Pacoima senior center shows its appreciation for 3 World War II veterans – Daily News

on Aug5
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As Bill Olson sailed home from fighting in World War II aboard the Queen Elizabeth, he saw a statue off in the distance. As it got bigger and bigger, it dawned on him what it was. And what it meant.

“That’s the Statue of Liberty! I am home!” the Arleta resident recalled saying.

The 100-year-old Olson counts himself among the “lucky ones” who landed in Normandy, France as part of a later wave of soldiers who had a higher survival rate. Of the 10,000 soldiers in the first group, 85 percent were killed, and in the second group, about 15 percent did not survive.

Olson, who frequents the Alicia Broadous-Duncan Multipurpose Senior Center, recently recounted his story about his years serving with the U.S. Army fighting in Europe to directors of the center who had not known about his World War II experience.

The directors of Valley InterCommunity Council, which operates programs at the senior center, soon learned that there were at least two others who frequent or use the center’s services who are World War II veterans. On Friday, they held an appreciation lunch for them, during which Olson told a Los Angeles Daily News reporter that one of his aims during the war was to not kill anyone.

“Thank the Lord,” said Olson, who was drafted. “I didn’t want to kill anybody. That was the best part for me.”

The event was also an occasion for family members to express appreciation for their loved ones’ sacrifices during the war. Growing up, Olson’s son Glen did not know the back story for why his father was close with his neighbors who were Eastern Europeans and had numbers tattooed on their arms. It wasn’t until decades later that he learned that his father had been part of a team that rescued prisoners from the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Olson, who lives in Woodland Hills, said that this was a “part of his war experience that (my father) never talked about.”

“But he was such good friends with his neighbors and now we know why,” he said. “Because they had this shared sort of history.”

Also honored at the event was 95-year-old Joseph Blake, who mused that the two years he spent deployed in Europe was so long ago that it seemed like a blur. He believes he may have mistaken scenes from the war movies he has watched for his actual memories.

“It was quite an experience,” he said. “When I crossed the English channel to go into Normandy it was terrible. Everything was smoke. All wrecked boats and everything.”

Even as he questioned these memories, Blake said he got a chance to try to revisit them when he went to talk to a fellow World War II veteran at Friday’s event.

“We were there together,” he said. “We didn’t know each other, but I went over there (to the other table) to meet him. I thought ‘Gee, these guys must be pretty old.’ I was the youngest one at 95.”

Blake, who settled in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley and became a foreman at a money printing company Jeffries Banknote Company, gets meals delivered to him at his Lake View Terrace home.

His advice on wars: “Don’t get drafted. I think war is terrible.”

His son Robert said that it can be hard for his father to find time to go out and do things that do not have something to do with his health. “I made him come,” he said.

It ended up being a good experience. His father never brings up the topic of his war experience, unless asked. But he seemed to come out of his shell Friday.

At one point, “he wanted his walker,” the younger Blake said.

“I said ‘Where are you going?’”

It turned out that his father wanted to talk to “this guy who was in the war.”

Meanwhile, nearby 103-year-old Rudy Calderon was amused by the fuss they were making about his status as a World War II veteran.

“You’re not going to get a war story out of me,” said Calderon, who lives in Arleta.

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