The little boy’s name was Rick Olszewski and he couldn’t blink.
He and his father, Ed, had just sat down in their seats to watch the home team – the St. Louis Blues - play an NHL game. It was the late 1960s. Ed was already a longtime hockey fan. The little boy would be soon.
The kid stared down at the ice, eyes bulging. The players were huge. They were fast. And thousands of people cheered them. They were his heroes.
As the years passed, the little boy grew to be a man. And he realized the true hero that day wasn’t on the ice, but his father sitting next to him in the stands.
The father is 89 years old now, a decorated war hero who experienced some highs and lows of this country’s history. He is Lt. Commander Edward Olszewski VOC-1/VOF-1, a former naval aviator and one of the few fighter pilots from World War II who is still living. He stood on a ship’s flight deck in Okinawa when a Kamikaze plane struck. He was flying over Iwo Jima the moment the American flag was being stuck in the ground. The iconic photo is still stuck in most Americans’ minds.
And one day after Veterans Day, he will be in attendance when the Nashville Predators host Montreal at Bridgestone Arena. And his son will once again be at his side.
“I remember being in Washington D.C. several years ago and telling my father I was going to the Smithsonian,” said Rick Olszewski, who resides in Nashville. “He said, ‘If you look at this particular area of the (National Air and Space) museum, there should be a picture of VOF-1, my squadron.’ And there it was. My father’s picture is in the Smithsonian. He’s a true hero.”
Ed Olszewki was born on April 15, 1922 near St. Louis. Aviation was still a “curiosity,” he wrote in his 2009 memoirs, and he became eager to learn all he could about airplanes. His father would take him to air shows, and Ed later attended Notre Dame, where he took flying lessons and earned his private pilot’s license.
While at Notre Dame, he enlisted in the Navy. After extensive and dangerous training, he earned his wings and was sent to war.
He flew off the USS Wake Island and the USS Talagi. He had three kills, one in Southern France and two in the South Pacific. He returned a war hero.
“He came back to St. Louis as the ace fighter pilot, and he married the prettiest girl in town,” Rick said. “It was storybook.”
Ed and his wife, Mary Ellen, were married for more than 60 years. They had six children. Mary Ellen passed away eight years ago.
It was around Ed’s 70th birthday when Rick decided to make a DVD of his father’s life. He came across several items stowed away in his dad’s home near St. Louis.
“I found a 78 rpm record, and on it my father is being interviewed by a KMOX correspondent about my dad’s first mission,” Rick said. “This was my dad at 20 years old. I played it for him and he was hearing it for the first time.”
His father began speaking more about his military experiences. In 2009, he wrote his memoirs, and ended it by writing, “There is no glory in war, but men and women do glorious things in war time.”
On Saturday, he will be back at a hockey game with his son.