Flag Day for Uncle Jim

Uncle Jimmy's flagHad the most interesting Flag Day of my life today. As “holidays” go, Flag Day is pretty tame. But every year, I put my flag out on June 14 to show respect for this great symbol of our country and its history. This year, I actually did something.

This story starts back on a spring day back in 1968. It was April 23 that my Uncle Jimmy was killed in a motorcycle accident on the east side of Green Bay. Now, I didn’t know Uncle Jimmy very well. I was only 5 at the time, and we lived 675 miles away in Pittsburgh. But we used to see him when we would go to Green Bay for holidays, and he was a pretty cool uncle. He had served a couple of years in the Navy, and was attending UW Eau Claire at the time of his death.

My Mom, Uncle Jimmy’s oldest sister, was quite sad about his death. I don’t recall why, but only Mom and I flew to Green Bay for the funeral, leaving my two sisters and my Dad behind in Pittsburgh.

In Memorium James L. OlsonA few years later, around the mid 1970s, my grandparents, Bob & Clarice Olson, donated an American flag to Premontre High School (now Notre Dame Academy) in memory of Uncle Jimmy. I was about 12 years old at the time, and I remember sitting in the stands at the football field on West Mason, and watching my grandparents walk out onto the field to present the flag. Premontre had a pretty robust ROTC program at the time, and there were many students in full military uniform on the field.

The folks at Premontre placed the flag on the stage in the auditorium, where it remained for many years. I attended high school there as a freshman during the 1977-78 school year. I remember when we would go into the auditorium for Mass on holy days, it was always very cool seeing my uncle’s flag there. Hundreds of guys in the school with me (Premontre was an all boys Catholic school), and that flag was mine.

Now, fast forward 30 years to 2004. I was having lunch with my Uncle Bob, Jimmy’s youngest brother. Bob and I have been having lunch together every 2 weeks for 10 years now (that’s another story). We’ve been doing a lot of genealogy research, and we got to talking about Uncle Jimmy, and the flag. The conversation lit a fire under my butt to go find out whatever happened to the flag.

Premontre, along with the other two Catholic high schools in Green Bay, had consolidated in 1990 under the new name Notre Dame de la Baie Academy. So I went over to NDA one day and asked the woman in the office if she could find out where the flag is. I had a pretty open mind. I was prepared to hear that they just didn’t have it, or maybe it was in storage, or better yet, it was still in use. The woman said she’d check into it and get back to me. Well, the issue kind of got shoved to the back burner until just a couple of months ago.

Tom Olson, Meredith Czech, Pat Jacobs, Bob OlsonI contacted the associate principal at NDA (I know him from when he worked with me at St. Norbert College). He did a little leg work and found that our flag is the main flag on display in the school library. They move it onto the auditorium stage for commencement and other similar events. This was fantastic news! It’s been 30 years since we’ve seen the flag. And the memory of my uncle lives on.

So, I got my Mom and her siblings together, and the five of us went over to NDA today to see the flag. The Olson siblings are a pretty goofy bunch. They smiled a lot, and even laughed a bit. But the coolest part was when I took their picture with the flag. I could see “old times” in each of their eyes. My Mom told me that it was kind of like the five of them were together again.

It was a special day today. I’m reminded of the lyrics of an old Lynyrd Skynyrd song, “If I leave here tomorrow, would you still remember me?”. For Uncle Jimmy, the answer is a firm “no”!

Tom Olson, Meredith Czech, Pat Jacobs, Bob Olson