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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
but one of the crew was killed in the crash. The sole survivor, Joel Griffin served
out the war as a Japanese POW.
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
"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
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."
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
Olson figures she
has maybe one or two more trips to New Guinea left.
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."
that, she wants to start looking for underwater wrecks.
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