World War II veteran said he was no hero. He was.
Decorated Minnesota paratrooper Clarence "Bud" Ollom dies at 87
It's hard to figure out Clarence "Bud" Ollom's highest honor.
There's the time he was knighted by the French consul general at Minnesota's Capitol Rotunda. The 2006 ceremony marked the first time a Minnesotan was admitted into France's highest military order: the Legion of Honor.
Then there's the story of how Ollom, one of Minnesota's most highly decorated World War II paratroopers, singly charged a German machine gun nest five days after D-Day. By the time the adrenaline faded, he'd shot at least three German soldiers with his M-1 rifle and the rest had fled into the French countryside. Three fresh holes littered the folds of his uniform: marks of where bullets had whistled through without touching him.
Others remember how Ollom ran into a burning, just-shelled French chapel in rural Pont l'Abbe to save a historic rosary. He kept it with him during the war and returned it to the rebuilt chapel on the 60th anniversary of D-Day in 2004.
The nuns there, in their teens during the war, remembered it — and tearfully thanked him.
Like many veterans of the war, Ollom, who died Sunday of natural causes at the age of 87, rarely talked about his experiences.
"He always said, 'The heroes are the ones still over there,' " said friend Greg Egnash.
Ollom was born in rural Jeffers, Minn. He grew up working in South St. Paul's stockyards, where at the age of 16 he was dispatching cows with a sledgehammer
blow to their heads for Swift & Co.
"Sometimes you'd be up to your knees in blood," Ollom said in an article on the Minnesota American Legion Web site. "In some ways, that prepared me for the military."
"He had no issue with the guy next to him getting his head blown off. He was knee deep in it," Egnash said.
In all, friends said, Sgt. Ollom killed an estimated two-dozen German soldiers during the war.
He was drafted in 1942 — and for an extra 50 bucks a month volunteered to become a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne.
All four times the 82nd jumped into combat, Ollom was there.
"There were 22 guys on a C-47 (plane), and if you were near the door, there were all those guys in line behind you. You went out the damn door whether you wanted to or not," Ollom told the American Legion.
"It took me until about my third jump, though, before I could stand at the door and look out before I jumped."
He received multiple Purple Hearts, a Bronze Star and a Silver Star for charging the machine gun nest to protect the commanding officer of the 82nd's 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, for whom he served as bodyguard and runner.
"They got ahead of their (the 505th's marching) column. They ran smack dab into this German outfit, and it was either fight or die," said longtime friend Steve Anderson.
"With no other thought save that of his commander's safety, he dashed forward toward the enemy emplacement, exposed himself to their direct fire, and attacked them with his weapon. He closed with them, killed three Germans, and dispersed the others," Ollom's Silver Star citation states.
"They (German soldiers) were lying all over the place. He said he went through two bandoliers," Egnash said.
About the same time, Ollom found Vic Lundgren, one of his best Minnesotan friends from training, lying in blood in the Normandy countryside. He'd been shot several times.
"A radio guy came up behind me, and I told him to call for a stretcher. He said he couldn't because he was calling in artillery at that time. I said, 'Dammit, call for that stretcher, buddy,' and he did. Later he told me I should have been court-martialed for that, but nothing was ever said about it," Ollom told the American Legion.
After the war, Ollom was Lundgren's best man at his wedding.
After the Battle of the Bulge, Ollom suffered a strangulated hernia while hoisting a log to get a vehicle out of a ditch. He was under fire at the time, and the soldier at the other end of the log was hit by either sniper fire or shell fragments.
Ollom returned to the Twin Cities in 1945 and immediately married Dorothy. She died in 1996.
He returned to work at Swift's before joining the printing industry, working at McGill-Warner Co. in St. Paul. After retiring in the 1970s, he opened Seven Seas Tropical Fish and Pets in North St. Paul.
Ollom, who lived in North St. Paul for 40 years, died at Norris Square nursing home in Cottage Grove.
"The only advice he gave is one he didn't take: 'Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse,' " said son Dennis Ollom.
He is survived by another son, Tim, and four grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Roseville Memorial Chapel, 2245 Hamline Ave. Services will be at 10 a.m. Monday at the Chapel, followed by an 11:30 a.m. burial at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.