SUMMARY: One Vietnam Veteran still unaccounted for is remembered by his sister and niece in this Memorial Day Special.
INTRO — Kent C. Williamson: Just a few days ago, on May 18th of 2017 a funeral took place in Arlington National Cemetery. This funeral, with full military honors, including a flyover, a 21 gun-salute, and the playing of taps, was for Vietnam War veteran Colonel William Edward Campbell. Colonel Campbell was a member of the United States Air Force and was a “Nite Owl”; a group of pilots who flew bombing missions during the night from Thailand into Laos. On one of those flights in January 1969, Colonel Campbell was shot down. For ten years he was listed as Missing In Action and then his status was changed to Killed In Action — Body Not Recovered. That would be his classification until December 2016 when DNA discovered in a single bone and a single tooth would positively identify Colonel Campbell. And then last week, after nearly 50 years these remains along with a military uniform, a silver star, and a purple heart were finally laid to rest. It was reported that the urn containing his wife’s ashes would rest on top of the uniform in the casket.
According to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, at the end of the Vietnam War there were 2,646 Americans unaccounted for. Today over 1,000 of those have been recovered, which means that 1,611 are still missing. If you drive across America you’ll find plenty of towns where the total population is around 1,611. Imagine one of those entire towns just missing. Now imagine the families of those 1,611 individuals; the uncertainty they must feel, the loss, the wondering, the sleepless nights. On today’s show, the final one of our series and our Memorial Day Special, we’ll devote the entire episode to one of those missing individuals and you’ll hear from some of his family. Who’s family? Well, it happens to be my family.
Welcome to the Memorial Day Special of the By War & By God Podcast, I’m your host Kent Williamson. This show is a companion series to the award-winning documentary film By War & By God. In the podcast we’ve been telling the remarkable accounts of people whose lives were forever changed by the Vietnam war. You’ve heard stories of heroism, and stories of tragedy, and stories of reconciliation. You’ve heard about the magnetic force that tugged and pulled some of our soldiers, medics, machine-gunners and crewman back to Vietnam for the purpose of serving some of the poorest of the poor in that beautiful country. And today you’ll learn about one helicopter pilot who has yet to come home; my wife’s uncle Lieutenant Colonel Floyd W. Olsen.
But before we jump into today’s episode, allow me tell you about Big Heaven Cafe. Big Heaven Cafe is the place to go to purchase the documentary film By War & By God, so please click your way to Big Heaven Cafe dot com. That’s Big Heaven Cafe dot com and use the coupon code “podcast” to save five bucks on your copy of By War & By God. And don’t forget that 20% of all sales of By War & By God from Big Heaven Cafe go to the non-profit Vets With A Mission, the group that since 1989 has taken nearly 1400 Vietnam Veterans back to Vietnam for healing and reconciliation.
So today’s show is a little different and it’s a little more personal. Today you’ll be hearing from my mother-in-law and my wife. My mother-in-law, Sandy Sturch, is Floyd Olsen’s sister and my wife, Karen, is Floyd’s niece. Two of today’s interviews were recorded a few years back in my nice quiet basement, but one was recorded along China Beach on one of the trips I made to Vietnam to gather material for the film. So today’s episode is The Floyd Olsen Story, but who was, or, for reasons you’ll learn later, perhaps I should say, who is Floyd Olsen? Let’s find out…
Chapter: In The Beginning…
Kent C. Williamson: We’ll begin with my mother-in-law, Sandy Sturch…
Sandy Sturch: Floyd grew up with model airplanes in his room and always really wanted to be a flyer. We were World War II kids and always admired people that were involved in the war. When he was at Wheaton College he took ROTC which meant that when he graduated from college he was eligible to go into the Army, in fact was obligated to go into the Army, as a Commissioned Officer.
Kent C. Williamson: At that time Vietnam was smoldering. The war had yet to take it’s toll on the American people.
Sandy Sturch: Whatever our purposes were, we we’re going to go in and do and get out and I wasn’t much concerned about it. Until my brother was sent to Vietnam. I wasn’t terribly concerned about the first tour of duty. Many of our armed forces went to Vietnam to serve for a year and got back okay. But then as the war progressed and the years went on the word seemed to be you might go for your first tour and get back okay but not as many people went for their second tour and came back. So when he went the second go round, he was an Army pilot; fixed-wing first time, helicopter search and rescue second time. And in charge of helicopter maintenance throughout South Vietnam, that was really is primary duty. So I was much more concerned when he left the second time. But I still was convinced he would come back. Mainly because so many people were praying for him. And I really believed that when we asked the Lord to keep him safe that he would come back. I was confident. Some friends, very close friends begged him not to go the second time, because casualties were running very high by now. But he went back in 1967. And was getting close to the end of that tour of duty. Was engaged to be married. And in April of 1968 he went out on a mission to rescue a downed marine helicopter. And they were shot down by enemy fire.
