Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lieutenant Colonel C. A. Olsen, 1919 - 2011

A couple years ago I posted an article on my blog about my great-grandfather, Henry Olsen, and some of the historical pictures regarding him that I found on the Internet. His oldest son, H. Paul Olsen, was my grandfather. My middle name, Paul, comes from him. My first name, though, comes from another of my great-grandfather’s sons, Clarence Andrew Olsen. As I remember the story, my mother wanted to name me after her beloved Uncle Clarence, but he suggested that she use his middle name rather than saddle me with the name, Clarence. Taking his wise advice, I am Andrew Paul Efting.

My great-grandfather (seated in the middle) and his children. Standing in the back is my grandfather, H. Paul Olsen. Seated on the far left is my great-uncle, Clarence A. Olsen.

Unfortunately, we lived across the country from my Uncle Clarence, and so I never knew him as well as I would have liked. My Mom always spoke so fondly of him, though, and told many intriguing stories regarding his extraordinary life. Sadly, he passed away this week at the age of 91. To me he was always, Uncle Clarence, but to others he was a special friend, mentor, beloved college professor, or Lieutenant Colonel C. A. Olsen, war hero, or simply, “The Colonel.”

In honor of his life on the sad occasion of his death, I thought I would post portions of an article that was written about him by one of his great-nieces, Mary Ellen Olsen Huff, in conjunction with this past year’s Veteran’s Day. I count it a great privilege to have know him and to be named after him. If after reading this you are interested in learning more about him, you can visit the Facebook page created in is honor.

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The life my Uncle Clarence led in the military is the stuff movies are made of, books are written about. Last month he celebrated his 91st birthday. He is still one amazing and sharp witted man, he lived one fascinating life AND he served Christ throughout his military career.

When he was just 12 years old Clarence discovered his love of the French language and in high school he studied it for three years under an exceptional French teacher, he learned to speak the language fluently as well as to read and comprehend it. He feels that learning the language as he did was what chartered the course of his life and that it was God's plan for his life, learning the language was his gift. During this time he also taught himself to play the piano and took voice lessons at a local conservatory - two more things that served him well in the years to come.

During World War II he joined the Army Air Corps (the forerunner of the Air Force) and his military career began. I've heard him tell the story about D-Day and landing on the beach of Normandy. To sit and hear someone who was there give a firsthand account of the events of that day in great detail is astounding - a history lesson like no other. Because of his knowledge of the French language he received an assignment with the French underground as the liaison between the leaders of the French Resistance and the Allied Forces and eventually he was the interpreter at the post-Potsdam Conferences and a translator for General Lucius Clay. He was the only member of his unit to receive the two World War II decorations the "Croix de Guerre" and the "Decoration Militaire."



He returned to civilian life for a time after the war and earned his master's degree, then while working on his doctoral studies the Korean conflict began and without finishing his thesis he re-enlisted in the Army.

During the 1950's and 60's the list of things he did sounds somewhat like a James Bond movie - if the movie used French subtitles. In a word, he became a spy. His assignment was counter-intelligence. There are stories he can't even talk about, it's still too painful. His life was in danger on many occasions. I know at least once he awoke to find someone standing over him with a knife, trying to kill him. For years there were countries he didn't dare travel to for fear of retaliation if the wrong military person knew he was there - that's how significant his role was. But the stories he does tell - they are amazing.

He became the liaison between the French security forces and the U.S. Embassy in Paris, France. In Frankfurt, Germany he was the chief French interpreter for international maneuvers. In Heidelberg and Oberammergau, Germany he was the director of an anti-Communist propaganda project. He also worked at the Pentagon, as the U.S. Army contact officer for the Foreign Military Attaché at each of the 50-plus embassies in Washington, D.C. He was also often called on to be the French interpreter for the Department of Defense and an Escort Officer for French-speaking royalty and high government officials.

