Found in Fulton

German-born brothers reunited after 60-year separation

Brothers Bob Olson and Steve Radliff sit in Olson’s home, together for the first time in six decades. Despite growing up in different adoptive families, the brothers learned they had plenty in common. Both were Vietnam veterans, though serving at different times and in different branches of the military, and both have a fondness for sports. Other common bonds that unite them sit in the background: German steins from the two’s birth country, and portraits of Olson’s — and Radliff’s — relatives.

Brothers Bob Olson and Steve Radliff sit in Olson’s home, together for the first time in six decades. Despite growing up in different adoptive families, the brothers learned they had plenty in common. Both were Vietnam veterans, though serving at different times and in different branches of the military, and both have a fondness for sports. Other common bonds that unite them sit in the background: German steins from the two’s birth country, and portraits of Olson’s — and Radliff’s — relatives. Photo by Dean Asher.

After six decades of separation, two brothers’ journeys for their biological families ended Monday.

After they were placed for adoption 60 years ago from his birthplace in Bad Hersfeld, Germany, Fulton’s Bob Olson met his biological brother, Steve Radliff of San Antonio, at Lambert Airport Monday morning in St. Louis. The brothers returned to Olson’s Fulton home to spend the week making up for lost time — just in time for Olson’s 66th birthday.

“It’s strange, when we met at airport it’s like we knew each other the whole time and we just started into a normal conversation,” Olson said.

Radliff piped in: “It’s been very comfortable.”

Olson (born Robert Riegelmann) was 6 and Radliff (Stefan Riegelmann) was 2 when they were placed for adoption through a local Catholic orphanage when their mother, Elfriede Riegelmann, remarried in 1954. But for most of their adult lives, Olson and Radliff unknowingly searched for one another, both making trips to Germany in an attempt to find some trace of their roots.

The search

The brothers were both adopted by separate U.S. Air Force families who were stationed in England at the time. Olson grew up in Florida and Colorado, where he graduated high school before enlisting in the Army.

Being 6 at the time of his adoption, Olson said he had vague memories of his biological family and was drawn to learn more. After he did a tour of duty in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969, Olson was stationed in his native Germany, where he picked up his search for his family.

“I’ve always had the curiosity of trying to find relatives,” Olson said. “When we were adopted, I always wanted to know if anyone was still there. I went over there in the ’70s trying to look, and I always got negative responses.

“You have to remember this was shortly after the war and people would just not socialize or tell you anything, no matter what, because all the (adoption) records were sealed over a period of time. They told me all the relatives were dead and everyone said ‘You have a half-brother,’ period. So after that, I just let it go.”

Olson made another return to Germany a decade later and still found his trip unsuccessful. About 20 years later, however, Radliff’s picked up steam.

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