Chapter: The Engagement…
Sandy Sturch: I mentioned Floyd was engaged to be married. And I had never met his fiancé. And so I had written to this girl in Illinois, Marilyn Hayes was her name, and introduced myself by letter. And Floyd wanted me to give her a ring on his behalf qnd he had bought a diamond just before he was sent to a tough area. And he said, “I’m uneasy holding on to this diamond. I’m sending it to you tonight, because in the morning I have to to leave and I don’t want to take this with me”. And I got this envelope with a little bulge in it. And I opened it up and here was this note from Floyd saying, “I know you think I’m crazy for sending this to you this way but I’m afraid to take it with me”. And so here was this, I think it was a carat diamond that he had wrapped in a little piece of tissue paper. That was it. He said I’ll tell you later what to do with it. So later he wrote and describe how you want me to have the diamond set. And so I did that and then invited Marilyn to Houston. It was right around Easter time. He sent me a note to give her, sealed in envelope of course, to give her with the ring and I was to hide it in the guest room. And let her go in there and find it and Floyd said, “as soon as she sees it she’ll scream. And she did. But it was fun. It was a lot of fun. I loved Marilyn as soon as I met her. We just had a great relationship instantly and we went out looking for a wedding dress. And she bought a wedding dress that same weekend. And when she flew back to Illinois, about the same time Floyd went out on his mission from which he never returned. And she waited three years for Floyd before she gave up.
Chapter: That Dreaded Day…
Sandy Sturch: That dreaded day came when my mother saw a man in a uniform walk up her sidewalk to her house. And by then people knew that when they saw someone coming to the home in a uniform it was not good news. So she received notification that Floyd had been shot down on April 21st, the year was 1968. The communications said that it appeared that the plane had exploded in the air and there could not have been survivors. It took two weeks to even get to the wreckage and only the tail section was found. And the rotor blades that were in the river near Hong Ha village in the central highlands of Vietnam. Because of lack of evidence of bodies. All six men aboard aircraft were listed as missing in action. When a full search could be conducted they found the dog tag of one of the men aboard the plane. And that was the only evidence that there was.
Chapter: He Left The Day I Was Born…
Karen Williamson: What I know about Floyd Olsen? Since I was a little girl I knew that he left to go to Vietnam the day that I was born. And that he never came back and that no one knew what exactly had happened to him. And to this day nobody has found him.
Kent C. Williamson: This is my wife, Karen Williamson
Karen Williamson: My sister and I used to go visit our grandmother. We would scrounge through the basement. And we dug up his old baseball glove and his trumpet. And every summer we’d pull those out and we’d try to play music on his trumpet or make a lot of noise with it. And we’d go across the street from our grandmother’s house and we’d play catch with his baseball gloves and his baseballs. And their were odds and ends throughout the basement. Trunks with a lot of his Army stuff that had been sent back from the War. And his yearbooks from Wheaton Central and Wheaton college that had his pictures in it. Our grandmother had a room at the front of her house that was her office and his pictures were all over the room and his flag was there. So he was very much present around the house and in our grandmother’s things and in conversation.
Chapter: Learning The News…
Karen Williamson: He was flying on a rescue mission. And that the weather was poor. And somewhere along the way the people that he was in communication with during that flight could no longer hear him and could not identify his location. And no one ever heard from him again.
Sandy Sturch: My mother was just beside herself. She was so distraught she couldn’t talk. My grandmother called me in Houston and said, “your brother has been shot down”. I don’t know that she new term Missing In Action at that point. She might have, I guess that was probably part of the report. They they could not say he was dead because I didn’t know that, but he was missing. So then I got on a plane and I flew to Wheaton to be with her.
Kent C. Williamson: When you hung up the phone, what was going through your mind?
Sandy Sturch: Well, of course disbelief. Always that first reaction of “this cannot be so”. My second thought was, “but wait a minute, get a hold of yourself, he’s just missing. He’s just missing. And you’ve been praying all the time that the Lord would take care of him. He can’t be dead. He’s just, he’s really missing. They will find him.” And I think that was my mother’s thought to.
