OKEECHOBEE — Veteran Olen Edwards was born and raised in Perry County, Miss., in a little town called Richton. When he was 16, he worked at a shipyard in Alabama, and he joined the National Guard along with some friends while he was there. They did maneuvers at a camp in Alabama for two weeks, before returning home. He also belonged to the National Guard in Mississippi, and when he decided to go into the Air Force after he graduated from high school, he already had enough basic training when they sent him to Sheppard Field, Texas that he didn’t have to take any further basic training at all.
He had learned to type in high school — 60 wpm — so he got a job in the orderly room, typing out detail rosters for KP and guard duty. “I’d leave you off for $5 and let your buddy pull it,” he laughed.
Then he was moved to Chanute Field, Ill., where they wanted him to train to be an aircraft mechanic. That’s where he met Richard Sheltra, who became a close friend and later his brother-in-law when Mr. Edwards married Mr. Sheltra’s sister Alice. On Chanute, Mr. Edwards served as fire chief, making sure none of the boilers froze up because he said “Chanute was cold as Hell in December.” He worked three days on and three days off, and he had Mr. Sheltra come work with him.
Soon, there was a need for replacement forces to go to Japan, and Mr. Edwards asked Mr. Sheltra who he called Smokey, “Smokey, I ain’t never been to Japan. Have you?” Smokey said, “Me either, let’s go!” So they went. They went on a troop ship of 3,000 men in a convoy of 12 ships. It was 1946, so there was no war going on, he said, but they were in a typhoon, and the waves were 50 and 60 feet high. Everyone was seasick, and it went on for 12 days. The captain of the ship said, “Men, I’ve got it full throttle straight into the wind, and it’s blowing us back a mile a day.” Finally, the storm ended and they were able to move about the ship. Officers and their wives were on the top level in nice quarters and were fed pork chops and steak and everything else, he said. Downstairs, they were eating sauerkraut and weenies and drinking powdered milk. Just about the only thing that would stay on their stomachs was an orange or maybe some crackers. Mr. Edwards got himself and Smokey a job in the upper part of the ship and when they’d get through serving the officers and their wives, there was always leftover food, and Mr. Edwards told the head steward there were men downstairs who could really use it. He said there were men down there selling candy bars for $2 each. The steward told him he could take the food if he didn’t sell it. Smokey ate seven apple pies that night and got to feeling a little better, he said.
When they arrived in Japan, they were assigned to JAMA attached to the 5th Air Force. His first job over there was to help set up a warehouse. They used alphabetical and numerical order. He did that until they realized he had National Guard training and then they gave him a job training 50 men every six weeks — three days on and three days off again.
He was 58 miles from Mount Fujiyama which is 12,275 feet high, he said. He bought a jeep over there and he and Smokey went up to the foot of Mount Fujiyama. It had last erupted in 1923, he said, and they climbed up to the top. “After 10,000 feet, you pretty well run out of oxygen, but we climbed up,” he said. “It took 26 hours to climb to the top and about five to come back down again.” They were in Japan for three years.
When they came back from Japan, Richard Sheltra, who later became his brother-in-law, purchased a dairy farm from his father-in-law, but Mr. Edwards decided he wanted to see the country. He said he had never been out of the county until he went into the service, so he rode the bus back to Mississippi. Mr. Edwards went to college for a year while Mr. Sheltra was getting his dairy farm settled. Mr. Sheltra wrote and asked him to be best man at his wedding, but he told him there was no way he could afford to make the trip because he had just enrolled in college and had no money left, and Mr. Sheltra got his sister Alice to answer the letter for him because he had an attack of appendicitis and couldn’t answer himself. So, Mr. Edwards wrote to Alice for four and a half years before he ever met her.
When the Korean War broke out, Mr. Edwards joined the 82nd airborne which was a paratrooper outfit, he said. He went to Fort Bragg for four years. He was assigned to the 407 Quartermaster. He spent his time ordering supplies for 15,000 men. He worked in an office. He did go through Jump School in Georgia though before going to Fort Bragg. When he went in, he thought he was going to Korea, he said, but they put him there which he said was probably a good thing. He jumped out of a plane 27 times, he said. The first time he jumped, he said he didn’t know how scared to be, but the rest of them were alright.
He finally met Alice in 1952, and six months later he got out of the service.
Mr. and Mrs. Edwards have six children — Deborah Robinson (married to Bob), Angela Collier, Mark Edwards, Mike Edwards, Craig Edwards and Patricia Bulmer (married to Roger). Mrs. Edwards worked in a bank for 15 years while raising their children. They moved to Florida in 1959 where he has enjoyed a very successful career in the construction industry.