looked at them.  I wouldve loved to have been able to go over and talk to them, but I couldnt do that. 137 00:35:24.6 MH: When was the first time after you came back to the United States that you talked about this experience? 138 00:35:30.6 JO: Oh, boy, I dont know.  I imagine I told my parents about it.  I dontI really dont know.  Ive mentioned it from time to time.  I havent talked about it as much as I could have. 139 00:35:55.2 MH: Did you marry and have children? 140 00:35:59.6 JO: I did.  It was several years later, though. 141 00:36:3.1 MH: Did you ever tell your wife or your kids about it? 142 00:36:5.5 JO: Oh, yeah.  Yeah, I did. 143 00:36:7.3 MH: What was that like? 144 00:36:8.5 JO: I dont know if it impressed them or not.  Im sure my wife was impressed with it, or tried to imagine what, but it was something onlyyou had to see it to really catch the feeling of it all, the emotion of it, the senseit made me feel good later.  Not right away, but later, it made me feel good to be a GI.  I count it a privilege to have served in the Army. 145 00:36:50.5 MH: I find it difficult to imagine what those of you who fought in World War II went through, some for years or months.  But its an experience that I dont know anybody can really understand unless youve been in it. 146 00:37:17.4 JO: Its like me, I cant even comprehend what you guys went through in Vietnam.  Ive talked with others, you know guys who were there and all that.  Im glad I was in Europe. 147 00:37:34.0 MH: My reaction is just the opposite.  We didnt face enemy artillery, we didnt face enemy tanks, we didnt face enemy aircraft. 148 00:37:47.1 JO: The only enemy aircraft that harassed us waswe used to call him Bed Check Charlie. 149 00:37:53.9 MH: Ive heard about him. 150 00:37:55.0  JO: You can hearhed come over in the dark of night, youd hear this single-engine light airplane.  I never saw it, of course, but hed come chugging through the sky, looking for any kind of lights orand thats why we were very strict on blackouts.  And hed come over like an old Model T or something, running through the sky. 151 00:38:23.5 MH: I know you remember the faces of the two guys at the gate, but can you say whether that one experience that maybe lasted a couple minutes, if that long, affected your life? 152 00:38:42.8 JO: I think so.  I think Ive realized a little better how fortunate I and we are to be in America.  And again, I say, as I look back, I count it a privilege to have served in the Army and Europe, and to have been a part of that.  And to think that I was a part of releasing those guys from that prison, that makes me feel good about it.  I dont boast about it.  Im just glad I was a part of it. 153 00:39:34.0 MH: Anything else you want to tell me? 154 00:39:37.1 JO: Just that I count all of it by the grace of God that he took me through it, protected me.  I was never injured.  It was all a positive experience, even though it didnt seem so at the time.   155 00:40:0.8 MH: I think a lot of men whove been through combat feel that way. Mr. Olson, I thank you very much for your time.  I sure appreciate it. 156 00:40:12.0 JO: I hope sometime I can read what youre writing. 157 00:40:14.8 MH: I have your address, and youll get a copy of the book.  Do you have a photo of yourself from World War II? 158 00:40:24.0 JO: I have.  I dont know how good it is.  I did eventually pick up a camera someplace, so I tried to take some pictures, but I was usually taking them, not of me. I dont know if anybody else has any. Ive got one and I dont know how good it will be for reproduction. I could try it. 159 00:40:56.5 MH: What about a picture of yourself as you are today? 160 00:41:0.5 JO: Well, thats not too much too look at.  Oh, yeah, I got a lot of pictures. 161 00:41:6.9 MH: Could you pick one out, and if I send you my address via email, could you send me a copy and Ill scan it and 162 00:41:14.4 JO: I cant do it by email. 163 00:41:15.3 MH: No, what Ill do is if you can mail it to me, Ill scan it and send it back to you. 164 00:41:19.6 JO: Oh, I see. Okay, yeah.  I have obviously send the (inaudible).  We have an old computer that I rescued from a junk pile and my son-in law helped get it workable, but its pretty limited in its capacities. 165 00:41:44.2 MH: Okay 166 00:41:47.1 JO: But I could try to do that.  I haveI must have your address. 167 00:41:53.2 MH: Ill email you my address. 168 00:41:56.0 JO: Okay. 169 00:41:57.6 MH: Okay, and if you could send me a pretty good picture of yourself, Ill copy it and send it back. 170 00:42:2.7 JO: Oh, yeah.  Okay. 171 00:42:4.0 MH: Okay? 172 00:42:5.5 JO: Ill try to do that. 173 00:42:6.6 MH: Thank you very much, sir.  I sure do appreciate that. 174 00:42:8.8 JO: Its a pleasure to talk to you. 175 00:42:10.1 MH: Okay 176 00:42:10.9 JO: And I wish you well in what you are doing, working on. 177 00:42:15.3 MH: Thank you, I appreciate that. Bye-bye. 178 00:42:17.1 JO: Thanks for your part in Vietnam. 179 00:42:21.6 MH: Youre quite welcome, sir.


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