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William Olin, 103, is a WWI veteran - Unless he is not a WWI

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Auteur Bericht

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BerichtGeplaatst: 06 Jan 2008 20:20    Onderwerp: William Olin, 103, is a WWI veteran - Unless he is not a WWI Reageer met quote

William Olin, 103, is a WWI veteran - Unless he is not a WWI veteran?

Nearly 5 million Americans went to fight The Great War. More than 117,000 were killed -- most of the rest came home. But that was 90 years ago. Now, in the entire world, there could be less than 30 surviving veterans. Less than a dozen who actually saw a battlefield.

That would make Olin a national treasure.
He's 103 and lives in a nursing home on the East Side of Aurora. He says he signed up for The War to End All Wars when he was 14.

"I was big and I didn't ask no questions and I didn't answer no questions," he told me. "I wanted to fight for the country."

He went to France, collected the bodies of young men and got shot.

"They take your name and transfer it into a number," he said from a hospital bed, where he's recovering from hip surgery. "They throw that away and from then on you're a number. There is some good to it. It'll make a man out of you."

Unless, of course, Olin is not a World War I veteran.

News stories are supposed to answer your questions, give you the facts. Not this one. I'm going to introduce doubt and conflicting stories.
That's because Olin is an old man with no proof -- no pictures, no documents, no one who can vouch for him. And until 10 or 15 years ago, he never talked about serving in World War I.

We're not calling Olin a liar. But no one is sure he's not mixed up.

"To be honest, I can't find any proof that he served," said his great niece Sherry Pierce, who has researched Olin's status for years. "It could be one of those situations where they begin to think things and recall stories and it becomes true to them."

Olin's stories are clouded by shaky memories, family history and a fire that wiped out millions of military records.

"I believe what he said," says his son, William Olin Jr., 76. "Of course, we could all be wrong."

Olin was too young to sign up for the war. Which proves nothing.

Olin was born Aug. 28, 1904, in Traverse City, Mich. His dad traveled from logging camp to logging camp, kids in tow.
"The worst part of it is a kid don't get a very good education moving from every damn place to another," Olin said.

Olin did most of his growing up in Cincinnati. In 1917, after President Woodrow Wilson decided it was time for America to "make the world safe for democracy," Olin saw a way out of the logging camps. Without telling his parents, he enlisted at 14.

It wouldn't have been uncommon. With a parent's signature or a man's body, boys went off to fight. Olin uses a wheelchair now, and I've never seen him standing, but his huge hands -- they look like the mitts on an offensive lineman -- give away how big he must have been as a kid.

Before his parents knew anything, Olin was landing in France. His infantry leaders realized they had a kid with them, so the commander -- a sandy-haired man with a mustache who hit every bar in France -- put Olin behind the ambulance.

"I picked up dead people, parts of people," he said.

Olin thinks he was there about eight days before he got shot, while carrying a wounded soldier.

"We were not supposed to get shot at. The band on our arm was supposed protect us," he said. "The son of bitch used it as a target. It was over before I knew what happened. It's a hell of a place to be."

Olin pulls up his right pant leg to show me the scars. On his smooth, 103-year-old skin, they look like spots, tiny indentations. Who knows what a bullet wound looks like after nine decades?

"It took a long time for me to walk on it," he tells me.

I tried to test Olin's claim, and I don't know if it worked.

After he was shot, Olin was awarded a medal. He doesn't know what happened to it.
His family hasn't been able to dredge up an enlistment paper, a scrap of uniform, nothing. Searches of national databases come up inconclusive. Pierce loves her great uncle, but she's cautiously skeptical.

"I could go either way," she said. "It could be just dredging up his brother's memories."

That's right, I didn't tell you about the Olin brothers' argument. Everyone in the family agrees there was a fight between William and his brother, Ano, a World War II veteran. After the argument, Ano Olin had no further contact with his family. Pierce thinks William Olin may have borrowed his brother's stories, and now believes they are his own.

Sounds a little movie-of-the-week. But possible.

It could explain why, when I ask him if his division -- the 32nd -- was known as the "Red Arrow Division," it doesn't ring a bell, even though each soldier wore a distinct red arrow.

And furthermore, military records indicate the 32nd was made up of men from Wisconsin and Michigan, but Olin insists he enlisted at Newport, Ky.

After he was discharged, Olin moved to Ohio, then eventually settled in Aurora where he worked as a bus driver. He married twice, to women who are now dead. ("I don't expect to get married again," he confides in me.)

Through the years, he never mentioned The Great War.

