A life of service: From the Army to organ procurement

November 2019

Les Olson

LifeCenter Northwest Surgical Organ Recovery Specialist, Les Olson, has worked in organ donation for over 50 years. That’s right 50. Though he has served one of the longest tenures in the field, his service to protecting and saving lives began in 1963 when he joined the US Army as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division of the US Army, known as the Screaming Eagles.

“It changed my life, absolutely changed my life,” Les says about his experience in the Army. “I went into the Airborne insecure, very insecure, and came out a completely different individual. I joined and thought, ‘If I can jump out of airplanes, I can do anything!’”

After completing his service, Les used his GI Bill benefits to attend college and started down the path toward his career in donation. As he worked through school and developing his professional life, the lessons he learned and the bonds he built in the Army remained foundational.


Les during his time with the 101st Airborne Division

Everyone who joins the military must swear-in by repeating the enlisted or officer Oath. To Les, there is an instant comradery between people when they share that Oath, an inherent “connection that veterans have, that non-veterans have no idea.”

While working as the Director of Organ Procurement at the newly formed Miami organ procurement organization in the late 1970s, Les began honoring veterans’ who became organ donors by draping an American flag over their body after the organ procurement was complete. The flag would later be folded and given to the donor’s family. For him, this was acknowledging their service for their country and continued service to others through organ donation.


Les performs a jump during his time with the 101st Airborne Division

“To have a veteran pass away and be an organ donor is particularly special. To a veteran, the flag is very important,” he says. “It also affects the Operating Room staff and has positive impact on the surgery staff. I think it shows that we are caring and thankful for everything they have given. We are not just organ recovery people, we are fellow human beings.”  

In 2001, Les moved to Washington state to take a position at LifeCenter Northwest where he has continued his act of honoring veteran donors to this day. To honor Les’s 50 years in donation, and his service to veteran donors, LifeCenter Northwest has formalized his process to now be a LifeCenter sponsored program – The Les Olson Veteran Honoree Program.

LifeCenter Northwest pledges to ensure that all veterans in our region who give the gift of life be honored in this way.

Today, and every day we would like to pay our respects to Les, and all veterans, and thank them for their service and life-saving gifts.