On this date in 1944, Orin Olson was buried at a nameless cemetery in Italy, a long way from his beloved farm near New Rockford, North Dakota.
Orin loved the farm and he especially liked working with horses. When World War II came, two of Orin’s brothers stepped up to join the service, and another went to the West Coast to work in the ship yards. Recently married and with a father in his 70s, it was somewhat assumed that Orin would stay home from the war and take care of the farm. It was not to be. Orin’s draft notice came and he reluctantly reported for duty, ending up in the Army Air Corp, destined to be a pilot. The training was hard, and letters back home told of his fears of washing out of pilot training. He needn’t have worried. Orin was smart, good mechanically and a hard worker. He easily passed the multitude of tests to get his wings.
Olson was sent to the Mediterranean and started flying missions with the twin engine B-25 Mitchell bomber based out of Corsica. Orin’s letters told of his difficult bombing missions and the fact that he didn’t care for the Germans shooting at him. He wrote in anticipation of completing his fiftieth mission, after which he could come home to see his wife and a baby girl born while he was away.
On July 26th, 1944, Olson received orders to bomb a bridge over the Adige River, several miles west of Verona, Italy, to halt German reinforcements from reaching the Allied lines in the south. Orin dived with several other planes to strike the bridge, but his plane took a direct hit in the left engine. Olson fought the controls and ordered his crew to bail out. Bombardier Anthony Quartuccico; turret gunner John Montoro; and copilot Melvin Goff safely parachuted from the plane. Olson rode the plane to the ground and was killed in the crash. It was his fiftieth mission.
Olson’s crewmates were captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war as POWs. Olson’s family first received word that he was missing, then the tragic news that Orin had been killed.
Orin Olson’s grave in Italy was discovered in 1947, and at long last he was reburied near his farm in Eddy County, North Dakota.
Dakota Datebook by Scott Nelson
Sources: Orin Olson missing air crew report, Maxwell AFB. Rodney Nelson’s “Up Sims Creek” Farm Ranch Guide, Nov. 8, 2007