LTC Kim Harmon Olmstead
Carlisle, PA. – LTC Kim Harmon Olmstead (July 24, 1943 – January 8, 2019) would have been 76 today. His sudden passing six months ago was too soon for proper goodbyes. He is survived by his loving wife, daughter and son, and grandchildren, as well as friends, family, and, at least as importantly, his fellow veterans with whom he served in the mid-to-late 60s; in messages to the family, these veterans have painted a portrait of a gifted leader who inspired confidence, faith, and hope both during and after their time together in Vietnam.
Kim lived a life with honor, duty, and discipline, values that were matched equally by his great humor, curiosity, compassion, and deep kindness. Every day, he sought to be a positive presence in the lives of his wife, children, grandchildren, friends, and family. Those he loved always felt his desire to enjoy shared experiences. He embraced life and celebrated being alive every day in small ways. A birthday was one of the most important days in the year for Kim, and he began a tradition in which the birthday person would give small, thoughtful gifts to the rest of the family.
To sum up the vibrant life of a man whose obituary is being written too soon requires more than two paragraphs of stories stripped down to facts. Words alone cannot capture the love felt for Kim or the impact on those whose lives are better for him having been a part of it. The world was a kinder place with him in it, and he will be missed, cherished, and loved long beyond his passing. On his birthday, we celebrate his life and wish he were with us to enjoy it.
On December 29, 1965, Kim married the love of his life, Sharon Kay Sewright. Famously, the two met in a sandbox, age 4. Kim’s attempt at courtship consisted of wearing a bandana over his mouth so that the teacher could not see him speaking. He found himself funny; Sharon was not impressed. It would take years for his impish sense of humor to win her over. During his school days, Kim was a stellar athlete and academic who wore his letterman sweater with pride in the hallways of East High in Bremerton, Washington. His beautiful violin-playing earned him the 1st violin chair over Sharon’s 2nd, much to her chagrin. Amidst all of the showboating, Kim’s sister, Terri Jungk (spouse Larry Jungk), and his sister-in-law, Marijo Daly (spouse Richard Daly) (all surviving), recall watching the two fall deeply in love and then trying not to watch as they “smooched” in Kim’s very trendy car.
In 1961, Kim was nominated to West Point, making his parents Harmon and Betti Jean Lingle Olmstead (both deceased) very proud; he was the first of his family to attend college. On how he survived the rigor of the academy, he credited the profound friendships with his fellow cadets. One in particular became his lifelong friend. He gave him the nickname of “Ollie” which is how he’d become known to his grandkids years later.
After his graduation in 1965, while Kim was stationed in Hawaii, he received orders that he was to be deployed to Vietnam that December. Being the life-long committed romantic that he was, he called Sharon and insisted that she come immediately to marry him. Family raised money to send her, and the two tied the knot in an intimate, simple ceremony that they would lovingly remember as their “big church wedding.”
Kim departed his teary bride to serve with C Troop 3/4 Cavalry as a 2nd Lieutenant for the 25th infantry division stationed out of Hawaii. He was given the nickname “Baby Face” for his youth, and he was known as “The Light Lieutenant” for his quiet demeanor and nimble agility while on patrol. It has only been upon his death that Kim’s family discovered the true series of events that earned him his Purple Heart on a high-risk mission predicted to have many casualties. Thankfully, despite his being shot in the upper body, that was not the case, and it was due in part to the leadership of the Light Lieutenant.
Kim returned to the states after completing his first tour and while stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, Kim and Sherry welcomed their first child, Krista Kay (surviving). Leaving his new family was tough, but duty called.
In 1969, Captain Olmstead was deployed with the 75th Infantry Airborne Rangers as the commander of K Troop on his second tour to Vietnam. The 75th was one of the first Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols to be implemented; he served extensively in the Pleiku region and participated in multiple rescue raids against known POW camps.
To assert that Kim loved his fellow soldiers is an understatement; the family received numerous emails following his passing sharing stories of the kind, compassionate leader that Kim was. During his two tours of Vietnam, Kim painstakingly and with great sorrow wrote individual letters to the families of every fallen soldier. Men who worked with Kim expressed seeing him in tears as he shared personal accounts and wrote of the bravery of those lost.
His daughter accompanied Kim to his last Ranger reunion to meet his fellow troops and platoon mates, where they were all to a man grateful for Kim’s sensibilities in Vietnam, which repeatedly were credited as contributing to their own survival of their tours there. Grandchildren of soldiers thanked him as well, and many discussed the years of PTSD endured by each in addition to the many deleterious health effects directly and indirectly resulting. They were all quick to thank Kim for his ready ear and compassionate advice, and his help with coping despite his own suffering, even years after the war.
Following Vietnam, Kim attended Western Washington University to major in Organizational Psychology in Bremerton Washington. Kim’s second child, a son, Kim “Kip” Harmon II (surviving) entered the world during this time. Tragically both of Kim’s parents were killed in a car accident (Nov 1972) during this time and the military allowed him a compassionate reassignment to Fort Lewis, Washington in order to grieve and settle the family’s estate. The Olmsteads also became “dog people”.
