Effort seeks to honor Olson

Published 7:06 am Friday, July 30, 2010

Staff Writer

“A true American hero, native son of Washington, and I am proud to say he was my friend.”
“Fitting of a true American patriot with integrity throughout his entire life.”
“He was a model friend and truly an American hero.”
The sentiment for 1st Lt. Patrick Brian Olson is genuine and unquestionable.
A 1983 Washington High School graduate, Olson fulfilled a lifelong dream by graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1987. Tragically, a promising military career was cut short when his plane was shot down by Iraqi forces over Kuwait just hours before a cease-fire was ordered on the last day of the Persian Gulf War, Feb. 27, 1991. He was 25 years old.
And where Operation Desert Storm has become a distant memory for many, the people who knew Olson are determined to see that his name and his sacrifice do not fade into the distance. They have started a petition drive to rename the new Runyon Creek bridge in his honor as the 20th anniversary of his passing approaches. What started as a Facebook posting by Art Carawan and Holly Cherry Ange has swelled into an online petition with more than 520 respondents from as far away as California, Washington, Oregon and even the United Kingdom.
“I knew of Patrick in high school, and we had mutual friends,” Carawan said. “I remember when it happened over there in 1991; and over the years, his name has been brought up. That bridge is such a vital link to everything in Beaufort County, and when it was not there, people missed it. I started thinking ‘Wouldn’t it be great if they finally honored him.’ We threw it out there on Facebook and it got 30 responses.”
Just 14 weeks after his passing, the Air Force dedicated the Patrick B. Olson Memorial in Tucson, Ariz., which features a lighted flagpole, memorial marker and plaque with Olson’s photo. Carawan believes that a local memorial is long overdue, and he hopes the petition will deliver resolutions from the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners and the Washington City Council.
“He grew up in this town, graduated in this town and forged his dreams in this town,” Carawan added, “and something should be done for him in this community.
“I don’t care who gets the credit as long as his name is on the bridge.”
Olson’s survivors were initially unaware of the petition drive but were touched when they heard of the movement. Robin McLean McKeithan, Olson’s widow, found out about the petition while checking her e-mail after returning from a recent vacation.
“I was blown away about it,” McKeithan said. “You don’t think that other people remember him, and it’s nice to know that after 20 years, other people remember the sacrifice he made.”
While his family has kept his memory alive through the Patrick B. Olson Memorial Scholarship (awarded annually to a Washington High School senior), Olson’s father, Dan, was equally moved by the outpouring of respect and affection.
“We’re pretty humbled by this whole process. It kind of takes your breath away,” he said.
The petition drive is one of four things needed to get the N.C. Board of Transportation and its Road and Bridge Naming Committee to consider the request. They also require background information on the nominee, a description of what is to be named and resolutions of support from all local governing bodies associated with or affected by the request.
Hugh Overholt, Board of Transportation District 2 representative, was not aware of the movement, but he is open to the idea.
“There is a process you go through on naming roads and bridges,” Overholt said. “Once properly brought before the group, they vote on it. Generally, they are not controversial. They are named mostly for heroes or prominent folks in the community.
“It has not been brought to my attention, but I would certainly be inclined to support it.”
Petitioners view the Runyon Creek bridge not just as a bridge between Washington and Washington Park, but as a metaphorical bridge between past and future. As the petition sums up their collective sentiment: “We wish it to be known that he was a genuine American patriot who died defending the freedom that we so often take for granted, and we want it to be known for years to come.”
For more information about the Runyon Creek bridge petition drive, visit http://www.PetitionOnline.com/PatOlson/. Italicized material at beginning of article was taken from the Facebook page about the petition drive.
Where eagles dare …