Shirley Olgeirson’s Story
Like many North Dakota veterans, Shirley Olgeirson has centered her life around serving her country. She joined the National Guard while she was still in college, as part of the 191st military police company, in the early ’80s.
In today’s Veteran’s Voice, we follow Olgeirson’s journey from Desert Storm, all the way to her continued service today.
The military was a natural choice for Shirley Olgeirson. She has two brothers who served during the Vietnam era.
“Neither of them wanted their little sister to join the military. My parents really didn’t want their daughter to join the military. But as I mentioned, we are coming from a Viking background and we’re a bit adventurous and stubborn, so I joined the National Guard: out of a sense of duty and responsibility, not fully understanding what all of that meant when I joined,” She shared.
In 1990, Not long after enlisting, she became a part of the largest mobilization of US troops since the Korean War: Desert Storm.
“Saddam Hussein had said this was going to be the mother of all battles, so as part of the medical situation we saw 1,000s of body bags that were being brought in, in anticipation of this war. Thank goodness the war was not bad. The war only lasted 100 hours, and we were all very thankful for that,” Olgeirson explained.
After Desert Storm, she turned to a desk job as the Public Affairs Officer for the North Dakota National Guard. That’s when she got an opportunity that would reroute her career path a bit. The year was 1992.
“One of our Adjutants General wanted to celebrate the 50th anniversary of World War II by taking our most historic unit, the 164th Infantry Regiment back to Guadalcanal,” she said.
Thanks to the trip, a group of these World War II veterans asked her to be the editor of their news magazine, and she’s been doing so since 2005.
“The more I got to know them, the more I learned about them, the more magnificent I think they are,” Olgeirson added.
The 164th Infantry Regiment is North Dakota’s premier unit. It dates back to 1883 in the Dakota territory.
They were deployed to the Spanish American War, where they were awarded seven medals of honor. They went to the Mexican border in 1916, and then, they were deployed to France for World War I.
But, World War II is where the 164th’s legacy lies.
“That’s where they made history as the first U.S. Army Unit to offensively engage the enemy in World War II when they landed in Guadacanal,” she added.
The Marines were worn down and running out of supplies, and the 164th was their first reinforcement, on October 13th, 1942.
“The Japanese Navy saw them coming and welcomed them with 14-inch shells, which are shells that are taller than I am and bigger around. They made holes the size of basements when they landed, made palm trees into toothpicks. They were shelled all night and the 164th lost its first soldier,” Olgeirson shared.
Now, 77 years since Guadalcanal, Olgeirson has found a calling to keep their memory alive.
“The 164th Infantry Association started because there were over 2,000 people in North Dakota that had served. Well, if you consider our population, one in every 11 people residing in North Dakota have some kind of connection to the 164th infantry: their neighbor, their grandfather, their uncle,” she said.
About eight original members are still around today. Because they are aging, only one more issue of this magazine will be released, early next year.
“The significance now is not to the soldiers, but it’s to the families of the soldiers. Every day on Facebook and probably once a week by email, I get an inquiry from somebody: ‘I think my dad was in the 164th, can you tell me about their service?’ And yes I can,” she said proudly.
Making her legacy, protecting the legacy of others.
Olgeirson says you can see the significance of the 164th infantry all across the state:
From Highway 2 in Grand Forks to the state line in Minnesota is named the 164th infantry Memorial Highway. There’s a monument at the North Dakota Veteran’s Cemetary, and the regional training institute at Camp Grafton is named in honor of these soldiers.