HOUSTON – Anyone who has ever put one on celebrates Memorial Day a little different from everybody else.
Paul Olenski, a U.S. Marine, Vietnam veteran and Silver Star recipient has donated his uniform to the Chickasaw County Heritage Museum and his gift will be formally recognized at Houston’s annual Memorial Day service Monday.
The community – especially current and former military personnel – are urged to attend Monday’s ceremonies on the Houston Courthouse lawn that start with the chiming of the Courthouse clock at 6 p.m. Sharp.
“The way we got this uniform is a story itself,” said Dot Wilson, of the Chickasaw County Heritage Museum. “We were holding our 1956 Class Reunion and we went by the Museum. Bubba Collums pointed out we didn’t have a Marine uniform and asked if we wanted one.”
Wilson said Collums contacted a man via the internet that was interested in donating his uniform.
“This man was from Arizona and said his family was not interested in his uniform and he didn’t want it going to a thrift store,” said Wilson. “When we found out it came with a Silver Star and Purple Heart we realized this was a very special uniform.”
Olenski served on a Long Range Reconnisance Team in 1968. Olenski has provided photos of his team on Truoi Mountain south of Hue and the documentation of the ribbons he is authorized to wear.
“I purchased these dress blues in November 1968 and wore them only once,” said Olenski. “This was to a civilian banquet sponsored by The 52 Association of Chicago. This group assisted military families who fell between the cracks without military assistance or Red Cross assistance.”
Olenski was still recovering from combats wounds suffered in Vietnam and was a patient at Great Lakes Naval Hospital. He said he remembered eating roast beef at that banquet while his buddies were still in the jungles of Vietnam.
Olenski earned his Silver Star for picking up an enemy grenade and hurling it back. He then returned fire to allow his patrol to be extracted from the combat zone.
Wilson said she has been amazed at Olenski’s story and all the pieces that fell into place that ultimately brought his uniform to Houston.
“The uniform by itself is so pretty,” said Wilson. “But when you know the story behind it, it makes it so much more valuable and important that we remember all our veterans this Memorial Day.”
Monday’s ceremony will see the Pilot Club Missing Man Table set up on the Courthouse Lawn.
The invocation will be given by city officials and – as is the tradition – the name of every Chickasaw County veteran who died in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam will be read aloud.
Veteran attending Monday’s event will be asked to stand and will be recognized for their service.
Houston Memorial Day ceremony coordinator Rex Sanderson said the VFW and American Legion are actively seeking the names and history of all local residents who served in the military. He urged family members of veterans to attend Monday’s ceremony and make sure their names are on the VFW roster.
Monday’s ceremony will conclude with the playing of Taps.
For details on Houston’s Memorial Day Celebration contact Sanderson at 456-4615.