Kent C. Williamson: So you flew up to see your mom in Wheaton? Tell me a little about that…
Sandy Sturch: Well it was as if he had died. All of our friends, we’d lived in Wheaton for many years, and people were just flocking to the house and consoling us. And in fact I remember feeling a little bit angry that everybody was talking as though he had been killed. Almost assuming he had been killed, acting like he had been killed. When I wanted to shake everybody and say well now wait a minute wait a minute you’re you’re going to fast we don’t know that he’s dead he may still be alive he’s probably alive. They just haven’t found. He just probably in the jungle somewhere. I do remember early on, maybe within a year or so after he was shot down, we were sent a picture. And we were asked does this look like – my mother was asked does this look like your son? And it was of someone in a POW camp. And we both looked at the photograph and of course it was not a good quality photograph. And I really thought it looked an awful lot like Floyd. If, you know, if they were asking me to make – “is this your brother?” I probably would’ve said, “it is.” And I think my mother would’ve said it’s her son. But not long after that we received a letter saying that this was not Floyd. That it was identified as somebody else. And that closed that case.
Chapter: Getting Involved…
Sandy Sturch: About 1970-71 I became involved in National League of Families of Prisoners Missing in Southeast Asia. The effort of that group was to bring public awareness of the POW-MIA situation to the American people. I don’t think anyone really wanted to believe that we left men over there. But people close to the situation many people felt that indeed we left a lot of men behind.
Karen Williamson: I remember when I was four or five years old that mom was going to appear on the news…
Kent C. Williamson: Again, Karen Williamson.
Karen Williamson: We all gathered around the television and we watched Mom answer questions about the POW-MIA movement. I have no idea what the subject was or the politics of it, but she appeared on the news and I thought that was pretty impressive.
DROP IN — Kent C. Williamson: I found an old newspaper clipping from the Corpus Cristi Times where Karen and her family lived and where Sandy was involved with the POW/MIA movement as the founder of the local chapter. In the Friday, August 18th, 1972 edition at the bottom of page 2A there was a section called Action Line where readers would submit questions like these: “At what address can I reach Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys?”, “What address is the local Civil Liberties Union?” And this one, “where can we get information on men whose names are listed on POW-MIA bracelets?” The newspaper would work to get answers to these questions and in the case of the bracelets they responded with a helpful mailing address to VIVA (Voices In Vital America) the organization that provided the bracelets and a follow up quote by Karen’s Mom explaining the $2.50 cost per bracelet. She said…
Sandy Sturch (actress): “This office keeps 50 cents of the $2.50 for office expenses, postage, etc. Two dollars is returned to VIVA. Of this 80 cents is their cost for making one bracelet. They use the rest to publish POW-MIA literature, pamphlets, bumper stickers, mailing stickers and for their office expenses and postage. They send POW-MIA literature to all the various POW-MIA offices in the country free of charge.”
Karen Williamson: I do remember as a four or five year old that I had a bracelet that I got from the POW-MIA office where mom spent some time, and I do remember that she was at that office a good bit of the time. And there was a big box that was just full of silver bracelets that had various peoples names. But I had one and it was a little bitty bracelet that had his name on it and it said, “niece.”
Sandy Sturch: My hope really had continued that when the list of POW’s came out my brother’s name would be on it. But it was not. And when that happened, I think that’s when I really came to grips with the fact that he had died in the crash. My mother who was a widow also had to come to grips with that. It was very, very difficult, because with an MIA situation you don’t have a body to bury. When there’s no evidence whatsoever you assume and yet you want to hope that maybe somehow, some way your loved one could still be alive. So there is this lack of closure and always wondering what really did happen.
Karen Williamson: At the ten year point, our family traveled from Texas up to Wheaton. I remember many of his friends and family gathered and there was a memorial service. I didn’t, again, understand the ins and outs of really what it was about. I was ten. That seemed to kind of close that chapter for the time.
Chapter: I Owe My Life To Floyd…
Sandy Sturch: Floyd’s area of expertise was helicopter repair. When helicopters went down if Floyd’s crew could get to it and lift it out of there then they would salvage the plane. And of course in that plane there was equipment there were records and so forth that may be helpful to the enemy. And a Marine helicopter had gone down. Floyd’s crew, they were on their way to try to get to that plane. This was not a flight that he should have taken. He was not scheduled to do this. I had heard from someone, not terribly long after the crash, we got a letter saying that the one who was supposed to take that flight had been out the night before drinking and had a hangover. And was not able to take it. I’ve since heard from that man — recently. And this man wrote and said, “I should, I’m the one who should of taken that flight and and Floyd took it for me.” And so he said, “I, I owe my life to him.” Which was very moving for me to read.
