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Janice Olson
Pacific Theatre B-17 Project

In Memory: Janice Olson passed away on November 30, 2016

Click For EnlargementHer Father Charles "Chick" Olson
Janice Olson is the daughter of Col. Charles "Chick" Olson a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot who served in the 5th Air Force, 43rd Bombardment Group, 64th Bombardment Squadron. Olson's Pacific Theatre B-17 Project's mission is to collect, preserve, and make available to the public the history of the B-17s and their crews serving in the Pacific Theatre. Most of my time is spent locating crews and visiting them to document their war careers; and, when possible, copy their military records, photographs, diaries and flight logs. It's a very labor-intensive project but the rewards never cease to amaze. The other portion of the project is to develop a complete diary of each B-17 which served in the Pacific theatre. The "diary" includes the day the plane left the factory, the modifications it received, when it went overseas, its combat missions, and ultimately its fate.

When wartime documents indicate a plane was shot down, or went missing, I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to find out what happened to the plane and then try to locate it, documenting the crash site, on trips to Papua New Guinea (PNG). I have documented ten B-17 crash sites in PNG.

Pacific Theatre B-17 Project
Each and every day finds me engaged, in some way, in collecting, cataloging or sorting the history of the B-17 Flying Fortress in the Pacific theatre. When I have located every veteran or his family, and when I have determined what happened to each and every B-17 that flew in the theatre, I will, at last, be done.

The purpose of my work is to collect, preserve and teach the history of the B-17 Flying Fortress in its role in the Pacific theatre. The process of the collection phase includes locating veterans who served with B-17s, documenting their recollections of their experiences and copying their records. Collecting material also occurs through archives, fellow historians, museums and newspapers. At this time my personnel data base includes a list of 3,000 men who served in some capacity with B-17s in the Pacific theatre.

Click For EnlargementThe purpose of my work is to collect, preserve and teach the history of the B-17 Flying Fortress in its role in the Pacific theatre. The process of the collection phase includes locating veterans who served with B-17s, documenting their recollections of their experiences and copying their records. Collecting material also occurs through archives, fellow historians, museums and newspapers. At this time my personnel data base includes a list of 3,000 men who served in some capacity with B-17s in the Pacific theatre.

Click For EnlargementEach entry includes their name, serial number, unit and anything from a single note about a flight they took to pages of detailed records of their flights, missions and awards. The data base also includes the serial number of each B-17 which flew in the Pacific and all the information I have been able to find about that particular aircraft. The information includes such details as when the plane was accepted by the Army Air Force, when it was delivered to the Pacific theatre, what missions it flew, and, of course, what happened to it. Air Force record cards contain disposition information which is sometimes obtuse and other times inaccurate. On more than one occasion efforts to be precise about a plane's final resting place have led me to Papua New Guinea.

Overseas Research
Trips to Papua New Guinea (PNG) are for the purpose of locating and documenting each crash site. Three trips to the mainland of New Guinea, and four to New Britain, have resulted in locating and documenting ten B-17 sites. At this time future plans call for a visit to Milne Bay to locate the remains of three B-17s, or to New Britain to locate two more B-17s. After that, I believe there are only three or four more B-17s which could be located for documentation purposes. The rest, I believe, are all inhabitants of the deep. Until organizations with high-tech underwater equipment begin taking an interest in the waters off the coasts of Papua New Guinea, many of the World War II wrecks will remain undiscovered.

ID Bracelet and the Beginning of other New Searches
The "Good Morning, America!" show which caught the attention of Patricia Gaffney (daughter of 2nd Lt. George P. Gaffney Missing In Action piloting P-47D 42-22896) was the result of a ceremony in Oregon which received national press coverage. The ceremony came about after the following events:

In 1993, Richard Leahy, George Wyatt and I identified a recently-discovered B-17 as one that had been missing for 50 years. The same day we identified it, I notified my then state senator, Senator McCain, of the discovery. The crash-site included the remains of the crew. An identification bracelet had been taken from one of the crew members and sold to a scavenger. We tracked down the scavenger and retrieved the bracelet, bringing it back to the United States. A search for the family of the crewman who had been wearing the bracelet resulted in locating his former wife. Upon making contact with her, she and I agreed to meet in Salem, Oregon as I wanted to personally return the bracelet.

