An Interview with Kay Hughes: Searching for Stanley

Feb 14, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1)      Kay, tell us what you know about your father, Stanley.

My father is Harold E. Dwyer, contributor to the book Searching for Stanley. He is unpretentious and a man of character who taught his children right from wrong. At the age of 87, Dad is an avid reader and continues to be a lifelong learner. His words, “You can do almost anything if you put your mind to it” resonate. He lives his “can do” attitude—in his youth he built bobsleds and model airplanes; learned to fly at age 18; built a wooden speed boat, coating it with fiberglass; built many houses, including his own home—twice—the second time at age 75 after a fire destroyed much of the original structure. He stills tinkers in his shop, climbs up on his roof to make repairs, and at age 86, he went skydiving. Work hard, play hard is his philosophy.

And I always knew Dad was a B-17 pilot in WWII, but for years details went unspoken. According to Dad, he and his crew just did their job; the heroes are the soldiers who didn’t come home. One of those heroes is Stanley Dwyer, Dad’s older brother. Stanley, also a B-17 pilot, has been missing since May 10, 1944.

What I know about Stanley is a result of our unplanned journey—through his friends and fellow crewmen we met, memories from his family, and especially his letters. Stanley was the uncle I never knew—until I discovered his trunk and letters in the charred rubble after my parent’s house fire. With over 300 letters Stanley had typed or written in a five-year time period, we retrace his footsteps, we hear his marvelous, honest voice, and he comes to life. Stanley was an all-American kid who grew up to be a man of character. His work ethic, his zest for life, humility, self-reliance, and his love for family and fellow man are examples for all. He graduated from Kansas State College in 1939 aspiring to be a radio broadcaster. With few jobs available, he set out to see the world and hitchhiked from his home in Kansas to New Orleans with $9.60 in his pocket, intent on getting an education outside the classroom—an education and experiences that would broaden his horizon and make him a better radio broadcaster when the time came. For approximately two years, Stanley served as a merchant marine, and his “education” took him within 120 degrees of circling the world. Stanley saw opportunity, not work. Stanley was respected and respectful and treated others like he wanted to be treated.

Even though I did not know Stanley personally, his traits, like Dad’s, have transcended generations of the Dwyer family. And when I recognize some of Stanley’s characteristics in family members—little things that remind me of Stanley—I know Stanley’s spirit is in our midst. He’s not forgotten.

2)      Exactly when did he enter WWII and where was he stationed?

Harold E. entered the Army Air Corps in June, 1943. Dad flew his missions with the 8th Air Force from England.

After Stanley served as a merchant marine, he had a radio job lined up in Washington beginning approximately December 5, 1941. On December 8, 1941, the day after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Stanley joined the army. He was first assigned to the Signal Corps and later was accepted into the Army Air Corps reporting in October 1942.

Stanley flew his missions with the 15th Air Force from Foggia, Italy.

3)      How long have you been trying to locate his remains?

Actually, the search for Stanley began when his parents, WWI veteran Harold W. and Ellen Dwyer, received the telegram stating that their son Stanley was MIA over Austria May 10, 1944. They exhausted all known sources available to them at that time in their search for answers to Stanley’s fate. Years slipped by, and they were left with unanswered, nagging questions. Without remains, without anything conclusive, they held on to hope and endured a private grief that lasted their lifetime.

When I was growing up, my grandparents didn’t talk about Stanley, and Dad rarely mentioned his brother either. For decades, the search had been at a standstill, until one spring day in 1998 when Dad asked me a question that would unknowingly rekindle the search for Stanley. From that spring day forward, an unplanned, intriguing journey slowly unfolded. At first we didn’t realize we were being led on this divinely orchestrated journey, but guided by many coincidences, we innocently followed along. Eventually we “caught on,” and left no stone unturned in our quest to solve our family’s mystery.

4)      Have you received any help from our government?