He was tall, handsome, well spoken with impeccable manners and a real gentleman. Even many years after he had retired he was still the consummate gentleman, always. I still remember when he would come to visit in college and we would be sitting in the dining hall and anytime a female would approach the table he would stand up until they sat down. He had such a presence about him that you immediately felt respect, he didn't command it - you just sense there was something there that deserved respect. He spent a lot of time getting to know not only my friends but the high school and college kids who would want to talk to him about his life, he often spoke in chapel or in other classes when he was here visiting and he had a real ability to connect with young people.

In the early 60's he did tours of duty in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos and once again became the liaison officer between the U.S. Armed Forces and the chiefs of state in those countries.

Throughout his military career he was well known as a Christian - he was a man of God in uniform. He was well respected and highly trusted by other high ranking officials. He was well respected for not only what he had accomplished in his military career but for who he was and what he stood for. He didn't apologize for it but he didn't shove it down anyone's throat either. He let the life he lived do the talking.

As the wars came to an end, a commanding officers recommendation led to Colonel Olsen's appointment to the staff of West Point Military Academy and eventually he became the head of the French Department. He taught there for five and a half years until he retired from the military in 1970. At his retirement ceremony, the Commandment of Cadets presented him with a Citation from General Westmoreland, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, and an additional Citation from the President of the United States for his outstanding work with and influence on the West Point Cadets.

Uncle Clarence at West Point, 1964, holding me, back when I was adorable.

Uncle Clarence went on to teach French at Asbury College and lead a very busy life until he officially retired from any job when he was 73 years old. Even after his retirement he stayed busy in his church, assisting with the music and playing the organ. For many years he traveled often, visiting people, staying with someone who was going through a difficult time, lending a hand wherever he could - everything from cooking to babysitting he was willing to do and he did it all well.

He has continued to this day to have a great influence on many lives that he has touched over the years, including mine. For many years he would visit us in Florida each year for a few weeks in the winter up until a little over a year ago when a degenerative problem with his spine made flying too difficult. We now keep in touch with letters and phone calls and he continues to amaze me with his sharp mind.

That is the man I honor today - my Great Uncle, my very special friend, Colonel Olsen.

5 Comments:

At 4:25 PM, Anonymous Lynnette Balser said...

Thank you so much for your tribute to Col. Olsen. I cannot tell you how loved he was at Asbury and what a lasting impact he had on so many lives. Sure, he was a great French teacher, but he was a far greater life teacher. This world will greatly miss him. I look forward to one day seeing him again in Heaven. God bless you and your family. How wonderful for you to have known him the way you did.

 
At 3:07 PM, Blogger Andy Efting said...

Thank you. For those who have visted my blog, I'd like to recommend that you also read through the comments on the Facebook page set up in his honor (http://tinyurl.com/4y4wvtk) and read his official obituary (http://tinyurl.com/3krpnda). I'm sure both would prove to be a tremendous blessing.

 
At 9:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Late in my senior year of high school - in a little known town of Wilmore, KY - Colonel Olsen invested two hours of a Sunday afternoon to talk to me about West Point. Twenty three years later, I am still serving in the Army.

I owe a great deal to this great man. I am thankful that I had the privilege of seeing him one last time a few weeks ago in Maryland.

God bless you sir. I will see you when the roll is called up yonder.

Mark

 
At 1:08 PM, Anonymous Dawn Dieter Steward said...

I am so grateful for the wonderful tribute written here. Thank you, Mary Ellen, for this well-worded informative writing. Now I am more honored to have called him Uncle Clarence growing up and to have become a frequent visitor, with my two children, the past 18 years. He encouragd us and the oppostire he always said. We are all blessed to have known Colonel. Heaven will be greater now!

 
At 8:31 AM, Anonymous Scott M. Novak, DDS said...

Thank You for sharing this story. I have been col. Olsen's dentist over the past 7 years and have got to know him well. A truly wonderful person. There just are not many around like him. Rest in Peace, Sir.

 

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