Florence’s Low-Key Hero,
Pilot Ed Olander, Passes On
By Edward Shanahan
In line at the Czelusniak Funeral Home the other day, I was struck by the collective ages of those of us gathered to convey our condolences to the family of Edwin Olander.
Of course, it should not be a surprise that we’re getting up there. After all, Ed Olander was elected mayor of Northampton when he was 29 years and just home from World War II, an authentic war hero. He began serving the first of two terms as mayor in 1946, or 62 years ago.
I did not get to know Ed Olander until much later when I opened my book store in Florence in 1990 and had the singular pleasure of frequent visits from Ed, as his wife Flo did some shopping across the street at Herlihy’s.
Ed and I shared a tangential interest as he had worked as a newspaper reporter in Springfield after graduating from Amherst College.
He got to know most of the reporters working at the Gazette, in an era well before (in a former life) I joined the Gazette staff. He seemed to have enjoyed the experience, at least as reflected by his many anecdotes.
Given his brief but rich experience as a newspaper man, he seemed eager to get my take on what was going in the community based on my years at the newspaper.
He did not dwell much on his years as mayor, because he felt the municipal life of contemporary Northampton was so different from the era when he served that it was not relevant. That was a long time ago, he suggested.
One subject he enjoyed revisiting was the camaraderie forged by his experience as a marine fighter pilot in the celebrated “Black Sheep Squadron” operating in the Pacific on the Second World War. He came home amply decorated, including receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross.
For the record, and for younger readers, Wikipedia offers the following information about the Black Sheep Squadron.
“In August 1943, a group of twenty-seven young men under the leadership of Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington (who was later awarded the Medal of Honor) were joined together to form the original "Blacksheep" of VMF-214.
Major Boyington had just returned from a year's tour in China as a member of the American Volunteer Group, the "Flying Tigers." In China, he had downed six enemy planes and became, through actual experience, one of the originators of American fighter tactics against the Japanese.
“ The call sign "Black Sheep" was chosen by the squadron to commemorate the unusual way in which the squadron had been formed. Originally the squadron called itself "Boyington's Bastards" after its commander, but this label was considered unacceptable by the press.
The pilots ranged from experienced combat veterans, with several air-to-air victories to their credit, to new replacement pilots from the United States. Major Boyington and Major Stan Bailey were given permission to form the unassigned pilots into a squadron, with the understanding that they would have less than four weeks to have them fully trained and ready for combat. They were very successful.
‘‘They chose for their badge the black shield of illegitimacy, the bar sinister, a black sheep superimposed, surrounded by a circle of twelve stars, and crowned with the image of their aircraft, the F4U Corsair. What these men accomplished has become Marine Corps history.
The Black Sheep squadron fought for eighty-four days. “They met the Japanese over their own fields and territory and piled up a record of 203 planes destroyed or damaged, produced eight fighter aces with 97 confirmed air-to-air kills, sank several troop transports and supply ships, destroyed many installations, in addition to numerous other victories. For their actions, the original Black Sheep were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for extraordinary heroism in action.
“The Black Sheep ended their second combat tour on January 8, 1944, five days after Major Boyington was shot down and captured by the Japanese. The original Black Sheep were disbanded and the pilots were placed in the pilot pool in Marine Aircraft Group 11.
Exploits of this incarnation of the unit were loosely fictionalized in the 1970s television series Baa Baa Black Sheep (later renamed The Black Sheep Squadron), starring Robert Conrad as Boyington.”
Given that experience, it is no wonder that Ed Olander kept careful track of former comrades, and attended most of the unit’s reunions in various parts of the country. As the number of the squadron’s alumni dwindled through the years, Ed made it his job to prepare obituaries of those who had passed on.
Let’s hope that one of the men who flew with Ed will pass along to remaining squadron brethren the information that Ed, an admirable man, has passed on too.
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