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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • For Olson, helicopter is a reminder of harrowing mission in Vietnam

  • Almost 46 years to the day later, he takes a seat in what could be a helicopter he piloted in Vietnam
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  •     On May 10, 1968,  Warrant Officer Harold R. Olson, was wounded in Vietnam as a result of hostile action.  He was a military helicopter pilot on a reconnaissance operation when hit by hostile small arms fire and received gunshot wounds to the right leg and foot.     
        Following is a story as told by Harry that occurred during one of his missions. This involves two young men from Crookston, Harry and his friend Ted Riendeau in 1967, in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.   
        We were working north of Dak To and a friend of mine was shot down on the side of a mountain, crashing in heavy bamboo.    
        First, Dust Off was called in to rescue the pilots. The pilot on Dust Off was Ted Riendeau of Crookston.  Ted and his crew did a great job of hoisting the pilots out and got them to medical care.  Ted commented that it was funny when this one pilot got in the helicopter all bloody and asked Ted if he knew Harry Olson. Ted said yes while laughing.   
        I was then called in to lift the helicopter and equipment out.   
        We had to reduce fuel load due to the location of the downed helicopter.  We brought another crew chief and radioman to assist in the recovery mission.   We lowered a 100 foot ladder due to the bamboo for the crew chief and radio man to go down.  After about 30 minutes they called and decided they could not recover the machine. We then decided to recover the guns and radios.  After another 20 minutes we were ready to go. They had secured the equipment to the ladder and then they began to climb up the ladder.  The crew chief got in the helicopter and the radio man was half way up the ladder and fell off! After hitting the ground he was not moving so I asked for a volunteer to go down and get him.  My door gunner went down and got him on the ladder but could not get him up to the helicopter.   
        Meanwhile it is beginning to get dark and our 20 minute fuel light has been on for 5 minutes.  We made the decision to fly out of there with the men hanging on the bottom of the ladder and the equipment hanging below them.   
        My crew chief cleared me to fly off but did not see a larger tree which the attached equipment got entangled. I had no collective or up and down control and no cyclic or side to side control. This is close to the point where you kiss your A-- good bye. I tried one more thing with the tail rotor and got just enough power to break loose of the tree.  Sweat is rolling now and my crew chief states that the men fell off. I am now having a coronary and then he states no, they are still hanging on!We start flying back and come to the first area where we can land and get the men and equipment inside and roll up that ladder which was attached to the floor.   
    Page 2 of 2 -     It is dark now and we are close to a Special Forces camp as our fuel pressure goes down to nothing.  I land as close as possible to the camp.  We are about a quarter mile from the camp and tried to reach them by radio because they were starting to shoot around their perimeter.   
        We did not know if they saw us and we feared they may hit us.  We set up our own perimeter while trying to radio for someone to bring us some fuel. About that time NVA (North Vietnamese Army) mortars starting landing around us.  That lasted for about 15 minutes. We never did get in touch with the Special Forces.   
        About midnight our maintenance officer flew in with lights off bringing us 20 gallons of fuel. This was just enough to get us into Dak To. While shooting our approach to south POL (meaning a refueling point) it blew up.  We had fire all around and after finding another spot to refuel, our crew chief had to get out and get a pump going and fuel us up.   
        Anyway, we got home about 3 in the morning.   
        Just another interesting day.   
        Of the photo recently depicting Harry in the historic helicopter that he happened upon almost by accident, here's what he had to say: This was at Sun & fun in Florida, a big fly in like Oshkosh. I went to the VHPA tent, The Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association.  I saw the scout ship and was looking at it when I noticed the 7th of the 17th Cav. That was my unit.  I talked to the guy looking after it and he told me the serial number.  I realized it was very possible it was one of the ships I flew in Vietnam.  (Harry took a moment to sit in the helicopter, almost exactly on the 46th anniversary of his harrowing, narrow escape.)   
        While In Vietnam, Harry received 18 Air Medals; one medal is awarded for every 25 missions flown in Vietnam. He also received two Distinguished Flying Crosses:  This medal is awarded to any officer or enlisted man of the Armed Forces of the United States who shall have distinguished himself in actual combat in support of operations by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight. He also earned one Purple Heart.
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