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Pacific Flyer - Janice Olson
Page B8 - Pacific Flyer May 2000 (Reprinted with Permission)

Pacific Flyer Profile
Janice Olson

She Tracks Down
Missing B-17s In
The Jungles of
New Guinea
by Chuck Stewart

THE HULK of B-17 s/n 41-9234 with most of its olive drab paint weathered away to reveal RAF roundels on the wings and fuselage, indicating it was originally destined for England but was diverted at the last minute to the US Army Air Force in the South Pacific.

  Its hard to imagine a petite brunette like Janice Olson of Victorville, Calif. traipsing through the jungles of Papua New Guinea searching for the remains of B-17s that crashed there during WWII.
    But three weeks a year, on her own time and her own money, that's exactly what she does. Photos and artifacts from her excursions are scattered around her office - she manages the Mall of Victor Valley.
    "It's an unusual hobby," she admits, "but my goal is to document the history of every B-17 that served in the Pacific theater, from the day it left the factory to its final disposition. So far, I've made four trips to New Guinea in 12 years.
    Just as unusual is the way Olson got started in what she saus began as a hobby, bit is now a passionate crusade.
  "My father served in WWII and retired as a colonel but he never talked about his wartime experiences," said Olson. "I knew he was a pilot because I'd flown with him as a child but it was only after his death in 1988 that I found out he flew B-17s in the South Pacific."

Pieces Of A Puzzle
Using DD-213 military service records, she was able to piece together the puzzle of their father's

wartime career. Turned out 1st Lt. Charles Olson's first assignment was to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii with the 5th and 11th Bomb Groups.
    In advance of the invasion of Guadalcanal, he flew submarine patrol and reconnaissance missions, then was transferred to the 19th and 43rd Bomb Groups. During his stay in the Pacific (1942 - '43) he also flew out of Moreba, Australia and Port Moresby, New Guinea.
    During her research, Olson came to realize the air war in the Pacific got scant coverage compared to the European theater. Unable to find what she wanted in published sources, she used military records to track down men who served with her father, then used interviews and scrapbooks to assemble a first person history of the B-17 in the Pacific theater.
    Olson, who would not give her age other than to say she's a "baby-boomer" was well prepared for this kind of research. Born in Washington, D.C., she attended San Diego State University and the University of California at Los Angeles, earning an anthropology degree.
She calls her search fro B-17 crash sites a form of "aviation archeology" and her tracking of around the Pacific "a sort of anthropology."
  After five years of work, Olson knew that some 50 B-17s

had been lost in the Pacific theater and that 20 of them were still unaccounted for. She had researched the fates of many of these planes and their crews to get an idea of what her father had been through.
    But one question still haunted her: How does an airplane with 11 men aboard go missing in action with out a trace?


There was only so much her interviews with surviving crew men could tell her. She decided she had to go to New Guinea to see for herself, so she made her first field trip in 1993.
Into The Wilds
  To prepare for the trip, she contacted several Australian authors of the books on the Pacific air war and told them what she was planning. Almost all of them warned against the trip, saying New Guinea was too primitive for a women.
    Undaunted, she set off anyway, accompanied by George Wyatt, a former Marine gunnery sergeant.
  Once she saw for herself the vast expanse of featureless jungle and ocean over which the B-17s flew, she understood how a plane could just "vanish". She became even more determined to find the ones still unaccounted for, especially one flown by her father.

  Olson knew that Pacific B-17 crews were not assigned specific planes like 8th Air Force crews in Europe; instead, they flew whatever ship they were assigned from those that were flyable on mission day. During his tour, Lt. Olson had flown nearly every plane in the Group.

On her first trip, Olson met a native who reported seeing a B-17 crash in June 193 when he was a boy working on a plantation Using his description, plus her own research, she found the remains of that plane (B-17F s/n 41-24448) on her 1995 trip.
    "Taxpayer's Pride" was one of the planes her father had flown. Fortunately, he was not aboard when it was shot down near Rabaul by a twin engine Nakajima J1N1 Irving nightfighter flown by Shigetashi Kudo.
    All but one of the crew was killed in the crash. The sole survivor, Joel Griffin served out the war as a Japanese POW.

Questions Answered
On subsequent trips, Olson documented the crash sites of 10 of the previously MIA B-17s. Considered one of the leading experts on the subject, she eagerly shares her meticulously documented findings with historians and authors.

"A day doesn't go by," Olson said, "that I don't do something on this hobby, including working with families of B-17 crews who want to know what

EXPEDITION CHOPPER pilot Dave Piddick standing on wing of B-17 s/n 41-2430 "Naughty But Nice" shot down with one survivor: Jose Holguin, who served out the war as a POW

happened to their family fathers, husbands or uncles. It's a very rewarding aspect of the work."
Olson has given closure to a lot of families and brought back personal mementos she's found at crash sites. She even took a women to see for herself where her father had died.
    Olson figures she has maybe one or two more trips to New Guinea left.
    "By then, I will have documented 15-18 B-17s, which I think is about as much as possible," said Olson. "The next trip is on hold while I save up money to rent a helicopter and figure out how to get the six weeks off that I'll need."
    After that, she wants to start looking for underwater wrecks.
    She's also setting up a nonprofit organization called the "Pacific Theater B-17 Project" to preserve the documentation she has amassed so far. She's been audition aviation museums as possible repositories for her work.
  "I tell everyone I meet not to throw away any WWII military records they find in the attic," said Olson "They're an invaluable, disappearing source of research... just like the B-17 crew members themselves."

NEW GUINEA natives with the radio room roof of B-17 s/n 41-24449 "Taxpayer's Pride" shot down June 26th, 1943
Black Cat
OLSON PAYS her respects at the
remains of B-17 s/n 41-9234,
largely intact and resting on a hillside

SECTION OF instrument panel from B-17 41-24552 "Listen Here Tojo" shot down Sept. 15, 1943. Note "radio call" placard in center.


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