Our unplanned journey took many twists and turns and evolved to where JPAC, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, became involved. JPAC’s mission is to account for missing soldiers from this country’s wars. From WWII alone, there are approximately 78,000 missing soldiers—so our story is one of thousands. Considering the number of missing and the long process involved, we feel very fortunate that JPAC chose to excavate for remains in both 2006 and 2007 at Stanley’s crash site near Vostenhof, Austria. From the ten-man crew, Stanley and John Boros are the two missing crewmen who flew on the mission to Wiener Neustadt, Austria on May 10, 1944.

The Dwyer family is the only family to be on-site during a JPAC excavation. Three generations of our family traveled to Austria—our personally funded trip—and observed the dedicated work of the JPAC teams as they physically labored to bring home their missing comrades. These men and women of the JPAC recovery teams, most of them serving in the military, commit themselves to honoring our government’s promise that no one is left behind. And from our experience, their work does make a difference to the families with a missing loved one. While in Austria, more layers of stories developed within our personal narrative—stories of the “other side of war,” stories of our friendship with JPAC team members and many Austrians, including the priceless opportunity to meet and visit with eyewitnesses to Stanley’s smoking bomber.

5)      Why exactly did you write this book ?

Our journey wasn’t complete until we told Stanley’s story. When I discovered his trunk while cleaning up after the house fire, I couldn’t believe that Stanley’s trunk, with all the memorabilia and his letters, was all that remained of a man’s life. I was inspired to know everything about him. Ultimately, I could not leave Stanley in his trunk, and I could not let him be forgotten. So when the trunk opened, Stanley came to life. It is an honor to reveal his story and voice to the world. Stanley’s “radio voice” never developed to its full potential. Now, his voice through his letters resonates across time and perpetuates his legacy. Stanley is not forgotten.

6)      It seems that all too often, those brave men and women are forgotten except on perhaps Veterans Day. Is there anything you think should be done about this?

Educate people about history, bring attention to the MIA issue, and talk to veterans or read about their experiences. People from the WWII generation had their lives shaped growing up in the Depression and from their war experiences. If we take time to listen, we can learn from their insight and the values they live. During WWII, there seemed to be a unity of purpose, everybody sacrificed, and many sacrificed their lives. In my opinion, it is our responsibility to learn and try to understand about the sacrifices made for freedom. We owe those who served and sacrificed a debt of gratitude. For hundreds of thousands of soldiers, their dreams died with them, but we continue to live in freedom in a country where we can dream dreams and make them come true. It is up to us to remember them, honor them, and live in a manner worthy of their sacrifice.

Our story and journey reminds me what’s important in life: faith, love of family, treating others like you want to be treated, honor, patriotism, and character does count. The way Stanley lived his life is an inspiration to me, and perhaps others who read about his life will also be inspired to re-instill and embrace some of these eroding characteristics/virtues. Stanley was always trying to become a better person. One reader admired Stanley’s heroic spirit—he had the heart of a hero, the moral courage to do the right thing, no matter what, for the right reason.

7)      Tell us about some of the challenges that you have encountered?

Patience. Even though we had our foot in the door at JPAC, there were no guarantees. Their thorough analysis of the case takes months. And even considering that approximately 35,000 of the 78,000 WWII MIAs are deemed recoverable, the odds are against you.

One obstacle was locating people who knew Stanley. We encountered “dead ends” in our search, and the volume of research available is overwhelming.

The “goal” was to find remains; however, you don’t always get what you want. In our case, we accept and rely on answers and our experience for closure. Standing on hallowed ground at the crash site, watching the JPAC teams excavate for remains, uncovering one particular artifact—a 1916 dime—that connected us to Stanley, erecting a memorial at the crash site, hearing local eyewitnesses describe how Stanley’s smoking bomber curved to miss his neighbor’s home, plus piecing together most of the last mission for Stanley and his crew—except for the very last moments of flight—these things brought a sense of peace and closure for Dad.

8)      What have I neglected to ask?

I’ve covered many points. If you have any more questions, please contact me. I like to reflect on how Stanley lived, not how he died. Stanley lived a lot of life in twenty-seven years. One reader said that every human being should “meet” Stanley.

9)Where can people get a copy of your book ?

Searching for Stanley is available at online retailers, i.e., and locally at some stores in Nebraska as well as the Beloit Typewriter Exchange in Beloit, Kansas.


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