Sandy Sturch: I received a phone call one day from a very close friend of my brothers Dennis Stuessi. And out of the blue Dennis called and said that he and some other friends of Floyd’s—military men—had gone to the crash site and had searched for evidence. And in the process of doing this they noticed that in this village, which was very near the crash, Hong Ha village, there was absolutely no medical help for the people who live there. There was a very old medical clinic that had been abandoned. Where you could see through the boards and in that building there was one half bottle of quinine and that was all there was, and one glass vile. That was the total of their medical care. And so they felt that they wanted to do something in memory of Floyd. And so they built a clinic, a medical clinic, but it’s not a fancy clinic in American terms—very basic. And they were about to complete the clinic when Dennis called me and he said they planned to dedicate it on the thirtieth anniversary of the crash—April 21st 1998. And asked if I wanted to go to Vietnam with them to dedicate that clinic. And of course I was thrilled beyond belief that anything like this could have been done. When our small group of people went to Hong Ha village to dedicate the clinic all the people in the village came out to greet us. They had seen the clinic being built. We’re very excited about it. About six thousand people now have some degree of medical care because of that clinic. I cut the ribbon in the ceremony which was attended by villagers and of course our small group. But also communist, some communist leaders in that area. And as we went into the clinic to look at it, what grabbed me, gripped me the most of anything was the fact that there was my brother’s picture hanging on the wall with his testimony in English on one side and his testimony in Vietnamese on the other side of the picture. And I thought isn’t this incredible that in 1998 my brother’s picture would hang on the wall of any structure in a communist country. That’s when things came together for me I thought, “this makes sense. This makes sense this. This is my picture of how God works.” I learned early as a child and so did Floyd we memorized Romans 8:28—“For all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.” And so I kept looking for the purpose in this. Why would God have allowed this to happen and I knew, I knew that God had a plan. We drove beyond the clinic down a hill to a clearing that a couple of the elderly Vietnamese men in the village had said is where the helicopter came down. And they stood outside our circle and we gathered and we had prayer there. Larry Ward drew me aside and he said in my ear he said, “I think one or maybe both of these two men were the ones who actually shot your brother down.” And this really moved me and instead of feeling resentment I just felt a great love and compassion for them. I had my picture taken with these men and I just decided that I would start praying for these people and these men in particular. And in the ministry that this hospital might become to them. To me this was closure, not that I’d still thought Floyd was alive, but I thought this makes sense of his death. And knowing Floyd in his Christian commitment, he would feel that if, somehow, someway this medical clinic could speak of Christ’s love to these people, this is how God wanted to use this tragic accident or event in the war, that there were there would be good reason for that to happen. So we left and I thought, “this is wonderful.” You know, this really made me feel that Floyd’s life was not lost in vain, there was some purpose to this, that God would use this for good. My mother, who never got over the grief of losing her only son, she had dementia very serious, very severely. And she hadn’t been able to talk, she had been able to connect with me whatsoever. I’m not sure she even knew who I was at that point, but when I learned about our going to Vietnam for the dedication I sat down in front of her and took her hands in mine and I told her what was about to happen. And she looked at me and her eyes got just as bright as I’ve never seen her, and that blank vacant look vanished and she said, “Isn’t that wonderful!” And at that point she had not spoken a word in a long time. So we got back from the trip and I gave her the report of the trip. And then that was in April and she died in August.
I had a marker placed not far from the clinic, it’s really on the other side of the river. I had the marker put there with an inscription—Floyd’s name and basic information about his crash. I had that put there, not because I’m convinced that Floyd is dead or because indeed Floyd is not buried there, but I wanted to mark the spot, so to speak. I wanted to mark the area so that anyone else who would ever come to that area might come upon that marker and know that there was an American who gave his life there, whether he was instantly killed, or gave his life in the other sense of never being able to return to his country. That that would mark the spot that something important had happened there and that the love of Floyd for the Vietnamese people and my subsequent love for the Vietnamese people, for this country, and overarching all of this our love for Jesus Christ, our desire to serve him, that this whole story—there’s a marker that that speaks to that.