"You're the first man I ever talked to about it," Olin tells me. "Some things I don't talk about it because it brings up a view that knocks the hell out of me. I've had so many people try to talk to me. I used to get rough on 'em. Told them it was none of their damn business and that, you know. But it's something people enjoy listening to. But if they ever saw it, it would make them sick."

John Carr, superintendent of Kane County Veterans Administration, says that sounds like a veteran.

"The family generally knows about their service," Carr said. "But a veteran normally would not talk about any of these things that were uncomfortable."

If there was just some physical evidence that would say yes or no, for sure.

I forgot to tell you about the fire.

In St. Louis, there is a five-story fortress that used to have a sixth story. The National Personnel Records Center was built in 1956 as a place to store all federal personnel documents. It had a very poor fire sprinkler system.
At 12:15 a.m. July 12, 1973, a fire started that incinerated the sixth floor and created a legendary hole in the national records. Between 16 and 18 million military files were destroyed, including discharges from 1912 to 1960.

After years of work, researchers are still not able to say which records are gone, since no indexes were made before the fire. This has created myriad problems.

Liars who never wore a uniform claim they served, but their records burned. It happens so often, the government made it a criminal offense.

And other men -- men who didn't keep track of their records, men who couldn't realize why discharge papers might be important when they were 14 years old, men like Olin -- can't prove they are what they claim to be. Or disprove it.

"I've been trying to get it clarified for 78 years," he said, smiling.

That's why, when a World War I veteran dies, the obituary writers couch the number of living survivors with phrases like "believed to be." I did it in the third sentence, when I said there "could be" 30 left in the world.

I don't know. No one seems to be sure.

In December 2006, The Advertiser in Montgomery, Ala., said there were 10 living in the U.S.

On Nov. 8, 2007, The Dispatch in Columbus, Ohio, put the number at four. Four days later, an opinion piece in the New York Times said there was only one veteran left.

But last month, when J. Russell Coffey died at 109, the Associated Press said there were three known veterans left.

I don't know if Olin is a veteran, but he told me this story.

"We unloaded from the boat while they were shooting," he said. "They were shooting at us from a side hill, down on us.
"When we were pulling in on the landing barge, there was a young kid there, he had signed up like I did. He probably was the only other one on the boat beside me that was too young.

"On the landing barge, just his head was above the rail. He was talking to me, telling me about his wife and two kids. He had only just gotten married. He was talking about getting home and seeing them kids. They were both of them girls and that's all he talked about.

"All at once I had a funny feeling come over me and looked on the floor and he wasn't talking no more. Body lay there. Without a head on it. That made me so ... sick. When I talk about it, I can still see that body.

"Boy was a nice kid. He wanted to get home and see them kids, that's all he talked about."

He tells me that story and I don't know what to say. I ask him if he still can still see the pictures in his mind. He starts to answer a different question. I lean in toward his right ear, the only one he can hear out of, and ask again.

"I never forgot about it," he says. "You couldn't forget the whole thing and you couldn't remember much of it."

He says "couldn't remember." But I think, maybe, he might mean "would rather not remember.",2_5_AU06_STORYTELLER_S1.article
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BerichtGeplaatst: 06 Jan 2008 20:30    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

jah das natuurlijk een raar verhaaltje. jezelf inschrijven op je 14de? dan mloet hij alvast een 'volwassen' indruk hebben gegeven.
Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.
Epitaph Lance CPL L.A.C Webb (Lancastershire fusiliers) @kezelberg Millitary Cemetery
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iuvenis ferox

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BerichtGeplaatst: 06 Jan 2008 22:22    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

dan mloet hij alvast een 'volwassen' indruk hebben gegeven.

Gewoon goed eten en groeien en alvast een speech voorbereiden voor bij de inschrijving. puh
Aangezien hij toen 14 was en nu 103 is, schreef hij zich aan het einde van de oorlog pas in en toen verlangden men natuurlijk naar elke soldaat die ze konden krijgen en waren ze heus niet meer zo streng als aan het begin van de oorlog.
Leo van Bergen: "Oorlog en geneeskunde, vernietiging en herstel, barbarij en vooruitgang, bleken twee handen op een buik"
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BerichtGeplaatst: 06 Jan 2008 23:20    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Lang niet iedere 14-jarige zal zich hebben kunnen inschrijven. Maar er zijn 14-jarigen die eruit zien als 10, en ook die eruitzien als 18. Beide zijn minderheden, maar niet zeldzaam. Kijk maar eens in klas 3 van een middelbare school. Kinderen en mannen/vrouwen naast elkaar in de banken.
"Setzen wir Deutschland, so zu sagen, in den Sattel! Reiten wird es schon können..... "
"Wer den Daumen auf dem Beutel hat, der hat die Macht."

Otto von Bismarck, 1869
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