After attending Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth (1974 – 1975), Kim was sent to teach psychology at West Point, New York in 1975 for four years. It was here that he determined his children needed to be world class tennis players. Armed with Prince racquets, a bag of balls and an igloo cooler of water, Kim would take the family out in his beloved Datsun 280Z to spend many hot hours throwing balls over the nets to his kids and volleys. These were the times that were also the beginning of the often unappreciated Triple F days, aka “Forced Family Fun”. He spent hours taking the kids sledding, building igloos, helping with homework, fishing and coaching their many teams. He was as involved as any family could ask for. His unconditional love and emphasis on family will never be forgotten, and the lessons learned as a result carry on.
In 1979, Kim was assigned to the 2nd ACR in Bamberg Germany where he served as XO. Not being senior enough to have on post housing, Kim found a house in a small German town in a very rural area near the Kaserne. His son was having a hard time making the adjustment without his friends and with the absence of Tom and Jerry. Kim surprised him with a new baseball glove and bike to try and make up for it; it helped a bit. When Major Olmstead’s unit would leave on patrols, the kids would look out their windows with binoculars looking for the wave from dad as the tank procession would snake along the tree-line into the horizon.
His career continued to Nurnberg where he was promoted to be the Commander for C&C squadron of the 2nd ACR. Being a cavalry family, there was an unwritten requirement that we show our support by wearing red and white to all Change of Commands, along with other similar public events. Kim was a perfectionist, and this was a feather in the cap of his military career. For the Change of Command, he requested his children blow dry his helmet guard so that it would show no wrinkles and be crisp. As children don’t always know when to keep things on the “down low,” this detail was shared outside of the family and caused some discussions about “family secrets”.
His final assignment in Germany was as Commander of the 1st/1 Cavalry located in Schwabach, Germany.. He was responsible for patrolling and guarding the largest section of the German border and would be away for months at a time doing so. The CO’s quarters were located on the post next to the motor pool. It was not an unfamiliar scene to find one of the Olmsteads’ escape artist cats prowling around the motor pool. He earned an additional nickname of “Nanook.” His months of extended maneuvers and exercises in the depths of winter created an ability to work in sub-freezing temperatures, and he would be found in his study, smoking cigars with his Russian fur hat, playing Tchaikovsky while studying plans the windows wide open. His family would have to wear coats to speak to him.
In 1985, LTC Olmstead returned to the US to attend the Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle, PA. In 1986, he decided to, and in what may be his most selfless act, retire from his beloved military to give his children some stability before they left for college.
Transition to the civilian life was not easy for someone so disciplined and with strong connection to the military; he was challenged by this next step in life. He decided banking wasn’t in his blood but healthcare was, and he joined his daughter in helping build a healthcare company from the ground floor. Kim found himself using his honed organizational leadership skills and became a mentor working side by side with his daughter. Many of his policies and procedures are still in use decades later.
As he slowly transitioned to retiree status, he enjoyed golf and took the dogs for long walks. He never missed a grandchild’s athletic or academic event. He is survived in total by five grandchildren, Emma and Ella Krebs, and Claire, Oliver and Toby Olmstead.
One of Kim’s more fulfilling roles occurred when the Krebs’ girls were very little and he gave his hand at being their ‘nanny’. Often he could be found with a baby Ellie laying across his forearm sleeping and 3-year old Emma sitting on his lap watching his spaghetti Westerns with him. However, the best example of his creative babysitting came one day when their mom arrived to pick up the girls and found them on the trampoline. Baby Ellie was laying on her back and Emma was bouncing next to her sending the younger of the two into the air. All were laughing…except mom. A subtle request was made to perhaps find another activity. But like ice cream for dinner, these were special moments that only a superb grandfather could get away with.
He devoured and absorbed history, particularly American military history, spending hours poring over maps and charts from pre-Revolutionary era to modern day. This love of maps was shared with his children. In this hobby, he channeled his calling as a military historian.
He had his weaknesses too: doughnuts, milkshakes, late night snacks consisting of an entire jar of peanut butter. He golfed, played tennis, and fished; he spoke beautiful Russian and loved to play small practical jokes.
He was a prolific writer of letters to the editor in his later years in Carlisle (any publication was fair game, and not all letters were welcomed) and shared his views on the West Point goings-on, especially the Black Knights football squad, with the athletic directors there. His family were blessed to be able to see him enjoy the recent Army successes on the gridiron.
As that which comes with age and in Kim’s life, Agent Orange, the disabilities increased near the later stages of his life. It was with the luck and compassionate love that he was able to reside at home as long as he did. Credited for that is his beloved son-in-law, Aaron Krebs, who he fell in love with immediately upon seeing him. Aaron was his match in not just size and intellect, but stubbornness as well. Aaron spent hundreds of hours taking Kim to and coordinating doctor’s appointments, and he became one of Kim’s closest companions and confidantes in his last years.
Kim is additionally survived by 5 nephews and a niece, and a beloved uncle Creig Lingle, who was more of a brother to him.
Kim H Olmstead lived in this world with a big laugh, a big smile, and a big heart. He lived a life of honor, duty, love, and humor, and he left it a better place than he found it. His personal sacrifices created opportunities for so many. He shared his wisdom to anyone who had a ready ear. He preached patience and tolerance and thoughtfulness and, above all, unconditional positive regard for others.
Happy Birthday, (Kim)dad – the world was a better place with you in it!
Kim’s life will be celebrated with full military honors at West Point, New York on November 1, 2019 at 1:30pm at the Old Cadet Chapel with a celebration of life following. Due to the planning and travel required, the family would like to receive an email of those attending. A family service will be held in Montana, date to be determined. Those interested are welcome to send emails to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in Kitsap Sun on July 25, 2019