The State of Oregon held a ceremony to honor the crew and at that ceremony, I returned the dead crewman's I.D. bracelet to his former wife. This ceremony was covered by national press and came to the attention of the "Good Morning, America!" agents, who asked that the wife and I appear to discuss our roles and tell them what it was like to find a crew that had been missing for 50 years. It was that program that Patricia Gaffney saw.

Patricia Gaffney
PacificWrecks.comWithin a couple of days after the show I received a call from Patricia Gaffney daughter of 2nd Lt. George Gaffney pilot of P-47D 42-22896 Missing In Action (MIA) March 11, 1944 who wanted to know what the chances were of finding her father in Papua New Guinea. Over the years I've received many inquiries similar to Gaffney's. But she was special. She kept at it: patiently, persistently. She used creativity in overcoming problems and exercised initiative in finding answers to questions. It was, simply, a pleasure to be able to help her in any small way.

Eventually a planned trip to Papua New Guinea prompted me to ask her if she wanted to join me on part of the trip. I told her I would set her up with a visit to the area where her father was last seen. The proposition resulted in our traveling to Papua New Guinea together. I was on a trek to New Ireland and wasn't sure how long I would be gone, (or where I was going to stay or, for that matter, how I was going to locate the B-17 I sought), so I helped her get set up with a trip to Gusap and on Mother's Day, 1995, gave her a good-by hug and sent her on her way, and then boarded my own plane for Rabaul. Quite some time later we met again back in Port Moresby for the return trip home and shared our experiences.

Years later when crash-site aficionado Alfred Hagen mentioned to me that he had got wind of a P-47 in the area where Gaffney's father was last seen, I urged him to make contact with her. Hagen's having found the plane with Gaffney on board is short of a miracle, but it couldn't have happened to a more deserving individual than Patricia Gaffney.

Future Plans
That's it in a nutshell. My goal is to eventually set up a "research hot line" for people interested in the B-17's activities in the Pacific theatre and to assist families in learning what their brothers and uncles and fathers did in the war. I have a data base of over 3,000 wartime biographies of B-17 crew and the information continues to grow by leaps and bounds. No books on my work are currently planned; however, I feel that if I can get six to eight more B-17 sites documented, I may look at whether there is sufficient material to warrant a publication on the B-17 sites of Papua New Guinea. In the meantime, I am working on a unit history of the B-17 era of the 64th Squadron of the 43rd Bomb Group. Completion of this document is planned for 2002.
My field is extremely narrow but I go very, very deep, insisting on uncovering every little detail. My goal is to keep history alive, and the memory of those lads who served at the front in New Guinea during WWII.

Restoration or Rust in Peace?
Much has been written and discussed over the years about whether crashed planes should be left where they rest, or recovered and restored. My preference is to let others debate the issue! Whether a plane is left alone or restored, the history needs to be preserved and made available for all time. Long after the planes are gone, the history will endure.

Thank you for the interview Ms. Olson

References
Pacific Flyer "Janice Olson - She Tracks Down Missing B-17s In the Jungles of New Guinea" May 2000, page B8
Ken’s Men Against The Empire Charles "Chick" Olson pages 46, 53, 93, 108-109, 156, 179, 355, 400 (index)
Ken’s Men Against The Empire Janice Olson pages 94, 103, 109, 179 (photo), 189, 193, 279, 322, 381, 400 (index)
Legacy.com Obituary Janice Olson 1946-2016
"Janice Lynn Olson - February 13, 1946 - November 30, 2016
Janice Olson of Apple Valley, California, rode into the sunset the morning of November 30th, 2016. Janice is most noted for her daring adventures to the distant and mysterious island of Papua New Guinea where she located forgotten WWII aircraft deep in the jungles. One crash site included the skeletal remains of Lt. Howard Eberly [pilot of B-17F "Listen Here Tojo! 41-24552] who still wore the matching golden ID bracelet shared with his wife some fifty years before his remains were returned. Janice was a strong leader and savvy business woman. She will be remembered and missed for her boisterous laughter and sharp wit. For her interest in the world and the great lengths she took to understand it. For her love of poetry, opera, and her quiet cabin in the woods - the only place she was ever seen to sit still. Though her restless heart has finally found ease, she has left her mark on the world as a vibrant and energetic troublemaker, and above all, someone who truly left this world in a better condition than she found it. Services will be held at Sunset Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Apple Valley, Saturday December 17, from 2:00 to 5:00pm."
FindAGrave - Janice Lynn Olson (photo)
Thanks to Janice Olson for additional information

 

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