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Bob Lind, Published August 11 2013

Neighbors: Heroes who have lived in our midst

This was Lt. Hugo Olson and his airborne unit’s assignment, one night during World War II: Parachute into France and seize and hold ground about 12 miles inland from the beachhead.

Hugo was the second paratrooper out of his plane. The first was his commanding officer, Gen. James Gavin.

They thought they’d be landing on dry farmland. Wrong. The Germans had deliberately flooded a nearby river, and the paratroopers came down in fields covered with chest-deep water.

It was a rugged way for Hugo’s unit to begin D-Day.

Another hero

John Kost, formerly of Moorhead and now of Islamorada, Fla., told Neighbors of Hugo. He describes him as, “Another World War II hero who lived in our midst (when John lived) in Moorhead.”

John, who says people in Fargo-Moorhead knew him as Greg, so Neighbors will call him that, too, writes that Hugo was his family’s lawyer and, after Greg’s father died in the 1960s, became somewhat of a surrogate father to him and encouraged him to attend law school.

Hugo was a native of Cambridge, Minn., and a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School. In Moorhead, he was with the law firm of Olson, Thysell and Gjevre for 40 years. He led many fundraising efforts for Concordia College and the University of Minnesota Law School and School of Veterinary Medicine.

Hugo died in 1995 at age 76, leaving behind four children, nine grandchildren and a military record that Greg wants people to remember.

Capturing a bridge

In 1994, The Forum’s Gerry Gilmour interviewed Hugo about his experiences. Neighbors is using Gerry’s story to augment the information Greg sent in.

Hugo, an aide to Gavin, had made previous jumps with him in Sicily and Italy. Now, at 1 a.m. on June 6, 1944, they were in a flooded field in France.

Their unit worked feverishly to salvage such equipment as bazookas, mortars and radios. Then, Gavin saw lights on the other side of the river and sent Hugo to investigate.

He waded over, then came back, covered with slime and mud, to report he’d made contact with an American infantry unit, located on high and dry ground. Gavin and Hugo led about 150 men to that location.

Then, Gavin and his men were ordered to capture a German-held bridge. Gavin said he couldn’t do it, due to lack of manpower. But then U.S. tanks broke out of the Normandy beachhead and reinforced Gavin’s unit.

So, on June 9, the push to take the bridge began.

Hugo’s job was to direct fire against the enemy. Exposing himself to German fire, he ran from tank to tank directing fire against enemy strong points. He was wounded, but he stayed in there. And the bridge was taken.

Hugo later was wounded again in the Battle of the Bulge. For all his actions, he was awarded the Silver Star.

Returning to the scene

During celebrations some years ago marking the Allies’ World War II victory, Gen. Gavin invited Hugo to join him and other survivors of their initial jump in a flight from England to re-create that event, although this time, happily, they’d land at the site, not jump.

“Hugo visited me in my Minneapolis law firm office upon his return,” Greg says, “and retold the whole story to me with tears streaming down his face. I was very moved.”

Greg says Hugo was buried “without much ceremony at Fort Snelling (Minn.) Cemetery, but with most of we lawyers and family friends nearby.”

And John “Greg” Kost, himself a retired Navy captain, concludes his email to Neighbors with, “God bless America.”

If you have an item of interest for this column, mail it to Neighbors, The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107; fax it to (701) 241-5487; or e-mail blind@forumcomm.com