Albert M. Olmstead, Merchant Marine
Editor’s note: This is the third of three parts.
Into the Army
With his duties as a Merchant Marine completed, Albert M. Olmstead decided that he wanted to keep serving his country. He joined the U.S. Army in September 1946. He was sent for training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, and spent six weeks in boot camp there. Next he went through infantry training at Fort Eustis in Virginia and then it was off to Camp Stoneman in California for more physical fitness training.
Olmstead’s first assignment as a soldier was to board a ship for Yokohama, Japan. This time, he would ride as a passenger and be able to enjoy the sights and the sailing. However, it wasn’t a relaxing trip! The ship hit a typhoon, and for three days they sailed through wind and waves and danger. To Olmstead and the others aboard the ship, those three days felt like three weeks but they made it through to the other side of the storm and safely reached their destination.
Arriving at Yokohama, Olmstead received orders for Inchon, Korea. There he was assigned to the Army’s 3rd Battalion 6th Army Infantry. He was a rifleman, charged with guard duty. He had to protect a 70-mile area in South Korea. After this stint was completed, he was reassigned to the Army’s motor pool, and his job was to service and maintain Jeeps and 2/2 tracks. Olmstead’s break came when he was assigned to the mail run, which involved a 70-mile run each day to pick up the mail and return to the camp with it. But this leisurely job didn’t satisfy Olmstead for long, and he requested a new assignment.
Back at the camp, he was now assigned to the post engineers. It was a job that Olmstead felt would help him secure employment after his time in the service was over. Olmstead had heard the sad stories from WWII veterans, stories of proud and capable men returning home from defending their country only to hear that their military service did not include practical job skills. They were turned down for jobs because their experience involved firing weapons and protecting men and supplies, moving over dangerous terrain and securing land previously held by the enemy. These skills didn’t translate to factory jobs and sales, and these heroes found themselves out of work and broke.
Becoming a civilian
In March 1948, Olmstead left Korea for Fort Lewis in Washington state, and was handed his discharge papers. After his time in the Merchant Marines and Army, Olmstead spent four weeks relaxing and catching up with his friends and family. Then, a job offer came with Jamestown Metal. Olmstead accepted the offer and began his job soldering radiators. All was going well until the company went on strike over working conditions. Olmstead left and enrolled in the Detroit School of Electricity. He graduated in September 1948.
On Nov. 12, 1949, Olmstead married Esther Green. They would go on to have five children together, Joanne, Cynthia, Beverly, Brian and the late Dianne.
In February 1950, Olmstead landed a job with the Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. His first job was in the storeroom, then he moved into the line department. He worked his way up to the top lineman’s job, with the title of “Hot Stick Lineman.” The job required intelligence and physical strength, as Olmstead had to maintain line voltages of up to 13,000 volts.
As years passed, Olmstead put in for and received a job as a diagnostic operator and field trouble tester, working on testing meters and other machinery and equipment. If there was a problem with irregular voltage, low voltage or other unexplained problems, Olmstead was dispatched to find the problem and fix it. He retired on Dec. 30, 1984, after 34 years and 10 months on the job. He didn’t do this without some sadness, since he had worked with some of his best friends, Harry Ludemann, Robert Schlia, David Wagner, Joe Dominico and Willard Bull.
Now, Olmstead is the proud grandfather of eight grandchildren and one great grandchild.
A good man
I knew Albert Olmstead from my days when I worked for Niagara Mohawk. I was a lineman. We would meet up at high voltage substations near Clymer, Sherman and Findley Lake, but never once did we talk about our days in the service. When we finally sat down and shared our stories, it was amazing to learn we took similar paths in our youths. We both knew men who didn’t get to see their 20th birthdays, and talked about how that knowledge was hard to carry around.
When Olmstead started his story, he said he went into the Merchant Marines because he didn’t want to go into the Army! But I understand that in the 1940s, all he had were the accounts on the radio and in the newspapers and reports came in daily of Army soldiers who lost their lives. Olmstead didn’t hear about how dangerous the Atlantic and Pacific were to Merchant Marines, too, and how one of the enemy’s main goals was to cut off supplies for the Allies. The enemy celebrated every time they sunk a ship full of ammunition and food for Allied troops – it meant fewer bullets would be shot at enemy soldiers and weaker, sicker Allied soldiers.
After hearing about how dangerous service in the Merchant Marines was, I asked Olmstead, “Were you crazy? You actually signed up with the Merchant Marines over the Army?” A big smile covered his face and he nodded his head. He said “Yes I did. The benefits were great.” He also realized just how badly those men over in Europe and the Pacific needed supplies. Whether or not those ships made it across the oceans meant life or death for troops overseas.
The Merchant Marines made it possible for the Allies to win the war. Without those supplies, the Allies would have been defeated by 1943. A year after WWII, Winston Churchill stated that the Merchant Marines and the L.S.T.s (Landing Ship Tanks) won the war.
Now that he’s retired, Olmstead likes to watch a little television – not a lot, but he likes to keep up with what’s going on in the world. In the fall, he supports his home team in football. He likes to watch baseball now and then. He also enjoys spending time with his family.
Since World War II ended, 68 years have passed. There have been dozens of movies made about the war, hundreds of books written, and countless opinions shared about what was done and what should have been done. But it would be hard to find anything dedicated solely to the men of the Merchant Marines.
There is no calendar day dedicated to what they did for the Allied forces, or dedicated to the survivors of the Bataan Death March. These brave Americans, most younger than 20, sacrificed the best years of their lives to serve this country and stop evil where it spread like another plague through Europe and Asia. How do they feel when they see calendar days like “Bosses Day” and “Secretaries Day” and “Sweetest Day” set aside in bold print? We have Veterans Day and Memorial Day, but that isn’t enough. There should be a day set aside to honor different military branches, and the men who survived or lost their lives in specific, infamous battles and attacks, like the Bataan Death March. We should have Merchant Marine Day, L.S.T. Day, and more. We need to pay our respects to these men and let them know that we appreciate their sacrifices and honor their memories. We need to stand up and say “I know what you did for me, for my family and for our country. I know I am free because of you.”
Thank you, Mr. Olmstead. You are our hero of the week.