Chapter: The Live Sighting Reports…
Sandy Sturch: Not long after that, I don’t remember how long it was, we started getting live sighting reports of Floyd. To this time we’ve received about twenty five of those reports. A couple of years ago I was told in Washington that there is more activity of Floyd’s case than any other MIA. There have been many searches for him. But on the live sighting reports every report ended the same that they did not feel that the witness was credible. Usually the witness wanted money in exchange for information, which our government would not pay. And so they would not verify any of these live sighting reports. But forty years have past and I’m still getting live sighting reports of Floyd being held in Laos. And so I simply don’t know. Because of the nature of the reports and the persistence of these reports through all of these years with no one ever having been paid money for the information, I think it is possible that Floyd is alive. Whether or not I’ll ever see him again I still don’t know. The current live sighting reports say that Floyd is being held in a small village of Laos. In an area of villages where there are reportedly forty two Americans being held. That he was with another man whose name was Larry Stevens. They were raising pigs and chickens and sticky rice for their survival. Floyd had married and this actually was in a report much, much earlier that he had married and had a couple of children. That Floyd had said that he wanted to come back to the United States, but only if he could bring his family.
Karen Williamson: Mom mentioned that she had been getting more live sighting reports from the Army. And she said she had been getting them all along but that she was a little bit caught off guard with their wording in one of the more recent reports. It mentioned that after all these years that he thought maybe now would be a time that he could, he might be able to come home. And it was the first time I really ever considered that possibly the Army could be wrong about his status. Or just the question of, “what if?” What if he really hadn’t died? What if they really didn’t have it right? What if they were wrong? And that immediately captured me and I couldn’t, couldn’t let that go.
Chapter: Interesting Developments…
Kent C. Williamson: In the early to mid 2000’s, our family began attending the annual League of Family meetings in Washington, D.C. At one of the meetings the name Larry Stevens came up…
Sandy Sturch: Now the significant thing about Larry Stevens is that at this meeting in Washington a mother went to the microphone to address the military and government leaders, in particular JPAC, the organization that conducts the that the search teams. At any rate a picture of her son had been passed across the border from Laos into Vietnam. I don’t recall to whom the picture was given, but it made its way to Washington where forensics experts verified that this was indeed a picture of her son. Now the live sighting report I had just received within two or three weeks of this meeting was that Larry Stevens was being held with my brother Floyd Olsen. That gave me the most hope. There was another report: one man aboard Floyd’s plane, his last name was Mackendance. He was positively identified by one of our return POW’s as having been held with him in the POW camp for a period of time then he was transferred on. Now if that is true. Then it would mean that someone did indeed survive that crash. So if one survived the crash then others could have survived crash. I can’t imagine how he has survived if he is alive, but yet I know Floyd and I know his background and I know how solid and stable Floyd is. I know of his deep faith in Christ. And if this was part of God’s purpose to plant Floyd in Laos for these years then if that is why God created Floyd and the role that the Lord had planned for Floyd, I, I do not question that. I do not question that. So through the years of wrestling with this and looking at the what if’s, maybe he’s alive, maybe he didn’t survive, does he really have a family, if he has a family that means I have a sister-in-law. If he has children that means I have nieces or nephews. I don’t know, I don’t know, but the bottom line is we received as believers and as followers of Jesus Christ we simply receive what the Lord has given us and we trust His sovereignty. And we trust His goodness and His mercy and His grace to bring something good out of the evil that that war perpetuated. That’s where I am at the moment. I’m, I am resigned to accepting and being thankful for however the Lord has used Floyd’s life. If Floyd was killed instantly, as the original report said, then the fact that we have not been permitted to know for sure has indeed resulted in a lot of good things; a lot of interaction of people who have come together to try to do something in God’s name in the Lord’s name for the good of the Vietnamese people and that’s, that’s what we’re about—that’s mission. That is the call of the Church. That is my call. I can have hope and I can be grateful and I can have joy in the midst of suffering.
Chapter: What If He Is Alive?
Kent C. Williamson: How would you feel if you found out he was alive?
Karen Williamson: I can’t imagine finding out he was alive. There was always the hope. I can’t imagine it really being true. I remember when I was in junior high school, it must have been related to something we were studying in school, but he, I had sort of this fantasy that he would just show up. He would return miraculously and life would just go on as it had, but now we would have Floyd again. I mean even as an eleven year old I remember just hoping and wishing that, that he would just come back. I can’t imagine what that would feel like, after hoping for so long. I hope that if he were to come back that he could enjoy the remainder of his life getting to know his family, living on American soil.
Kent C. Williamson: Let’s say we find Floyd. What are you going to say to him?
Sandy Sturch: If Floyd still has a sense of humor he’ll probably make some wisecrack about where he’s been all these years. That would be Floyd. He had a great dry wit. I don’t know what literally I would say to Floyd. I probably wouldn’t have words to speak. It would be so overwhelming. I have thought about not just the joys of seeing Floyd again and how wonderful it would be to have him back. But I have thought about the challenge. I’m his only living relative, except for my daughters and there families. Whom he has not met. I don’t know what condition Floyd would be in. And I have asked myself, “If Floyd is alive, and he came back, am I willing to set aside my life to care for him as long as I’m here. To do that.” And of course, I would do that.
