Private Lester A. Olson hit Northern France in 1944. His unit, the 94th Infantry Division, was assigned to contain a pocket of Germans protecting the sub-pens at St. Nazaire. The containment resulted in some skirmishing, but no major action.
It all changed for the 94th on December 16, 1944. In what would be called “The Battle of the Bulge,” the German Army exploded out of the Ardennes and caught the Americans by surprise.
Patton incorporated the 94th into his Third Army, which swept across France to engage, stop, push back and eventually crush all soldiers of the Wehrmacht it faced. Private Olson and the 94th would be heavily engaged with crack German troops continually throughout the remainder of the war, earning him four battle stars.
The 94th, called “Patton’s Golden Nuggets,” punched through the Siegfried Line. This had accomplished what many had failed to do, but they were immediately struck by a counterattack, which became known as the Battle of Lampaden Ridge. The 94th was surrounded and cut off by the much larger force.
The Germans discovered they surrounded the wrong division. After the battle the division would forever be called “The Fighting 94th.” Lester Olson and every soldier of the 94th earned a Presidential Unit Citation for their bravery in the battle, which opened the path to the Rhine.
After inflicting thousands of casualties, capturing thousands of prisoners and liberating countless cities, Private Lester Olson’s combat career ended with the 94th rolling into Dusseldorf at war’s end. Historian Tony Le Tissier (in the book Patton's Pawns) described the 94th as “The wind beneath the wings of victory.”
How I Came To Know Private Lester Olson
After the war Private Olson returned home, hung up his uniform, went to work for the U. S. Post Office and along with his wife, Ann, raised three children, Dennis, Terry, and Victoria.
I came to know Lester Olson as the best father-in-law a guy could hope for.
I didn’t get any of the information I have shared with you from him. His story was told to me by the medals on his uniform, his service records, and history books.
On November 2, 1989, I was leading a stealth entry into an apartment where an armed suspect was holding a woman. The suspect, alerted to our presence, opened fire before the breach was completed. I sensed the rounds coming, abandoned the breach and pivoted out of the path of the 20 gauge slugs.
My partner — who was still behind me in the stack — was shot through the wrist and hit in the chest over his heart (his vest saved him). I managed to get my partner’s bleeding stopped and fireman carried him to an ambulance.
Six hours later I was part of a second stealth entry. This time we were able to take the suspect into custody after a brief physical struggle.
After clearing the scene I was cleared to go to the hospital to see my seriously wounded partner and friend, Gary Clements, just before he went into his first of many surgeries.
When I came home I was emotionally devastated by the incident. I was a police trainer. Bad situations always went well when I was involved. My goal was always “zero casualties.”
I had said it over and over again, and I mistakenly believed it.
All I could think about was if I could have just gotten in a few seconds earlier, or if I would have stepped in front of the door, I could have taken the rounds for Gary.
I wondered if I could ever train officers again. I thought not.
Days after the incident, I was sitting on the steps at my in-law’s home — gazing into nothingness instead of watching my children at play. I was mentally watching the slugs coming through the door, while heavily involved in the woulda-coulda-shoulda-game.
Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up and instead of my father-in-law, there stood Private Lester A. Olson of the 94th Infantry.
Without saying a word, his eyes told me he knew exactly what I was going through. At that moment I realized that after the war he had experienced what I was experiencing and so much more.
After a few moments of silence he said in a voice, just above a whisper, “It gets better.”
He gave my shoulder a squeeze, patted it one more time as he shook his head in the affirmative. Then he was gone.
Prior to that moment I was looking down a path in life that would have been a very unhealthy one. It seemed such a natural path to take under the circumstances. Private Olson gently set me on a different course by uttering three simple words. He was an emotional guide who had already traveled both paths and knew the right one to take. Private Olson had experienced the unimaginable, and survived physically and emotionally.
Now his simple words were like a soothing balm.
These words were also true. After that fateful night, Gary Clements and I were never the same... just better. Together we helped each other to continue to live out our shared childhood dream of being police officers. We now have both retired after over three decades of law enforcement, FTOs to the end.
I carried those simple words of Private Lester Olson through the toughest moments in my career like golden nuggets in my pocket. They helped others and never failed me. Now I am passing them on to you.
This career presents all of us with high-highs as well as low-lows. When it seems as if life has left a friend emotionally bankrupt, reach into your pocket and pull out those three golden nuggets passed along by one of “Patton’s Golden Nuggets.”
Give that friend an empathetic pat on the shoulder and tell them truthfully what lies ahead for them.
“It gets better.”