NEWS | Aug. 2, 2021

WWII Veteran, Warren Olsen, celebrates his 100th birthday

By Illen Kennedy Utah Army National Guard

World War II veteran, Warren Olsen, turned 100 at his residence in Logan, Utah, Aug. 2, 2021. Despite being 100, he still does his own laundry and cheers up other residents at the assisted living center where he resides.

Olsen served in the 66th Infantry Division and landed in Cherbourg, France, six days after D-Day. The 66th Infantry Division’s mission was to relieve units of the 101st Airborne Division, but events during the war changed that mission. Two transport vessels, SS Cheshire and the Belgian Leopoldville carried the U.S. troop across the English Channel. However, only five miles from the port of Cherbourg, the Leopoldville was torpedoed by a German U-Boat and sunk, taking the lives of 14 officers and 748 enlisted soldiers. Private Olsen was on board the SS Cheshire. A major portion of the infantry was lost, leaving only support units of the 66th ID.  The U.S. Navy later announced the sinking of the Leopoldville to be the second-largest loss of life from the sinking of a troop transport ship in the entire European Theater. 

It was during Olsen’s time in France, while he and a fellow Soldier were checking communications wires for breaks in the wire near St. Nazaire, when a German Panzer tank spotted them and fired an 88mm round at them. Olsen always joked afterward that if you heard the explosion, you were alive.  Indeed, he was alive since he and his compatriot had quickly dived into a hedgerow, which absorbed most of the explosion and shrapnel. However, he was badly wounded in his legs and managed to get to the aid station. The medics removed the shrapnel, patched him up and told him he needed to go to the hospital, which he did not do. He returned to his previous assigned duties as a forward observer and wireman. He subsequently received the Purple Heart award.

Later, in 2015, while at the Veterans Administration during a standard MRI exam, the magnetic field would not stabilize as it seems to be disturbed by ferrous metal somewhere in Olsen’s body.  He was sent to radiology where it was discovered he had a tiny piece of shrapnel in his forehead that had not been removed. Nor did he know it was there. He was asked if he wanted it removed to which he replied, it had been there so long that it had a “home” and could stay where it was. 

After returning from WWII, on Feb. 17, 1946, Olsen out-processed at Fort Douglas, Utah, at the same location where he had entered the service after being drafted on June 27, 1942. Olsen changed components of service from the U.S. Army to the Utah Army National Guard. Olsen liked artillery and was assigned to Charlie Battery, 1st Howitzer Battalion, 222nd Artillery and 145th Artillery until his retirement at the rank of master sergeant on Aug. 2, 1981, after 35 years of total Active and National Guard service.

“I met some of Dad’s Soldiers and felt their love of serving their country through the Guard,” said Warren’s oldest son Roger Olsen. “His nickname was Pappy, noting his care for his Soldiers.”

When the John M. Browning Armory was built in South Ogden, their mother took Roger and his younger brother, Jeff, a few times to events at the armory to see their father, as he was serving as a first sergeant in an artillery unit of the Utah Army National Guard.

“One great opportunity to rub shoulders with Soldiers in his unit was when my brother, Jeff, and I went to summer camp once as dining room orderlies for the Soldiers,” said Roger.  “We earned a few bucks bringing food trays to my Dad, other ranking NCO’s and officers of the unit, one of which was the Battery Commander, Capt. Max Ewing who would later attain the rank of brigadier general.” 

“I will never forget the first time I heard a 175mm cannon fire a round,” continued Roger. “We were taking chow out to the firing point.  Jeff and I were sitting in a jeep because it was raining.  But it didn’t stop the artilleryman.  I watched my Dad, as “Chief of Smoke,” Chief of the Firing Battery, give the order for one of the guns to fire.  It was then that the most tremendous sound reached my ears and the jeep jumped at least six inches into the air.  What a sound!”

During the years after the war, Olsen was an employee of the U.S. Government Bureau of Reclamation. He worked on several Utah projects to include the Willard Bay Dyke and Lost Creek Dam. When the Bureau was dramatically downsized, he went to work at then-Defense Depot Ogden as an inspector.  Because of his military background, he had learned to work quickly and efficiently. He tells the story that a couple of days shortly after his arrival to his new work area, he was told by several line workers to slow down his inspections because he was making them look bad. Of course, his reply was that they needed to get faster.

After securing enough time to retire from the federal government, he did so and went to work for Ogden City School District as a bus driver for special activities. He loved that job and the kids he used to safely convey to various events honored him with a plaque because he was their favorite driver. Olsen tells the story that at the tender age of 87, he unfortunately travelled at 34 mile per hour through a 25 MPH zone while driving a bus. He felt so bad about it he went to his supervisor and told her he was getting too old to drive. She thought it was a joke and kiddingly asked him how old he was because he has always held his age very well. He told her he was 87, at which point, he says, she went very pale and agreed to start the work to retire him from the district. 

Master Sgt. (Ret) Warren Olsen was born in Logan, Utah on August 2, 1921. In Logan, he met his wife, Barbara Wood, they were married on August 15, 1942, and have two sons, Roger, and Jeffery. Sadly, a few days before her 85th birthday, the love of Olsen’s life suffered a fatal heart attack and died in his arms at the home they had built by hand together near the mouth of the Ogden Canyon.