Bio: Olson, Todd (28 Dec. 2004)
----Source: Marshfield News Herald (Marshfield, Wood County, Wis.)Tue, Dec 28, 2004
Soldier from Loyal killed in Iraq Community flies flags at half-staff to honor Wisconsin National Guard staff sergeant
By Jonathan Gneiser [Marshfield News-Herald]
LOYAL - The tail-end of Christmas celebrations turned somber in this Clark County community as tragic news spread. Staff Sgt. Todd Olson, 36, of Loyal, was killed Sunday in Iraq.
The Wisconsin National Guardsman who had four children, served on a school board and coached youth football, died of injuries he suffered in Samarra.
Todd's parents, Donald and Shirley Olson of Loyal, were hosting a family Christmas party Sunday with Todd's brother and two sisters, his wife, Nancy, and their children, Trevor, 17, Jesse, 16, Cody, 13, and Kasey, 5. Todd had called home a day earlier, on Christmas Day, and said he was staying in an old, shot-out building, Nancy said. He had been in Samarra, which is located about 60 miles north of Baghdad on the Tigris River, for about 10 days.
On Sunday afternoon, a National Guard chaplain and brigade deputy commander informed the family that Todd had been injured, Nancy said. Todd's platoon sergeant from Iraq then called Nancy to let her know while he was on foot patrol, an improvised explosive device went off and injured Todd's legs and right arm.
"At that point I asked him if any bones were broken," she said. "He said there were broken bones and they had to control the bleeding, which kind of set off an alarm in my mind that this was pretty serious." The chaplain and brigade deputy commander later returned to Donald and Shirley Olson's home with the family's pastor, the Rev. Daniel Zimmerman of Trinity Lutheran Church in Loyal, to inform them Todd had died.
"It's a big day of prayer - a lot of prayer as a group," said Nancy, who added that her family, extended family and community members have stopped by to provide support.
Thirty-two Wisconsin soldiers have died in Iraq since the war started. Olson was one of 35 soldiers with Detachment 1, Company C, of the Wisconsin National Guard's 1st Battalion, 128th Infantry.
Lt. Col. Tim Donovan, director of public affairs for the Wisconsin National Guard, said he could provide no information until the U.S. Department of Defense provides an official statement about the casualty.
Todd had been in the National Guard for 16 or 17 years, and he never expected to be deployed overseas, Nancy said.
Loyal Mayor Arthur Olsen said the city lowered its flags to half-staff Monday.
"I'm sure the community is going to be in total shock," he said. "It's going to be a pretty sad community until (the funeral is) over - and for some time." A public ceremony will likely be organized at Loyal High School, Nancy said.
Todd was previously president of the Loyal Lions Club and Loyal Chamber of Commerce. He was also one of the church's youth group advisors, Zimmerman said.
"He was a good husband and good father and a well-respected man," Zimmerman said. "His faith was important to him. "Certainly, I think the community is going to mourn," he said. "I wish there was some way we could help beyond prayers and letting the family know we care." Providing a message of hope is one way Zimmerman said he's helping people deal with their grief.
"The season we're in is the season of hope - just to let the family know this is the reason Christ was born, so that they could have hope," he said.
Todd and Nancy had talked about the possibility that he might not return from Iraq before he left, she said. "I think, especially as a couple, we had kind of thought that this might happen," she said. "We knew it'd be OK. Everyone in the world is looking for that great love, and we had that. We felt we were very fortunate." The children are dealing with the tragedy in their own way, Nancy said.
"The older boys are angry," she said. "They don't understand. Why are we there? Why did their dad have to go? I tried to explain it's their Christian duty to help out people who are less fortunate. There is a lot of good that's coming out of this. People are getting freedoms by our troops being there." The family has been relying on their faith, Nancy said.
"Kasey said last night dad's talking with the angels," Nancy said. "Trevor said he's probably in heaven talking with Reggie White about his kids playing football." White, a former Green Bay Packers defensive end, also died Sunday. Todd was a big Packers fan who went to a game nearly every year, Nancy said.
Olson worked for seven years at M&I Bank in Loyal, where he was vice president and an agricultural loan officer. Al Nystrom, president of M&I Bank's Marshfield Group, described him as a leader who often volunteered to take on extra responsibilities but was also good at balancing commitments to his career, community and family.
"Todd was a very motivated and very high energy person," he said. "He'll be missed greatly by the people within the bank and the community of Loyal. The impact of his loss will be felt in too many ways to count." A memorial fund for Todd's family has been established, Nystrom said. Donations can be made to the Todd Olson Family Memorial, Account Number 34465288, at any M&I Bank location in Wisconsin.
Nancy said she plans to set up a memorial at the bank to provide a scholarship for Loyal High School students.
- The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Marshfield News-Herald file photo (below) Todd Olson smiles at his wife Nancy after kissing her goodbye, Saturday, Jan. 31, 2004, at their Loyal home before taking his sons on a skiing trip to Bruce Mound. Olson was killed in an explosion, Sunday, while serving in Iraq.
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