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MIA for 50 years, siblings still search for signs of father

Navigator Porter Halyburton, (on left) and LCMR Stanley Olmstead, pose in front of the F-4 Phantom they flew missions in over Vietnam
Navigator Porter Halyburton, (on left) and LCMR Stanley Olmstead, pose in front of the F-4 Phantom they flew missions in over Vietnam Handout photo

Most of what Lt. Cmdr. Stanley Olmstead’s children know about their father they’ve learned through stories.

Dixie Olmstead George, who lives in Irving, was 2 and her brother, Mickey Olmstead, was 5, when their father’s F-4 Phantom was gunned down by North Vietnamese artillery fire on Oct. 17, 1965.

His remains have never been found, and while there is a gravestone bearing his name at Arlington National Cemetery, Memorial Day still brings a certain void — 50 years after his death.

Mickey Olmstead, who now lives in Austin, is hopeful that his father’s remains will someday be found.

While the government and other organizations have successfully found some of the remains of those missing in action, there are more than 1,600 military personnel from the Vietnam War still unaccounted for, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

“It would mean quite a bit to me,” Mickey Olmstead said. “If they found something, some fragments or remnants of his remains, it would allow us to have a burial ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery. I’ve known a lot of children who have had their father’s remains returned, and they said that it was pretty special, a very meaningful event that meant a lot to them.”

Wrong side of the mountain

The two Olmsteads traveled to Vietnam in 2003 to see the place where their father’s fighter jet was shot down.

They were in a group of about 60 people on a trip that was organized by Sons and Daughters in Touch, a group committed to re-tracing the last steps of their loved ones lost in war.

“They took us to a crash site,” Mickey Olmstead said. “When you walked up on it you knew exactly what had happened there. The imprint of the plane was still visible in the ground. There were still pieces of metal from the plane in the crater.”

Once there they buried a MIA/POW bracelet in a house-sized crater, erected a small cross and had a religious ceremony.

“We did it out of respect and to honor our father,” Mickey Olmstead said. “In some respects, it did offer some closure.”

But it turned out to not be the place where their father’s plane crashed.

“Immediately after we returned a government agency sent us a notice that it was not his site,” Mickey Olmstead said.

Mickey Olmstead said he suspected that it was not his father’s crash site soon after the crested the mountain top.

“There’s no question that he crashed on top of a mountain,” Mickey Olmstead said. “Even though we did not find his crash site we were certainly close. But when I got there I noticed we were on the wrong side of the mountain.”

On that October day, three Phantom F-4s had been launched from the USS Independence on a mission to protect a squadron of jets that were bombing a military bridge in the small village of Thai Nguyen, northwest of Hanoi. The bridge was a conduit for supplies from China headed into North Vietnam.

Olmstead was piloting one of the F-4s.

“They were flying west when he was shot down, so the crash site was supposed to be on the east side of the mountain, except we were on the west side of the mountain,” Mickey Olmstead said.

An Oklahoma native

Author James S. Hirsch, a former New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporter, wrote about Olmstead in his book, Two Souls Indivisible, which is about the prisoner of war experiences of Olmstead’s Radar Intercept Officer (RIO), Porter Halyburton, who was white, and Fred Cherry, another prisoner of war, who was black, and the friendship that developed between them.

For years the military and his family held out hope that like Halyburton, Olmstead made it out of his jet and was captured by the enemy. But over the years the family became reconciled to the idea that Olmstead was almost certainly killed from either artillery fire or when his jet crashed into the side of a mountain.

Olmstead was from Marshall, Okla., and married Betty McGuire, a University of Oklahoma student he met in Dallas at the annual Texas-OU football game.

Betty and Stanley Olmstead were based in Albuquerque when Mickey was born and in Plains River, N.J., when Dixie was born.

After her husband’s death she remarried, and Betty Dyess now lives in Shreveport.

Dyess said she had recently seen her husband and was with with friends at Yukosuka Naval Base when she received word that her husband’s plane had been shot down. It was supposed to have been one of Olmstead’s final missions. The USS Independence was scheduled to dock in the United States before Christmas.