Chapter: Remembering Floyd…
Kent C. Williamson: What does Floyd mean to you?
Sandy Sturch: Floyd is probably one of the most committed Christians I’ve ever known. And I never doubted that even as a kid. Floyd is one who if the Lord had said to Floyd, “I want you to give your life for these people, for the Vietnamese.” Floyd would have said he would do that. I don’t doubt that. Floyd loved the Vietnamese. He would write letters home from Vietnam about his love especially for the children of Vietnam. He was crazy about the children. And there were missionaries in Vietnam at that time, there were, that they had to leave when we pulled out and the Communist curtain came down on that country. The missionaries would give Floyd tracts, Gospel tracts, that he would drop from his plane over the rice paddies. To try to share the Gospel with these people. So for Floyd it was loyalty to our country, loyalty to the military, but also a deep love for these people and a desire for the Gospel to be spread. So I see Floyd is not just my brother I see him as a strong Christian and as a servant of Jesus Christ, who would have said, “whatever Lord, whatever you want with my life is what I want.” Yes, I always grieve the loss of Floyd. I wish that we could have spent our adult years together. And and I share Floyd’s feeling that if this is what needed to happen, for whatever eternal purposes for those people in Vietnam, then so be it. That’s the way we feel about it. There is a side of me that is almost more comforted to think that Floyd died instantly in the crash. That would have been the easier way perhaps to enter the eternal kingdom, than to go through what he has probably endured if he is alive. But if he’s alive I suspect there are others alive also, other Americans over there. I do not know God’s plan, God’s purpose, I cannot guess, but knowing that God has a plan and yet has not revealed it to me, I take great comfort in that.
Kent C. Williamson: You have kids of your own. What do you tell them? Who was Uncle Floyd?
Karen Williamson: What I have told my kids about my uncle Floyd is that he was their grandma’s brother. That he fought in the war and that his helicopter was lost and nobody ever found it. And that we believe that he died there, but they’re really only God knows. The difficult part is that, because I’ve never known him, I can pass on what I’ve heard, but it’s not, it’s not the same as them knowing him. So there will be pictures, he’ll be part of our family history. There will be stories of him singing with their grandmother as kids in church and there will be stories, but there really won’t be many of those.
Sandy Sturch: I don’t wanna hold Floyd up as a hero in one sense, because this is the call I think of every Christian and there have been many who have preceded Floyd, and many who will follow him.But I do hold him up as a young man who was faithful to his call.
Kent C. Williamson: In 2005 the organization Vets With A Mission began utilizing the clinic in Hong Ha Village. In 2011 they worked with the Vietnamese government to build a new larger and more modern clinic in Hong Ha. It’s known as the Floyd Olsen Memorial Clinic. As of this Memorial Day in 2017, my wife’s uncle Lieutenant Colonel Floyd W. Olsen is still unaccounted for. He’s one of 1,611 Vietnam Veterans who are still missing. The live sighting reports in their familiar brown envelopes have stopped arriving.
Turn Again To Life
If I should die and leave you here awhile,
Be not like others, sore undone, who keep
Long vigils by the silent dust, and weep.
For my sake – turn again to life and smile,
Nerving thy heart and trembling hand to do
Something to comfort other hearts than thine.
Complete those dear unfinished tasks of mine
And I, perchance, may therein comfort you.
— Mary Lee Hall
CLOSE & CREDITS — Kent C. Williamson: Thank you for listening to this final episode of the By War & By God Podcast from Paladin Pictures. It has been one of my greatest honors to be able to tell the stories of these veterans we’ve been following all season long.
You can learn more about By War & By God at By War And By God dot com and you can still use the coupon code “podcast” at Big Heaven Cafe dot com to save five bucks on your copy of the film.
If you have any thoughts about this or any of the other episodes in the series, please send an email to me at Kent at By War And By God dot com.
The By War & By God Podcast is written and produced by me Kent C. Williamson with Sound Design and Finishing by Ashby Wratchford. Our Audio Engineer in the studio is Steve Carpenter.
Special thanks to Rebecca Burylo and the Montgomery Advertiser for their coverage of Colonel Campbell’s story. Special thanks also to Leslie Wood for performing the voice of my mother-in-law as quoted in the Corpus Cristi Times, reading the poem Turn Again To Life by Mary Lee Hall, and reading the chapter titles in this episode.
