RAPID CITY | Dr. Thomas K. Oliver, 96, died Thursday, March 21, 2019, in Rapid City.
Tom was born on Sept. 24, 1922, in St. Louis, MO, to Lunsford and Janet Oliver. Tom's father was an officer with the US Army Corp of Engineers, resulting in frequent moves when Tom was young. An exceptional student, he was 16 when he graduated high school, too young to accept an appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point, so he attended Kansas University for a year and then enrolled at West Point in July 1940.
Tom graduated first in his class in June 1943, received his pilot's wings, and after several months of training to fly a B-24 Liberator bomber, was deployed to a base in Southern Italy. He flew numerous missions but in May 1944 his plane was hit by enemy fire and he was forced to bail out over what was then Yugoslavia. He and his crew were immediately rescued by the Serbian underground militia and sheltered behind enemy lines for over three months. Discovering that there were hundreds of airmen in the same predicament, Lt. Oliver and a few of his compatriots hatched a plan to send a message to the allied forces to arrange a rescue. Due in large part to his efforts, Operation Halyard was launched, ultimately resulting in the airlift of over 500 allied airmen from behind enemy lines. For this he was awarded the Legion of Merit, the 4th highest commendation to active servicemen.
After WW II, Tom married Phyllis White Crowell and adopted Phyllis' infant daughter Susan. They moved to Wright Patterson Air Base where he was a test pilot. After earning a PhD in Electrical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tom returned to Wright Patterson and taught at the Air Force Institute of Technology. During his years in school he and Phyllis added three sons, Donald, Thomas Rex, and Robert, to their family, then moved to the Air Force Academy where Tom was a charter member of the faculty.
In 1960, the family transferred to Holloman Air Force Base near Alamogordo, NM, where he designed and tested guidance systems for missiles. Tom and Phyllis divorced in early 1963, and Tom retired as a Lt. Colonel after serving 20 years in the US Air Force.
Tom and Nancy Royce were married in June 1963 and their newly combined family moved to Palos Verdes Estates, CA, and Clearwater, FL, where Tom worked for North American Aviation and Honeywell, respectively. Tom longed to return to teaching and in the fall of 1967 secured a position in the Electrical Engineering Department of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City.
On the evening of June 9, 1972, the Oliver home was one of many that were destroyed in the disastrous Rapid City flood. After a perilous night being separated and fighting to survive, they started over, with Tom building a new house largely on his own in a foothills development south of town. Tom and Nancy often credited fellow members of the Electrical Engineering Department for their help and encouragement as they worked to rebuild their lives.
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Tom and Nancy raised six boys together, all of whom went on to graduate college and become successful in a variety of endeavors, a point they shared with great pride.
Tom was a longtime member of Emmanuel Episcopal Church and the choir. He was also a past member of the Shrine of Democracy Chorus.
Tom was preceded in death by his wife, Nancy in 2015. He is survived by his younger sister Rachel Oliver, Mariposa, CA; daughter, Susan Kelsey (Ross), Westlake, CA; three sons, Don (Jeannette), Rapid City, Rex, Greenville, NC, and Rob (Angela), Sioux Falls; three stepsons, Ralph Royce (Nancy), Charles Royce (Brenda), and Tom Royce (Linda), all in the Houston, TX, metro area; as well as 12 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.
A Memorial Eucharist will be offered at 10 a.m. on Friday, April 12, at Emmanuel Episcopal Church, followed by inurnment of his ashes in the Emmanuel Church Memorial Garden.
The family wishes memorials be made out to the Dr. Thomas and Nancy Oliver Scholarship Fund at the SD School of Mines & Technology.
An online guestbook may be signed at osheimschmidt.com.