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Elmer Olson, 1933-2021
Elmer Olson, 1933-2021
Elmer Olson, 1933-2021

A Letter of Love about Elmer R. Olson


My Dad made the world a better place, just by living his life, and if you are like him, so have you too. Honor my dad by reading this and sharing the bounty of being Elmer with those who you love. This is my open letter of love to honor my dad, what it brings with is more than a sad obituary, it brings a blueprint for life.

First, as a young boy, I idealized everything about his military service.  I wanted to grow up and be just like my dad, a fighter pilot. 

Top Gun had nothing on my Elmer, because he was a Wild Weasel with the 354th flying combat missions out of Thailand in 68-69. Yet, like many of his generation and many who have seen war, he did not want to talk much about his combat and painted his service a few safe stories around the fringe of his experiences, just enough to keep the curious at bay.  

As I matured, I began to realize I would never understand the heartache, loss and guilt he carried with him, that they all carry with them, and grew to understand his need to bottle it and put it away and resume his life after 22 years of service.  

If you have served your country, you deserve our undying respect, and if you move quietly through life bringing no attention to yourself then, you are just like Elmer and are owed a nation’s gratitude and thanks.   

My dad was born on the family farm just outside of Seneca, Wisconsin on February 4, 1933. When he resumed his life after retiring, we returned to where he grew up as a boy.  He was back where he could breathe again, free to be himself and burdened no longer with distinctions and separation military rank creates. He was born into the Great Depression in 1933, the oldest of five children, raised to know the meaning of work, by a stoic Norwegian Family. I think he was never more satisfied than when he was working hard and lending a hand. If you get up early in the morning and work long and hard, before others wake, or you leave for your ‘real’ job and then return home and work into the evening – if you were raised with an undying work ethic and a never quit attitude, then you are ‘Olson-Strong’ and emulate my dad and honor his family heritage, by the impact you make in your own communities. 

As time moved on so did my dad, back to what he loved, back to the sky. My dad’s journey, like many, separated him again from family. He traded jets for turbo props, and bombs for passengers, but the love affair he had with the sky was still the same.  

Through his travels he fell in love again and after some time, settled in his wife’s small hometown in Kentucky. My favorite memories from my visits to Whitley City was seeing Elmer and Betty dancing from their wedding in 1988 to just a few years ago.  If you have courage to follow your passion wherever it takes you, if you find yourself in a new town and look to make a difference, if people call you by name wherever you go, you are just like Elmer. You make the world a better place every day, just by being you.

Dad and I had shared another love of his over the past decade, making trips in his beloved GMC motor coach. I got to meet more real authentic Elmers at those rallies, whether with the Dixilanders or at the National GMCMI rallies, than I have in any one spot in my life.  

I can’t thank you enough for sharing your passion with my dad and loving him and Betty long before you met me. We were just six weeks away from our first rally, since we all had to be careful, held a week before his first granddaughter got married and unbelievably an hour from where the wedding would be. How kismet. So, I tell you this to remind each of you to make more of the moments life presents each day, as nothing is promised. Both joy and heartache weave the fabric of life. 

I wish for all of you to have moments with your loved ones, like I spent with my Elmer the last few months. Let technology erase distance and allow the tone and texture of a voice, the ability to read an expression rather than words, and to see into their eyes, fill your soul with hope and love and strengthen you for the surprises life has ahead. Somewhere along Elmer’s journey, he became more at ease with the words, ‘I love you,’ and those words helped ease the loss we were all soon to bear.  

If you’re from the flip phone generation and cool enough to take your cowboy boots off while taking a 10-minute power nap in the grass, then you are strong enough to battle technology and embrace change like Elmer did. Heal others as you heal yourself, by sharing three little words.

I would like to thank everyone who fell in love with my dad when he entered Baptist Health Corbin and experienced his kindness and his compassion. Those who held his hand when we could not, those who helped us visit by phone when we still could, and for the heartache we heard crying with us when we ended our video chat to say our goodbyes.  

There is an army of angels amidst us, doing God’s work, from hospital to hospital, and state to state, growing weary and yoked in pain. Desperate to stop the revolving door of one patient after another, losing their personality first, then their reasoning, then their ability to communicate, as the oxygen they use as a weapon to combat the disease moves from their nose to a mask, to a tube in their throat.  Yet, we dispassionately watch their efforts as if a movie, while real lives slip through their hands, day in and day out.  I LOVE and THANK each of Elmer’s Angels, and all those who held the hands of others’ loved ones.  I ACHE for all the families who have passed and for those to come, who will look from the outside in desperation for anyway to tell their loved ones they love them.

My job now in honoring my father, is to make being Elmer something we can all strive to be again. As we lose what is left of the Greatest Generation, we find ourselves without a rudder, drifting toward only two islands, entrenched in division and no longer willing to sacrifice for anyone but ourselves. 

If you think yourself no better than others and live humbly and within your means. If you call no attention to yourself, but instead do unto others as you would wish they would do unto you. If you stand up in the face of unbeatable odds and say if not me who, if not now, when. If you take time to stop, listen and be still, you will hear Elmer’s voice inside you, and he will make this a teachable moment. In all things be kind, have compassion and love one another. In doing this, you will be just like my dad Elmer, who I loved so much.     

Elmer made an impact in our lives until he was taken home August 27, 2021, the day after his bride of 30-plus years, Betty was allowed in the hospital to hold his hand, and sing to him and say her goodbyes, as his silently listened. It is my loving hope and belief he is happy and at peace with all those who have left us before him, looking for a way to minister to each of us from Heaven and to let us know that a selfless life, and compassion for others, truly does have its reward.