Obituary of Dan Olivier
DAN OLIVIER, a COMMANDO
Soerabaja the 25th of June 1941 - Colorado Springs the 15th of September 2021
Dan Olivier was born as ‘Danny Ketting Olivier’ on the 25th of June 1941 in Soerabaja (now Surabaya). This is a town on the east coast of Java, the main island of the Dutch East Indies, that had been a colony of the Netherlands since the 17th century.
He has a 7 years older sister, Cissy, and a 3 years older sister, Sally. When the Japanese invaded Java, Dan was only a couple of months old. His father, Henry Ketting Olivier, was put in a prisoner of war camp. His mother, Edith (Ditty) Kunstt, had to flee for 800 kilometres from East to West Java with her three small children. They lived with her cousin and children in a house outside the concentration camps in Bandung, a city in Western Java. The Japanese didn’t manage to put all the Eurasian women in camps, but all European or Eurasian men were imprisoned, so he only saw Japanese and native men. When the men returned home after the war, little Danny hid under the bed when he saw a European man for the first time. In 1950 Dan’s parents got a divorce.
The native people started a bloody fight for independence. In 1950 the Dutch East Indies became the Republic of Indonesia, Dutch citizens weren’t safe there anymore. In 1952, his mother and her three children, like all their relatives, moved to the Netherlands, the homeland they had never seen before. They got an apartment in the town of Breda. Eleven-year-old Danny was very surprised that they could live there all alone, because he was accustomed to living with a lot of families in one house.
His mother married Willy Heemstra, whom she had already met in the Dutch East Indies. Patty was born, his kid sister, 17 years his junior. Cissy married Will Kluppell and Sally married Bram Biekart. Dan doted on his stepfather, “oom” (uncle) Wil, who raised him. Willy Heemstra had been a policeman in the Dutch East Indies after the war and had taught Dan how to shoot when was just a little boy. Willy was very proud of his son Dan’s military career. Dan was present at Willy’s funeral in 2000, where his stepfather’s favourite song, Jim Reeves’ Danny Boy, was played.
Dan, his mother, his “oom” Wil and Patty, moved to Amsterdam in 1958. In his room in the attic, he had a lot of books on wildlife. He could tell you all you wanted to know about animals. His other hobbies at that time were taxidermy and listening to bagpipe music. All his life Dan was a great photographer. In his later years he wrote beautiful poems, worked out to keep his body in shape, ran several marathons and practised freestyle climbing. He read everything he could lay his hands on and was a mine of knowledge on practically every subject.
However, when Dan was young, he didn’t care for school and enlisted in the army. He wanted to become a green beret, a commando at the KCT (Korps Commando Troepen) in Roosendaal. He loved it. He was sent on a survival mission with no water and food, eating cats and nettles. He made more than hundred parachute jumps. One time in Belgium Dan’s parachute accidentally hit some high voltage cables, which led to several farmers having to milk their cows by hand because of power failure. The Dutch army had to pay for the damage.
After he had become a commando, the Netherlands became too cramped for Danny. In 1967, he emigrated to America where his father lived in California with his second wife Helen Rijkschroeff and
their daughter Peggy. He was immediately enlisted to fight in Vietnam, which meant he lost his Dutch citizenship. Danny was flown to Hawaii, the nearest American soil, and became a US citizen in no time. That is when he decided to change his name in Dan Olivier. However, he was known as ‘’Dutch’’ in Vietnam. He even wore a necklace with two small porcelain wooden shoes.
Dan was “an overachieving excellent soldier highly recognized by his commanders; his combat action was highly appreciated!!” He received two purple hearts, four bronze stars, two Air Medals, an Army Commendation Medal with “V” device and several other medals. He first served in the 82nd Airborne Division and later in the 173rd Airborne Brigade. He started out as a private first class, but in a short time he became a Staff Sergeant SSG. Dan benefitted from his Dutch guerrilla training, using his knowledge of wildlife to survive in the jungle. Once he pointed out to his platoon commander that there could be no Vietcong in the vicinity, since he had found tiger tracks and tigers are shy of people. He was sent to the Central Highlands in Vietnam twice, where he eventually led his own small group of men.
After Dan’s discharge he became a policeman in Santa Monica in a special SWAT team. He liked being “a cop” and met a lot of “movie stars”. He shamelessly lied to Eva Gabor that Laurence Olivier was his “uncle Larry”. He went to the same gym as Arnold Schwarzenegger. He looked like Burt Reynolds in those days and told little old ladies, who had chased him by car: “Ladies, I am much more handsome”. Dan retired from the police force, at some point served as a bodyguard for a Saudi Arabian prince and later was a contractor for the US government. Dan finally left California to go to “his wide-open spaces”. First to Flagstaff where he developed an interest in Indian culture and art, then to Colorado Springs, to the red rocks he loved to climb and to Cheyenne Mountain, “his Mountain”, that he saw from his apartment. His Dutch relatives visited him regularly: “My country is beautiful isn’t it, mom?”, Dan would ask his mother proudly as he drove her around in the prairies and the mountains. He had become a true American.
