Olesn, Donald G.


Olesn, Donald G.
Donald G. Olesn
William Vollano
Prior to being drafted, Don had been in pharmacy school in Grand Rapids, MI for two years. After being drafted in January 1942, he received basic training at Camp McCoy in Wisconsin. He then went to pharmacy training, and into the army specialized training program (ASTP) for engineering. It was held at Kansas State College and it lasted nine months. Other programs included were foreign language and medicine. It was a large program but it was eventually closed down because the army needed the manpower to serve overseas. After several more camps for training, he was sent to Camp Shanks in New York in October of 1944. From here he was sent overseas in a navy convoy of 25-30 ships including several destroyers. His job overseas as combat engineer was connected with the 3rd army under General Patton. His unit’s job was to build and repair bridges and structures and to handle water purification units for the infantry. They welded repairs on bridges to allow for tanks use and they picked up minefields. This was done very carefully, and often with bayonets. Don landed at La Havre and then moved into Luxembourg. There they came under fire. General Patton was moving so fast that they couldn’t keep enough gas in the mechanized tanks and keep the troops completely supplied. Don stayed with General Patton’s unit all the way across the Rhine River and into southeastern Germany. Later, he went into Austria and eventually ended up in, what was then, Czechoslovakia (Czech Republic today). One story he recounts is of a Hungarian gunboat that was captured as it came up the Danube River. It was escaping the Russians, but it was caught by his unit. They joked that they had captured the entire Hungarian Navy. After the war ended, he was in Passau, an old German city, from May to November of 1945. They were occupying the area, as well as building barracks and housing for civilian refugees in Regensburg, a nearby town also in Germany. His route home was from Marseilles, France into the Strait of Gibraltar and out to sea. The voyage was not uneventful as they ran into a storm near the Azores and the ships power blew out. The flue on their ship’s boiler had blown. Luckily, another ship came along, gave them a new flue and helped them with repairs, and then they were on their way back to the US. They then landed at Newport News, VA. His last stop was at Camp Henry Harrison in Indiana and then he was separated from the army and sent home. He returned to Michigan in January 1946, and by February he was back at school. He finished his pharmacy degree at the University of Michigan on the GI Bill. He graduated a year and a half later and became a pharmacist in Ann Arbor.
Date Span
Dates of Service
Drafted; United States Army; 285th Engineer Battalion, 97th Infantry Division; 82nd Infantry Division; World War, 1939-1945; Second World War - European Theater; United States; Technician Four
Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
Collection Location
Spatial Coverage
Second World War - European Theater; United States
Item sets