Veterans Voices

Veterans Voices: Robert Olzweski says he would be ‘the first one to go again’

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After Robert Olzweski returned from Vietnam, he thought he was done with the military.

Little did he know, it would call him back once again.

Between 1964 and 1973, nearly two million men were drafted to fight in the Vietnam War.

One of those drafted in April 1967 was 18-year-old Olzweski, originally from Sanger, North Dakota, and a recent high school graduate.

Nine months after being drafted he was in Vietnam as part of the 9th infantry 5th Calvary Infantrymen. And two months after arriving, Olzweski was wounded.

“We were on a mission – locate the enemy and ger near the DMZ border and we took RPG rounds and heavy arms fire and that’s where that one soldier got killed and I kept on fighting and stuff. And I was sounded in my leg, shrapnel on the whole side of my leg. I have scrap metal in my side. Then a bullet grazed my side and back, then all of a sudden, I reached down, and I felt blood, a sting and I just kept going. And then finally the choppers came in and for some other wounded and the medic said you gotta get on the chopper. No, I’m not leaving, I’m OK. Then all of a sudden, I fell to the ground and the chopper took me off,” he said.

After two days of being patched up, Olzweski was back at the front. A year later, he received a Purple Heart.

In 1971, Olzweski returned from Vietnam and went to work for the Department of Transportation. At that time, he wanted little to do with the military — but a couple of years later, at the urging of co-workers, he joined the Army Reserve.

And 20 years after joining the Reserve, he was called to active duty, and so, in 2002, he was once again on his way overseas.

“We actually went over to what’s called an air base in Uzbekistan. It was an old Russian air base and our main mission was to build and support the base camp and then do convoys down into Afghanistan,” he said.

The Army Reserve isn’t the only organization that Olzweski joined. He belongs to AMVets, Disabled American Vets, Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion and Vietnam Veterans of America.

He’s also volunteered to help veterans in need for 25 years by working to gather and distribute food and clothing.

Olzweski is part of the AMVet’s honor guard, a group that pays respect for veteran’s who have died and their families

Each year the AMVETS honor guard performs this service between 80 and 100 times.

“One thing I really enjoy is the family. A lot of times they will come out and they’ll thank you for what your group is doing and stuff. It pretty much puts their veteran at ease. It’s the final rest area and they really appreciate that. It’s a good deal,” he said.

Recently, Olzweski became a part of the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor. He and his wife of 50 years, Pat, along with Purple Heart representatives from 43 states were welcomed to New York.

A highlight of that trip was the homecoming event where each Purple Heart recipient was introduced one by one.

To cap off the ceremony, a Mail Call was held. Olzweski says he was a little confused because he didn’t get much mail when he was in Vietnam but when mail was delivered here, he got a special delivery.

“What they did was a couple of months before, they got a hold of family and the families wrote letters and all this stuff. I opened one up and here they had a fingerprint of my granddaughter and my great-grandson and they had their names. It was amazing,” he said.

A fitting event for a man who has served his country so well and for so long.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said Robert Olzweski is originally from Stanton. Olzweski is originally from Sanger, North Dakota.

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