The By War & By God soundtrack was composed by Will Musser and for a limited time you can download the entire soundtrack for free at By War And By God dot com. Thank you to the entire Paladin Team which includes Leslie Wood, Steve Carpenter, Dan Fellows, and Ashby Wratchford.
This podcast is a production of Paladin Pictures. Yep, Paladin is a film production company that sees the value in audio podcasts. Why? Because like is the case with By War & By God… the podcast can go deeper into the story than the film ever can. Paladin Pictures is committed to the creation of redemptive entertainment and thought-provoking cultural critique. Learn more about us and our films at Paladin Pictures dot com. That’s Paladin P-A-L-A-D-I-N Pictures dot com.
By War & By God is produced at the Paladin studio in the amazingly wonderful, beautiful little town of Charlottesville, Virginia.
And of course, thank you to our Veterans… those who returned… and especially those who didn’t. Like my wife’s Uncle Floyd. Thank you!
EPISODE 12 – Memorial Day Special: The Story of Floyd W. Olsen
PLAYERS: Sandy Olsen Sturch, Karen Williamson and host Kent C. Williamson
SUMMARY: One Vietnam Veteran still unaccounted for is remembered by his sister and niece in this Memorial Day Special.
US Wings Website – Average age of US soldier during Vietnam War was 22
Big Heaven Cafe – Save $5 on the DVD of By War & By God with the coupon code “Podcast”
Corpus Cristi Times – August 18, 1972 edition (may require subscription)
By War & By God Soundtrack – Download the original soundtrack to the film for free!
SUMMARY: The By War & By God Podcast is a companion series to the award-winning documentary film By War & By God. The podcast will allow us to go deeper into the stories than the film allows.
Kent C. Williamson: Hello, I’m Kent Williamson, the director of the film By War & By God and host of the soon-to-be-released By War & By God Podcast from Paladin Pictures. How soon? March the 8th.
For those that don’t know, By War & By God tells the story of a group of Vietnam Vets who survived the hell of war and who, since 1989, have been returning to Vietnam to care for some of the poorest of the poor of that beautiful land.
The film was recently nominated for an Emmy. It also won Best of Show at the Docs Without Borders film festival where it took home the Human Spirit Award, Best Direction, Best Editing, and Audience Impact Awards.
The reason we’re creating the By War & By God podcast is to go deeper into the fascinating stories these veterans told us. When we edited the film there was so much good content that didn’t make it into the film. But the podcast is the perfect vehicle for us to share these stories. Some episodes will be topical where these men reflect on their very first day as machine gunners, medics, and kids in Vietnam, or they share the stories of their absolute best… or even their worst days during the war. Other episodes will focus on a single Veterans story… their experiences as soldiers in the war… their return to a nation who didn’t appreciate them… and what led them to go back to Vietnam.
So I hope you’ll join us on March 8th as we launch the podcast. Go ahead and subscribe now so you don’t miss a single episode. If you haven’t seen the film By War & by God yet you can stream it or buy the DVD at a variety of online retailers including Vimeo On Demand and Big Heaven Cafe dot com. That’s Big Heaven Cafe dot com.
To give you a little taste of what the podcast will be like here’s the audio of the first few minutes of the film By War & By God….
Archival Footage – News Clip: Because of the following CBS News Special Report the program normally seen at this time will not be presented today.
Phil Carney: My first recollection is just watching the news as a kid.
Bob Peragallo: There was a broadcast on the television about Vietnam and that Marines had landed there. And I had no idea that there was such a place called Vietnam.
Pat Cameron: The war was going on but I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to it.
Sandy Sturch: Whatever our purposes were, we were going to go in and do and get out and I wasn’t much concerned about it.
Archival Footage – Marines Commercial: If you think every Marine learns how to handle a rifle. You’re right.
Steve Scott: I grew up reading a lot of Kipling and wanted [laughs] some adventure.
Archival Footage – Marines Commercial: But if you think that’s all he learns, you’re wrong.
Archival Footage – News Clip: With American air support, South Vietnamese troops are still engaged in the endless, weary, bloody business of war.
Walt Griffin: Well, I really didn’t know much about until around ’64, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. And I watched the famous Johnson speech.
Archival Footage – News Clip: The confrontation between Reds and the West was the most critical since the Gulf of Tonkin incident last summer. When the US replied just as swiftly to North Vietnam PT boat attacks.
Sandy Sturch: I wasn’t much concerned about it, until my brother was sent to Vietnam
Cal Dunham: In 1967, I found myself with a set of papers that said I was now going to be joining the army
Steve Scott: I think the first time I heard about Vietnam was in boot camp in the Marine Corps. But the drill instructors inured us to the fact that we’re all going to go to Vietnam.
