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Flag is special touch to vets program PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kyle Arnoldy   

A visibly emotional Susan Ortner took the stage at the HHS annual Veterans Day program Monday, Nov. 11 to accept an American flag and plaque on behalf of Holyoke High School.

Ortner, the Holyoke JR/SR High School principal, was genuinely surprised and touched to find out that the flag which was prominently displayed on a screen behind the speakers throughout the show came from the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron. Her son and HHS class of 2005 graduate, 1st Lt. Steven Ortner, is the maintenance officer for the squadron.

Steve Millage, pictured at left, gives Holyoke JR/SR High Principal Susan Ortner her first look at the plaque that accompanied the large flag presented to the school during Monday’s Veterans Day program.  

—Enterprise photo

Program emcee and Vietnam veteran Steve Millage revealed that the 10-by-20-foot American flag, which is hanging in the HHS gym, had been flown over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The flag traveled on a United States Air Force Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopter and was flown on Aug. 13, Steven’s 27th birthday.

Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopters were used from May 21-Aug. 3 for a search and rescue mission, which resulted in 22 lives being saved, 113 medical evacuation assists, three heroes returning with honor and two enemy prisoner war transfers.

Olson details life in the Navy during WWII

World War II veteran Don Olson had a simple, yet powerful message for the students of Holyoke­­­­—“You students, you are citizens of the greatest nation on this earth. Honor it, respect it and respect and honor our flag.”

In 1944, Olson was one of 32 Phillips County boys who were heading for induction into the military. Out of the group, 29 went into the Army while Olson was one of just three to join the Navy.

After boot camp, Olson entered radar school in Hawaii to study the relatively new subject. To get there, Olson boarded a large vessel in San Francisco, Calif. He reminisced about the bunks stacked four high with narrow passageways and his surprise when several men became seasick the first evening on the ocean.

Olson remembered details as if they happened yesterday. At one point during the six-day trip in the ship, he said, there was a malfunction that allowed diesel fuel to enter the drinking water. Meals on the journey consisted of beans for lunch and rice for supper, he added.

Upon graduating from radar school, Olson was assigned to duty. Part of his responsibility included standing watch with the radar equipment. He noted that the job became especially hazardous when Japan started using kamikaze planes.

If the plane was high enough, Olson said, the radar could pick it up from about 90 miles away, determine the direction of the plane, how high it was and how fast it was traveling. Planes from that distance were taken care of by airplanes from American aircraft carriers.

The real threat was the planes that came in low. Radar sometimes would not spot the planes until they were 25-30 miles away. With them coming in at 300 miles per hour, Olson stated that there was little time to prepare, but the guns on board were good shots. Once a place was within five miles, American troops had roughly one minute to get the plane down before being hit.

On Aug. 6, 1945, President Harry Truman announced that the atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan. Olson stated that he has always believed that the choice to drop the atomic bomb saved many American lives, including his own.

Don Olson shares his story of his time in the Navy in the 1940s with those attending the annual Veterans Day program at Holyoke High School.  

—Enterprise photo

VOD speeches provide optimism

Four students shared their Voice of Democracy speeches during Monday’s program. This year’s theme was “Why should today’s youth be optimistic about the nation’s future?”

Winners in this year’s contest include Holyoke seniors Meg Strauss, first; Jacob Vasa, second; and Zach Roll, third; and Fleming High School junior Deborah Kurtzer, fourth. Winning speeches can be found elsewhere in this week’s paper.

The program marked the second straight year that first-hand accounts of war by local veterans were included.

Millage encouraged students to get involved with Boys State and Girls State. He noted that the sessions offer students a unique opportunity to learn about the government, listen to intriguing speakers and have a good, fun time with others kids from across the state.

The HHS select choir began the program by singing the national anthem, the high school band performed “Armed Forces on Parade” and the HJHS choir sang “For the Good of the Many.” Jack Wieland brought the ceremony to a close with his performance of taps.

Holyoke Enterprise November 14, 2013