Harry William “Swede” Olson passed away on Aug. 14, 2009, at the age of 89. Born in Hood River, Ore., on March 4, 1920, Swede grew up in the fruit orchards of Pine Grove, working alongside his parents, Rodney and Elsie Olson, and sister, Margaret, in and around the family orchards.
He attended Hood River High School during the Great Depression and answered the nation’s call to duty to serve in the military just prior to the outbreak of World War II.
Following his enlistment in the United States Navy, Swede was assigned to training school in Newport News, Va., during which time he met, romanced and married a young nurse-in-training, Alice Virginia Hall, of Lexington, Va. The couple was married in March of 1943.
It was Swede’s dream to become a Navy pilot, but at 6-foot-4, he was ruled too tall to sit in the pilot’s seat, so he opted to join aviation machine school and earned his way to plane captain, or aviation chief machinist’s mate. He soon found himself aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, serving as part of a scouting squadron prior to the invasion of North Africa.
By 1943, Swede was welcomed aboard the “fightingest ship in the Navy,” the aircraft carrier USS Essex. The Essex is historically remembered for some of the heaviest fighting in the Pacific throughout the war. The ship fought its way through such battles as Okinawa, Midway, Wake Island, Iwo Jima, Marshall Islands and many others.
The Essex served over 17 consecutive months in combat during one stretch of the war, a Naval record. Swede earned 19 medals through the war years, all of them bringing pride, tears and memories to him throughout his life.
After the war years, he rejoined wife Alice and together they brought four sons into the world.
Swede moved into the heavy hauling business shortly after returning to Hood River, working his way through the ranks of Consolidated Freightways for 15 years. He went on to manage freight and bulk commodity loads for other trucking companies, including an extended effort in Alaska from 1974-1982, helping to build the Alaska Pipeline.
After retiring in the Portland area for about 20 years, Swede moved to Madras, Ore., to be in and near the hunting and fishing grounds that he loved to trek throughout his life. As his health deteriorated in his later years, he returned to Portland to be near his sons.
His family includes sons Rod Olson, of Hillsboro, Bob Olson, of Milwaukie, and Don Olson, of Stafford. In addition, Swede is survived by seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that remembrances be made to Adventist Health Home Care Services, 5835 N.E. 122nd Ave., Ste. 155, Portland, OR 97230; 503-251-6192.
A memorial service will be held at Young’s Funeral Home, Tigard, Ore., Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 2 p.m.
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