“Porter thought the government had put a lot of effort into trying to find Stan’s crash site, so I have to go by that,” said Dyess, 75. “If they could find it, it would bring closure to us.”

Over time, finding peace

Dixie Olmstead George said she has had conversations with Halyburton, which has helped her understand her’s father death.

“Porter told me they were coming in low to avoid certain types of radar when he heard the artillery hit the plane,” Olmstead George said. “He tried to radio my dad to tell him the plane had been hit but then he looked up and saw that my dad’s helmet had been blown off and was slumped to the side. So either he was unconscious or dead and he had to make a decision about this upcoming ridge, knowing that his driver was not going to pull up at the last minute and save them.”

Halyburton quickly made the decision to eject and the jet flew into the ridgeline, exploding as it crashed.

While the military presumed that both Halyburton and Olmstead had died that day, Halyburton had been captured. In 1973 he returned to the United States after serving eight years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.

“I used to hold out hope that the Department of Defense would someday find the crash site, but now I don’t think they ever will,” Olmstead George said. “Going to the country and visiting the people has brought me a good amount of peace. Just getting to see the people and how they continue to thrive and be happy and to learn about Vietnam as a country and not just a war has helped me move on.”

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

Memorial Day events

Through Monday

9 a.m.-5 p.m.: “Remember Our Fallen From Texas,” Greenwood Mausoleum’s Independence Chapel, 3100 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth.

Monday

9 a.m.: Grand Army of the Republic Monument, Oakwood Cemetery, 701 Grand Ave., Fort Worth. Service will honor the men who served in the Union Army from 1861 to 1865.

10 a.m.: Bluebonnet Hills Memorial Park, 5725 Colleyville Blvd., Colleyville.

10 a.m.: Laurel Land Memorial Park, 7100 Crowley Road, Fort Worth. Speaker is retired Lt. Col. Jack L. Mattson.

10 a.m.: Moore Memorial Gardens, 1219 N. Davis Drive, Arlington. Guest speaker is retired Marine Cpl. Aaron P. Mankin. Complimentary hot dog lunch after the ceremony.

10:30 a.m.: Remembrance Service for 12 British, Canadian and American volunteer pilots of the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force in World War I, Greenwood Memorial Park, 3100 White Settlement Road, Fort Worth. Special guests include retired Canadian Forces Brig. Gen. David Kettle, now the secretary-general of the Canadian Agency of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and Brig. Gen. Guy Hamel, Royal Canadian Air Force.

11 a.m.: Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery, 2000 Mountain Creek Parkway, Dallas. Cemetery opens at 8 a.m.

6:30 p.m.: Mount Olivet Cemetery, 2301 N. Sylvania Ave., Fort Worth. Keynote speech by Navy Capt. Gilbert “Gil” Miller, commanding officer of Naval Air Station Fort Worth, and Mayor Betsy Price. The Moslah Shrine Band and First Christian Church Chancel Choir will perform, and the Lone Star Chapter of Paralyzed Veterans will do a rifle salute. After the ceremony, a motorcade will proceed to the East Northside Drive bridge for a brief service. Wreaths will be cast into the Trinity River. In the event of rain, the ceremony will be inside the funeral home chapel.

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Nonessential federal, state, county and municipal offices will be closed Monday for Memorial Day.

Post offices, banks and stock exchanges will be closed.

School districts that are closed: Arlington, Birdville, Burleson, Carroll, Castleberry, Crowley, Hurst-Euless-Bedford, Fort Worth, Grapevine-Colleyville and Mansfield.

School districts that are open: Everman, Lake Worth, Northwest.

The Trinity Railway Express will not run. The T's buses and Mobility Impaired Services (MITS) will operate on a reduced Sunday schedule.

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The Fort Worth Botanic Garden and Japanese Garden, the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge and the Fort Worth Zoo will be open.

Trash pickup

Trash will be picked up as usual in most municipalities, including Arlington, Bedford, Colleyville, Euless, Fort Worth, Haslet, Hurst, Keller, Mansfield, North Richland Hills, Saginaw, Southlake and Watauga.

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