Two surviving sisters remember Lansing soldier killed during D-Day invasion
by Carrie Steinweg
LANSING, Ill. (June 6, 2019) – It was 75 years ago that the D-Day invasion occurred during World War II. It was the largest amphibious invasion in history when the Western Allies launched an assault on Nazi-occupied France, landing on the northern coast of France on June 6, 1944.
D-Day is a misleading term. It wasn’t a one-day fight, but a battle that lasted weeks and in the end resulted in thousands of Americans and Allied Forces being killed, injured, or missing.
Serving his country
One Lansing man, August M. Olsen Jr., was part of D-Day—not on the ground, but in the air. He was born a century ago in February 1919, and he was raised in Lansing. An avid sportsman and outstanding student who graduated as salutatorian of his class at Thornton Fractional High School, he worked at the Hammond Brass Works before being drafted in January 1941. He married Marcella Crist in June 1941.
“He went into the military on the Conscription Act,” said Olsen’s sister, Millie Ogborn, who still resides in Lansing. “He was supposed to go in for one year. We thought he’d be coming home in a year, but the war broke out and he never got home again.”
Olsen, who was called “Juny” by his family, died on June 7, 1944, when the plane he was in was shot down and crashed near Bruz, France.
“He was called ‘Juny’ because his name was August Michael and that was my father’s name, too. My brother was a junior, so everyone called him Juny,” said Ogborn.
His family called him Juny, but in the Army Air Corp he was T/Sgt August M. Olsen, Jr., a radio operator on a B-24 Bomber called BoxCar. When BoxCar went down, Olsen was one of the seven of its ten-member crew who perished. Three survived with severe burns and became prisoners of war. It was the plane’s seventh mission.
Olsen is buried in St. James, France, at Brittany American Cemetery.
“The greatest brother you could have”
Ogborn, the fourth in a family of seven children (Juny was the oldest), was 19 when her older brother died. “All I can say is he is the greatest brother you could have. He was six years older than me, and I looked up to him,” she said.
All of the Olsen kids liked playing sports, and Ogborn remembered her big brother patiently helping her to become a better ball player. “He did a lot of things with me, especially sporting games,” she said.
Ogborn said Juny was a big Cubs fan and was a pitcher on their church’s baseball team.
Olsen’s other surviving sister, Elaine Humbert, of Northwest Indiana, was only eight years old when her brother died. She doesn’t have many memories of her big brother because, “He had already graduated high school and was on his own before he went into the service,” said Humbert. “I know he was very talented, played baseball, wrote poetry and many other things. I remember the last time he came home on furlough on a Sunday morning in his uniform, but my mom sent us on to Sunday School while they visited.”
Getting the news
Humbert recalled that a telegram came to her home to notify the family that Olsen was “missing in action.” She has a vague memory of listening in from upstairs when Lansing Police Chief Van Laningham came to the family home and delivered the news that August Olsen Jr. had died.
Ogborn also recalled that letter. And she remembered, “It was later in the year before they identified him and notified us that he was dead.”
Not enough time
“He wrote me letters while he was in the service, and in one of them he sent a picture of Marcella with a note on the back that she was the future Mrs. August Olsen. And he did follow through on that, and he and Marcella were married before he went overseas,” said Humbert.
“I wish I had more memories, but I didn’t have much time with him.”