Don Olsen was born on February 8, 1931, in Dallas, Texas. He was commissioned a 2d Lt through the Air Force ROTC program on May 25, 1953, and went on active duty beginning August 26, 1953. Lt Olsen completed pilot training and was awarded his pilot wings in August 1954, and then completed helicopter pilot training in October 1954. His first assignment was as a helicopter instructor pilot, followed by service as a flight test maintenance officer with the 3585th Maintenance and Support Group at Edward Gary AFB, Texas, from July 1956 to January 1957. Lt Olsen next served as an SH-19 Chickasaw pilot with the 33rd Air Rescue Squadron at Naha AB, Okinawa, from January 1957 to September 1959, followed by an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment from September 1959 to September 1961. His next assignment was as a Digital Data Engineer with the 6594th Aerospace Test Wing at Sunnyvale, California, from September 1961 to July 1963, and then as a C-130 Hercules pilot with the 6593rd Test Squadron at Hickam AFB, Hawaii, from July 1963 to June 1966. During this time, Maj Olsen participated in missions to retrieve film capsules from spy satellites over the Pacific Ocean. He attended the Institute of Defense Analysis in Arlington, Virginia, from June 1966 to October 1967, and then completed CH-3 Sea King training and survival training before serving as an HH-3E Jolly Green Giant pilot with the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Da Nang AB, South Vietnam, from March 1968 to April 1969. His next assignment was as an Operations Research Scientist on the staff of Headquarters U.S. Air Force in the Pentagon from April 1969 to September 1972, followed by service as an Air Force Research Associate at the University of Miami from September 1972 to July 1973. Col Olsen next served as Deputy Commander for Operations of the 322nd Tactical Airlift Wing (TAW) at Rhein Main AB, West Germany, from July 1973 to March 1975, and then as Vice Commander of the 322nd TAW from March to July 1975. Col Olsen's final assignment was as Deputy Commander for Operations of the 435th TAW at Rhein Main AB from July 1975 until his retirement from the Air Force on June 1, 1976.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Major Don P. Olsen for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as Rescue Crew Commander of an HH-3E helicopter in Southeast Asia on 5 October 1968. On that date, Major Olsen volunteered to attempt the extremely hazardous extraction of a Special Forces Team after their insertion helicopter had been shot down and the team surrounded by hostile forces. Despite low cloud cover which prevented the use of fighter escort, Major Olsen, with undaunted determination, indomitable courage and professional skill, penetrated the hostile area and established a hover adjacent to the burning aircraft. In the face of hostile fire, Major Olsen held a prolonged hover and effected the rescue of the two crash survivors and the six surviving team members. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Major Olsen reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.