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Ceremony Honors Man Who Died in Mission over Laos

Although she was only 9 that first week of February 1969, Kris was the oldest of the Olson children when the U.S. Air Force told the Minnesota family that Maj. Robert E. Olson was missing.

So it will be her -- Kris Olson Olexa Harrison, now of Lee's Summit -- who will represent the family Saturday morning on a football field in Olive Branch, Miss. A repatriation ceremony there will honor the recently recovered remains of Olson's crew, lost in the wreck of a spy plane over Laos.

"Every family has its memory keeper and I guess, among my siblings, that's me," Harrison, 54, said this week before the drive south.

She has mixed emotions all these years later.

Her family in late 1969 attended a funeral for Olson and nine other crew members at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Her brothers gathered shells from the 21-gun salute. That was after the Air Force said it had retrieved some of the remains from the EC-47 wreckage in the mountains near the Ho Chi Minh trail.

But decades later, Paul Clever of Mississippi, son of another airman killed in the reconnaissance mission, set out with his Laotian-speaking wife to find the crash site and retrieve all the remains. The front of the aircraft had plowed beneath the ground, leaving some in the crew entombed.

About the time Harrison's stepfather died last year, Clever's group, Maximum Recovery in Southeast Asia, contacted the Olson survivors with news of its plans to travel to Laos and return with remains the Air Force had failed to account for in 1969.

"One thought was, why open this can of worms again?" Harrison said. "But it was Paul who found all sorts of details about what happened that we didn't know until now."

After today's ceremony, the remains will go to an Air Force laboratory for DNA testing to determine if all 10 men have been recovered.

Some widows of the fallen crew remarried, including Harrison's mother, who today lives in New Mexico.

"But Mom was so in love with the man she lost," Harrison said. "There would never be anyone to measure up to him."

Days after the Air Force car pulled up to notify the Olsons that father Robert was missing, mother Mary Kay received a Valentine's Day delivery.

Harrison will always remember: A dozen roses, ordered by her dad before his crew flew off.

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