Dan visited the Netherlands several times, for instance for his mother’s 80th and 90th birthday, for reunions of the Dutch commandos, for Sally and Bram’s 50th anniversary and for Patty’s marriage to Richard Dom. Dan adored his mother Ditty, she passed away in 2007. He couldn’t come to her funeral since he had just suffered a stroke. He sent a note for Sally’s son Johan to read: “So it is goodbye, I can’t be there, but you know I am with you anyway”, praising her for raising him on her own when he was little, and ending with an Arapaho wish: “Go my mother and be happy……!”
After Dan’s stroke he couldn’t do several things anymore, like climbing and parachute jumping. It frustrated him and he tried to hide it. Still, he was a very special uncle for his nieces and nephews of all ages. All his life he was great with kids. He was his cousins’ favourite too, they looked up to him.
Cissy and Dan shared the same interest in making poems and photography, they had a lively contact and frequently were surprised they had captured the same objects on their photographs. They phoned each other regularly, both not being able to hear the other properly because of hearing problems, but they understood each other nonetheless.
Sally wants to say: “At the time we lived in former Netherlands Dutch East Indies I took care of my younger brother Dan. After we removed to Holland, the little boy grew up, finished the schoolyears and enlist the Dutch army. After he succeed in following the training college to become a non-commissiond officer choosed to be placed in the special military force, the Green Barrets, The
Commando Troops. He became a specialst in infiltrating behind annemy troops. Because of the period of Flower-Pouwer and the esteem for the military forces decreased, Dan decied to leave the army and emigrate to the USA and start a new live. In the USA of course he joined the army, also to get faster the American nationality. He made two tours to Vietnam and served very well. His body and his health hat to pullthrough and to endure to much. I missed him very much.”
As a kid Patty exchanged letters with her big brother “Baas” in the States almost weekly. Later she visited Dan frequently, at first with her mother and father, later with her husband Richard and their children. Dan was their fun uncle, making jokes, trying to get them to do daredevil things he couldn’t do anymore. Persuading Patty to give permission for her 17-year-old daughter Anne to swing around on her belly above the Royal Gorge. Driving for hours to an alligator farm so Patty’s son Sipke could hold one in his arms. In 2019, she and her family visited Indonesia and went to the hospital in Surabaya where Dan was born. They planned to visit him in 2020 to show him the pictures. Covid prevented that.
The family tried to make Dan come over to Holland in 2019, but he kept finding excuses not to go. It was getting harder to talk to him on the phone, because he didn’t wear his hearing aid. He categorically refused to learn to use the internet, sending tons of clippings, photos and letters with his own beautiful poems instead. His sisters Cissy and Patty both talked to him on the phone in the beginning of September, they reminisced, laughed and everything seemed to be alright. Mid September Dan called his very dear friend Sheri Culkin complaining he had severe pains in his lower back. She made him go the hospital where he was subjected to all sorts of tests for an entire day. That evening he called Sheri and told her he had gotten prescription medicines. She promised to call him the next day, but Dan didn’t answer the phone anymore……………………………………………...….The police found him with a self inflicted gunshot wound. There was a note on his kitchen table:
“Sorry dear people, I cannot take it anymore, life is nothing anymore, just constant pain. A “life” just on painkillers?? GET REAL!! Scatter my ashes in the wild, if possible in a flowing stream or river, thank you!” Like a true Commando he took matters into his own hand and stepped out of life, his family respects that. We like to think he is making jokes right now with his mother Ditty and stepfather Willy and all the others he loved and lost. This time it is us, his sisters and their families who can’t be at his funeral. We just want to tell him: “You know we are with you anyway. And we want to thank you for your love and all the good times we shared. Go brave brother and be happy…...!”
We will honour Dan’s wishes, Sheri and her family know where he loved to wander around in the wilderness, they will scatter part of his ashes. The rest of his ashes will be interred at Pikes Peak National Cemetery, with a headstone to commemorate his brave and unique life. A service with military honours will be held Friday, October 15, 2021 at 12 PM at Pikes Peak National Cemetery, 10545 Drennan Road, Colorado Springs, CO 80925.
We want to thank everyone in the Netherlands and America who already have sent their condolences to Dan’s family. We are forever indebted and grateful to Sheri and Clyde Culkin and their family for all the love and friendship they gave to Dan in the past and for all they are doing right now to make things easier for us, Dan’s family. We regret that due to the present circumstances we aren’t able to pay tribute to Dan ourselves and come over to the country he loved:
“His wide open spaces of the United States of America”.