Forgotten North Dakota Hero

North Dakota Rancher,Cowboy Poet and Author, Rodney Nelson, had an uncle named Orin Olson (his mothers brother).  Rodney never knew this uncle as he was killed in action during World War II in 1944 and Rod wasn’t born tell several years later.  Orin Olson was raised on a farm near New Rockford ND, was married and had a daughter that was born while he was overseas, he never got to see his little girl.


Rodney asked me if there was some way to find out what had happened to his uncle Orin.  There was not much information to go on, they thought Orin had been a pilot on a bomber in Italy.  Rodney thought Orin may have flown a B-24, (a heavy 4 engine bomber).


I asked if Rodney knew what bomb Group Orin was in, Rodney had no idea and knew his mother wouldn’t remember either.  I asked if by some chance someone in the family would still have some of Orin’s letters from overseas, Rodney said he would look.  Several days later Rod called and told me that after looking through a bunch of his moms old letters he found one from his uncle Orin.  It was a very touching letter in which Orin told of how much he missed his wife and his yet to be seen little baby girl.  Orin went on to say that they had finally got into the thick of the fighting and he couldn’t wait tell the war was over so he could get back home, the letter had been sent in April of 44.  The return address was in New York but it also had the Bomb Group and Squadron numbers (321BG, 448Sq).  I was not familiar with the Bomb Group so I got on the computer to look it up.  It turned out that it was not a B-24 Heavy Bomb Group but a B-25, (twin engine medium bomber)Group with the 12th Air Force flying out of Corsica.  I could not find anything about Orin on the 321st BG sites so then I simply did a search on “Orin Olson, 321st BG”—— JACKPOT,  I found an item on a message board from back in Dec. of  2000 that was written by the cousin of the Co-pilot on Orin’s plane.  I sent an E-mail to the address provided and waited, I had no idea if I’d get a response.  Several days later I did!!  All the information we were looking for was there.  Here is what was sent to me……


Mr. Nelson:
1. You hit pay dirt. Lt. Olson was on his 50th mission as pilot of B-25J, 43-4051,when his plane was hit by aerial flak knocking the left engine off the wing. Their target was a bridge over the Adiage River, several miles west of Verona, Italy. The date was Wednesday, July 26, l944, at about 11:00 am. My guess is the plane suffered damage to the hydraulic system and controls because the bombs were not dropped and
the plane began losing altitude and flew in a flat “spin” until crashing about 15 miles west of Verona, Italy, near Peschira, a small fishing village at the south end of Lake Garda.
2. Montoro told me he did not think Olson had been wounded. My guess is he did suffer flak wounds not visible to Montoro or to Goff. Anyway Olson ordered Montoro, the turret gunner, Goff, copilot (both with minor flak wounds) and Quartuccio, the bombardier, to bail out. Montoro went first, then Quartuccio and then Goff. All were captured minutes after they landed on Italian soil. They were imprisoned for about
six months in Stalag Luft III at Sagan, Germany (now Poland) and in Stalag VII-A, near Moosburg, Germany for about three months before being liberated.
3. German records I have cause me to believe the tail and waist gunners and guest photographer aboard that day who were in the rear of the B-25J were either killed or wounded too severely to bail out and were aboard with Orin E. Olson, when the plane crashed. I suspect Olson was dead when the plane pancaked in for the crash. Bombs were still in the bomb bay when the plane crashed and according to a report by Germans who investigated the crash site, the plane started to burn moments after the crash, then exploded. Only small pieces of uniform fabric, small pieces of body tissue and one of Olson’s two dog tags were found. The particles of body tissue were buried in an unnamed cemetery in Verona. Apparently the Army’s Graves Registration recovered the remains and shipped them to a burial site in Eddy County, North Dakota in 1947 or 48.
4. Anthony Quartuccio, the bombardier, was from Brooklyn – too many Quartuccios were listed to spend days trying to locate him. John A. Montoro is very much alive and lives in California. I have interviewed him in person two times and we usually have a phone conversation monthly. He is a prince of a gentleman. His birth date is March 12, 1919. Still plays golf.
5. My cousin, Melvin F. Goff, died of lung cancer in 1980. My memory of him begins when he returned from the war in 1945-46. I’m 71. He did not discuss his combat or POW experiences freely, in fact, very little. I visited with him annually through 1975.
6. Olson was a member of the 448th Bomb Squadron (Medium)  of the 321st Bomb Group (Medium), 57th Bomb Wing, 12th Air Force, based at Solenzar, Corsica – a French possession (island in the north east corner of the Mediterranean Sea).
7. My two sources of records about Olson’s unit, etc. are the National Archives and Records Center in College Park, Maryland and The Historical Research Agency, U.S. Air Force, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. I do have a stack of copies of old unit roosters and histories featuring Olson’s name.I sent all of this to Rodney and now at long last he knew what had happened and under what circumstances his uncle was lost, Rods cousin now knew what happened to her dad.
Rodney called the last known crew survivor, John Montoro, and had a very nice visit, John remembered Orin and flying missions with him.  Montoro said that Orin was a very good pilot and was responsible for saving the lives of the three that parachuted out of the plane, Orin kept control of the plane and rode it in when it crashed, he gave his life so the others could get out.  This was Orin Olson’s 50th and I believe would have been his last mission of his tour.
I sent for the MACR (Missing Air Crew Report) on this and found it very interesting.  One chilling account was from the bombardier in the plane flying next to the Olson plane, it describes the plane taking a direct hit in the left engine, then the prop flying off the engine. He tells of seeing Orin sitting in the left hand seat, looking at the engine as the plane fell away.
I told George Ott of Dickinson about this story (George was flying B-25s at the start of the war).  George was very surprised that B-25s were being used in the European-Mediterranean theater.  George thought all the 25s had been sent to the Pacific where they were much better suited.  He said the B-25 was a superb airplane to fly but it was a bit slow to go up against the German antiaircraft defenses.  George had been under the impression that the faster flying B-26s and A-20s were the only Mediums being used against the Germans after Africa.
I have read that the B-25s in Italy faced a 100% loss rate.