Roger Helle: And I remember one of the teachers one day, I think in Social Studies, He was – started screaming at me and he said “Some of you are going to end up in a rice paddy in Vietnam!” And you know, as a senior in high school, I thought, you know, “Where’s Vietnam? and why would i want to be in a rice paddy?”
Sandy Sturch: You might go for your first tour and get back ok, but not as many people went for their second tour and came back.
Chuck Ward: On the first day of school the next term, which was September, my Junior year, a priest by the name of Father Barry Jones brought together the dozen or so students that weren’t doing very well in school. And he sat us down and told us how important it was to improve our grades and all this, because there was this thing called the Vietnam War. And already, some of the classmates from that high school had come home, killed in that war.
Archival Footage – Soldier: I mean I can’t say that I’m scared to death, but I’m scared. I mean after a while you know it’s gonna come and you can do nothing about it. And you just look to God. That’s about the only thing you can do.
Cal Durham: We were engaged in fighting
Bob Peragallo: There were about 500 VC that had attacked this 14 man patrol
Cal Dunham: The tree that i had dodged behind was hit with a rocket propelled grenade
Roger Helle: And I was walking point when a grenade was thrown and hit me in the leg and bounced before I could do anything that grenade went off, just lifted me off the ground, ripping me apart
Cal Dunham: Then this explosion, right where I was, knocked me unconscious. And when I woke up all I remembered was hollering for the medic
Phil Carney: I could tell that people were panicked about something and they were pointing back. And I walked deeper into the water, I was real tall and there were children in the river that were being swept away.
Archival Footage – War Report: Our position is threatened. The patrol has been ambushed and is tied down
Bob Peragallo: All of my buddies were in that squad and we lost contact with them.
Archival Footage – News Clip: I had 13 with me when I came.
“It’s 4 days later now and how many are still here?”
“We’re losing to many men, if we stay here much longer, we wouldn’t have much left of this platoon, let alone a company.”
Phil Carney: And nobody could find them. But you could hear them screaming.
Archival Footage – News Clip: There’s dynamite 5-2. I request dust off
Pat Cameron: We had some in-coming helicopters coming in, and we had more body bags, than we had people.
Roger Helle: I was shot twice. Knocked to the ground again.
Cal Dunham: I found myself writhing in pain
Roger Helle: Run through the stomach by a North Vietnamese solider with his bayonet while I was laying on the ground.
Phil Carney: And then about an hour later it was daylight. And we went back to that same area, and waded down in there and ah, and found um, a bunch of these little kids. And they had been swept into the concertina wire. And they had just been like in a blender; just churned up.
Pat Cameron: That was a bad night.
Roger Helle: I knew I was going to die on that field.
Phil Carney: And I can sort of remember just pulling parts of those kids out of that wire. Just trying to get them out of the wire. And just losing it. And… I never, ah –– ah, never got over that.
Pat Cameron: We just hadn’t been around death that much.
Roger Helle: My company of 219 Marines walked in to a 650 man Vietcong ambush.
Bob Peragallo: And they took the brunt of the ambush and were pretty much annihilated. Only 2 survived.
Pat Cameron: I still have visions of that…of the body bags. I even have visions of people moving in the body bags. Death is tough on a young guy.
Archival Footage – Soldier: When youth was a soldier and brought across the sea. We were young in cold hearts, a bloody savagery. Born of indignation, children of our time. We were orphans of creation and dying in our prime.
Kent C. Williamson: Thanks for listening to this preview episode of the By War & By God Podcast from Paladin Pictures. Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast so you won’t miss an episode. We launch on March the 8th. Learn more about the the podcast and the film at www dot By War And By God dot com. That’s By War And By God dot com.
Paladin Pictures is committed to the creation of redemptive entertainment and thought-provoking cultural critique. Learn more about us at Paladin Pictures dot com. That’s Paladin P-A-L-A-D-I-N Pictures dot com.
The By War & By God Podcast is produced by me Kent C. Williamson with finish editing by Ashby Wratchford. Our Audio Engineer for today’s program is Steve Carpenter. The film By War & By God was edited by James Burgess and the music for the film was composed by Will Musser.
Special thanks to the Paladin Team which includes Leslie Wood, Steve Carpenter, Dan Fellows, Steve Lessick, and Ashby Wratchford and of course our web site guy, who happens to be the Director of Photography on By War & By God, and who also happens to be my brother… Brad Williamson. Thanks!
And of course thank you to our Veterans… this who returned… and especially those who didn’t. Like my wife’s Uncle Floyd. Thank you!