Scott Olsen served two tours of duty in Iraq without injury. But on Wednesday night, the 24-year-old Onalaska native and former Marine was in critical condition at Highland Hospital in Oakland, Calif.
His family says police struck Olsen in the head with what's believed to be a tear gas canister during an Occupy Oakland march.
Olsen suffered a fractured skull Tuesday and was in critical condition Wednesday. On Thursday, he was upgraded to fair condition and moved from the emergency room to the intensive care unit, according to a hospital spokesman.
"It's just so damn ironic," said George Nygaard, Olsen's uncle. "To do two tours over there and not a scratch. All of a sudden he comes back here and a damn cop hits him with a projectile. It's crap."
The hospital confirmed Olsen's condition. Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said an internal review board and local prosecutors have been asked to determine whether officers on the scene used excessive force.
Nygaard, of Chaseburg, shares a special bond with his nephew. Both were Marines, Olsen in Iraq and Nygaard in Vietnam.
"Once a Marine, always a Marine. There is that camaraderie," Nygaard said. "He is a brother as well as being a nephew."
Olsen graduated from Onalaska High School in 2005 and joined the Marines.
Olsen was discharged in 2010. In July, he moved to Daly City, Calif., where he's a systems analyst at OPSWAT, a San Francisco IT firm.
He became active in the antiwar movement when he returned.
Nygaard spoke with his nephew just a few nights ago when the two talked about the Occupy San Francisco movement that Olsen has been a part of. Nygaard told him to be careful but was shocked when he heard that Olsen had been injured.
Watching video of the incident makes Nygaard sick.
"There was no riot going on. I don't think they had to be that aggressive," Nygaard said. "I don't understand it."
His mother, Sandy Olsen, was told that the protesters were moving bike racks to separate themselves from the police when the altercation happened.
"We're very worried about him," Sandy Olsen said.
She watched in horror as footage that showed her son being carried off, bleeding from the head.
"I just wonder when all this is going to end," Sandy Olsen said.
Keith Shannon, 24, served with Olsen in Iraq and is also his roommate. He stood vigil with others at the hospital until family could arrive. Both are also members of Iraq Veterans Against the War.
Olsen was dedicated to the Occupy movement, working at his job during the day and joining the protest at night, Shannon said.
"In the last three weeks, he's only been home a couple of nights," Shannon said. "He's been dedicated to this even though he has a good job, just trying to support the movement even though he's not directly affected."
Dottie Guy, also a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, has been at the hospital since Tuesday night. She'd met Olsen only a few months ago but said he is always smiling, always positive.
"We're running on hopes and dreams right now," Guy said. "We're all standing by and hoping he pulls through."
Nygaard said he's optimistic about his nephew's recovery and hopes some good can come out of this.
"He's a brilliant kid," Nygaard said. "I'm more proud of what he's done since he's been out than when he was in."