Bio: Olson, Todd #2 (28 Dec. 2004)
Contact: Crystal Wendt
----Source: Leader-Telegram (Eau Claire, Eau Claire, County, Wisconsin) Front Page 12/28/2004
‘This brings the war to Loyal’
Small town remembers soldier as devoted community leader
By Chris Vetter [Chippewa Falls News Bureau]
LOYAL — Arlene Miller knew Todd Olson his entire life.
Miller’s husband used to pick up milk on the Olson family farm years ago. Like so many people in Loyal, Miller had only kind words to say about the man.
Staff Sgt. Olson, 36, died Monday after being injured by an improvised bomb while on foot patrol Sunday in Samarra, Iraq, military officials said.
He was the first soldier from the 128th Infantry to die in combat since World War II.
News of Olson’s death spread quickly through the tiny community on the east side of Clark County.
Monday was a struggle for Miller, as she carried a bag of food over to Olson’s home to provide comfort and support to Olson’s wife, Nancy, and their four children.
"It’s a tremendous loss," Miller said, her voice quivering. "Todd was a wonderful guy. In a small town like this, it hurts everybody. If you didn’t know him personally, you know someone who knew him. It’s just devastating."
Dan Gluch, a lifelong friend of Olson’s, greeted family members at the door, offering hugs to the steady stream of people who stopped at the Olson home to pay respects.
"It’s a small community," Gluch said. "That’s the thing about a small community: Everyone is there in the good and the bad times. People have been stopping by all day."
Todd Olson had four children — three teenage boys and a young girl.
"He’s been involved with his family from day one, and anything involved with his children," Gluch said.
People around town used the same words to describe Olson: Community leader. Family man. Coach. Churchgoer.
Olson coached youth football, served on the Loyal school board, was a member of the Lions and was a youth group leader at Trinity Lutheran Church.
He was a loan officer at the M&I Bank in Loyal and Neillsville, specializing in loans to farmers.
Darrell Laschen, a former teacher and current wrestling coach at Loyal High School, said he hopes Olson’s sacrifice does lead to peace.
"This brings the war to Loyal," Laschen said. "All of us are a bit in shock."
Laschen said Olson gave much of his time to his native city.
"He was a person of high character and a leader in the community," Laschen said. "A community such as ours is going to miss someone of his stature."
Gluch offered smiles on Monday, saying he felt a mix of anger and emptiness, but he also is proud of the type of life Olson had.
"If you have a friend like Todd, your life is forever touched and changed," Gluch said.
Olson was killed only a couple of weeks after his National Guard unit arrived in Iraq and one day after he called his family on Christmas to tell them how much he loved and missed them. He is the 33rd military member from Wisconsin to die in Iraq.
Nancy Olson said she talked to her husband on Christmas Day. He told her he was standing on a tin roof to make the phone call.
"He was actually in really good spirits, and I was very surprised because he told me he only had a couple of hours of sleep in the last couple of days, and they were supposed to get one hot meal a day, but that wasn’t happening," she said in an interview with WCCN radio in Neillsville. "But on Christmas Day, they had gotten their hot meal and things seemed to be going well."
The call from the military Sunday morning was that Olson had been injured and was being treated by doctors. But around noon, the family learned the terrible news.
"His legs and his arms were hurt, and they airlifted him from there to a hospital. They had told us that he was injured, and later they came back and told us that he didn’t make it," Nancy Olson said.
Flags in Loyal flew at half-staff on Monday. No funeral services have been set yet.
Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, who handles public relations for the Wisconsin National Guard, said all flags at all National Guard armories have been ordered to half-staff until after Olson’s funeral.
Olson was the first soldier from the 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry to die in combat since World War II, Donovan said.
The unit left Mississippi for southeast Asia in November and was in Kuwait by Thanksgiving, he said.
"They had moved into Iraq within the past two weeks," Donovan said.
Donovan said some media reports incorrectly stated Olson died while riding in a Humvee.
"He was on a foot patrol," Donovan said. "He was wounded when an improvised explosive device was detonated."
Knight Ridder News Service contributed to this report. Vetter can be reached at 723-0303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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