Raymond J. Olsufka was my uncle. In 1966, he joined the Army and served two years with the Radio and Communications Service. My Uncle Ray came home from the war and tried to live his life. But, on May 25, 1976, my Uncle Ray died by suicide. He was 33 years old. I was ten. He left behind a wife, a four-year old daughter, and an 18-month old son. He was my mom’s little brother, the youngest of ten kids, born and raised in Duncan, Nebraska. The Olsufkas were hell-raisers and popular. Everyone knew the Olsufkas.
As with many farm families, the age range of the kids was wide. In fact, Uncle Ray was only a few years older than my oldest first cousin, which allowed them to have a relationship that wasn’t just about uncle/nephew but also about being friends. Because he was so young, Uncle Ray was considered a friend of many of my older cousins. My sister, Denise, and Uncle Ray had that kind of relationship. She talked with him often, gravitated toward him at family functions (a lot of us kids did), and would, eventually, serve as a reliable babysitter to his two kids. I remember Uncle Ray as being the cool uncle in the group. He rode a motorcycle; he gave us all rides on the dirt roads around Duncan; and, he was a light in everyone’s eyes. His sisters cooed and fussed after him. He seemed like he had it all together.
Home CountyPlatte County
BornJuly 18, 1942
DiedMay 25, 1976
But, that was not entirely true. Today, we know what PTSD is and how to look for it in our military personnel who have served in violent and disturbing conflicts. In the 1970’s, no one had ever heard of PTSD. No one knew. No. One. On the outside, my uncle’s life looked like it should. A wife. Two kids. A job working construction. Love and admiration from his family. But, the party-loving traditions of a large Polish farm family from a small Nebraska town started to get the better of him. Eventually, the chaos that I believe he must have been suffering did get the better of him and he took his own life.
At the time I am writing this, it’s been 44 years since that awful day. But, that day has colored each and every one of the days that has passed since then. My mom and aunts have carried an anger and a disbelief about what happened since then. There has been blame bestowed where it probably shouldn’t be because we didn’t understand the complete picture. My uncle’s son looks just like him and my aunts look wistfully at him and tell him how much he looks like my uncle. I’m not sure he remembers his dad, but he certainly lives in his shadow. We’ve never really talked about IT to each other but IT always comes up when Uncle Ray’s name is mentioned. It’s been a quiet shame as most suicides are. But we SHOULD talk about IT.
Why do I share this? My Uncle Ray was not Killed in Action, that is true. But, he did die after The Action. He was part of The Aftermath and he, and so many others, deserves to be remembered.
I believe what he experienced in Vietnam actively contributed to his suicide, but Raymond J. Olsufka is more than his death. He was a son, a husband, a father, a brother, an uncle, and a friend who is deeply loved. He was cool. He was handsome. He was talented and he worked hard. And he, and everything that could have been, is missed. Raymond J. Olsufka was a Vietnam Veteran and making sure he is here, for you to know him and his name, is why I share this. I love my Uncle Ray and I am grateful for the sacrifices he made for us.