PARKER COUNTY —
Linda Olson has a pretty large family. But she and other family members have something more in common than genetics — 13 of them are veterans, having served in the Vietnam War.
“We all made it back safely, even though some of us came back with Agent Orange problems,” she said. “And of that group, I was the only female.
“I was the leader of the pack — the instigator.”
It’s the feistiness and drive that remain with Olson, spurring her career in the Army as well.
“My mom told me I was 7 months old when I started walking and I told her that was because I had somewhere to go,” she said.
As a teenager, Olson loved school, but wanted to go overseas and see the world, which prompted her to join the military.
“My dad didn’t really know about women in the military, other than what he had read,” she said. “He didn’t think it was a place I would belong.”
Olson’s original recruiting appointment was with an Air Force representative, but when the meeting was canceled at the last minute Olson was approached by an Army recruiter, who encouraged her to enlist.
Olson’s first duty station was in San Francisco, and she got her first overseas orders prior to Labor Day.
“Every Friday, I would go and look for my name [on the list of which soldiers were being sent overseas], and one day, I finally saw it,” she said. “I was just ready to go.”
Olson was cautioned by family about her three-year commitment, but didn’t think too much about it — until a punishment involving cleaning and a toothbrush.
“I realized that three years was a very long time as I was scrubbing the stairway with a toothbrush,” she said. “In the Army, you learn to work as a team, and their goal is to break you down as an individual.”
While in Okinawa, Olson had an impromptu family reunion when her younger brother was dropped off at the base on his way to Vietnam.
“That was one of the hardest things for me — to drop him off at that airstrip,” she recalled. “We were never really close, and still aren’t, but when I pulled up, I didn’t know if I was ever going to see him again.”
In Japan, Olson worked as a member of the payroll personnel, as women, at that time, weren’t allowed in combat.
After serving out her duties, Olson returned to Texas, joining the Army Reserves for eight years while working for the Department of Defense in Dallas.
“I wanted to go back in, but the Army had changed,” she said. “I was an E-7, and I couldn’t tell the E-1s to remove their earrings. Plus I had kids and other obligations.”
Nowadays, Olson is still traveling, this time across the United States, as a pipeline inspector.
“I would go back if I could,” she said of the Army. “I still have friends from basic training that I keep in touch with.”