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Elmer was born on June 14, 1924 in Rapid City, South Dakota. He was the second child of four children and the only son of Elmer H. and Catherine R. (Griggs) Olmstead.
He graduated from Rapid City High School in 1942 and two of his high school classmates, best friend Scotty Loban, and Willard "Bill" Williams joined the Navy with him in the fall of 1942.

Ultimately, Bill and Elmer ended up serving on the same submarine, the USS Sterlet. Both boys were members of the Commissioning Crew and were Plank Owners on the Sterlet, serving through all five of the sub' WWII war patrols. Towards the end of the second war patrol, Bill was accidentally shot in the chest by a shipmate, who was cleaning his "unloaded" pistol. On December 23, 1944, Elmer wrote home, "Bill Williams is back with us again. He has the slug they took out of him, and he says he is going to make a watch charm out of it".

Military training for Elmer included Boot Camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center; Radio School at the University of Chicago; and submarine school in New London, CT. Elmer and Scotty parted ways before Radio School when Scotty transferred to Aviation Radio School in Jacksonville, FL.

Elmer's service on the Sterlet began on 4 March, 1944 at Commissioning, and ended on November 6, 1945 when he "walked off the boat for the last time." On August 24, 1944, fifteen days after the second Atom Bomb was dropped on Japan, his family received the following telegram from him, "All well and safe (stop) hope to see you soon (stop) love to all the family (stop) Elmer Olmstead."

All casualties during WWII weren't on the battlefield-or the sea. In December 1944, Elmer received word from his family that his two-year old niece had died of diphtheria. On April 4, 1945 following the third war patrol, he received a letter from home telling him that his father had died on February 9th of a cerebral hemorrhage. This message was in a letter from his mother even though she had sought assistance from the Red Cross to convey this information to him. When a submarine is on patrol, there is no way for personal information to be relayed. Probably just as well.

After his discharge from the Navy, Elmer returned to Rapid City. He was employed at various jobs throughout his working career. His training and experience as a radio man on the Sterlet came into good use on two of his post war jobs. He first worked as a radio operator for Western Airlines for a number of years, and retired as a dispatcher for South Dakota State Radio.

Elmer and Avis Acker were married on March 13, 1948, and celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary shortly before her death in April 9, 1993. Together they did a fine job of raising their son Karl and their daughter Karen.