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Oldest Living West Point Grad Celebrates 102nd Birthday

By Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA
National Guard Bureau

SCHOFIELD BARRACKS, Hawaii, Jan. 16, 2003 – Retired Col. Frank Steer, the oldest living graduate of West Point and a World War I veteran, celebrated his 102nd birthday Jan. 12 at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay.

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Retired Col. Frank Steer, the oldest living graduate of West Point and a veteran of both World Wars, watches as his cake is cut on his 102nd birthday, Jan 12, 2003. One of his "secrets" for long life: "Wake up every day." Photo by Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA.

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Steer, who was the first provost marshal of the Air Force, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1925. At the celebration Sunday, he received an honorary promotion to the rank of provost marshal general.

In honor of the occasion, state Gov. Linda Lingle proclaimed Jan. 12 "General Steer Day." State Legislature Rep. Guy Ontai, a 1978 West Point graduate, was on hand to read the proclamation.

"Not everyone gets to be 102," said Jack Miller, president of the Hawaii Chapter of the Military Officers Association of America. "He's been a great patriot. He's worked very hard. He served under Gen. (John) Pershing and Gen. (Douglas) MacArthur, and it's a special honor to have him in our chapter."

Maj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, commander of the 25th Infantry Division (Light) here and U.S. Army, Hawaii, attended the celebration and said it's important for current service members to honor veterans like Steer.

"He's had a tremendous career of service to the United States of America, the Army and the Air Force," Olson said. "It's absolutely incredible that the oldest living graduate of the United States Military Academy is here in Hawaii, this close to us, so we can help celebrate his birthday."

As a birthday present of sorts, Olson gave Steer a black beret with two-star major general rank pinned on.

"The beret's got a pretty long history in the armed forces worldwide," Olson said. "It's something I knew he'd appreciate, because he's seen berets on a lot of people from a lot of different forces. I was honored to place a beret on his head."

Steer was born Jan. 12, 1901, in the Indian Territory that later became part of Oklahoma. His father was a member of the National Guard, and Steer learned to shoot at the age of 8.

He enlisted in the Army when he was 17 and, after training, was shipped off to World War I. He served in the 2nd Army Defensive Area under Pershing and saw combat in France, including the Meuse-Argonne offensive. After the war, Steer was assigned to occupation duty in France, which recently awarded him the French Legion of Honor for his service.

Steer was discharged after occupation duty. He hadn't been out of the Army long, though, when the governor of Oklahoma appointed him to West Point.

"I was a good educational student, but a lousy disciplinarian, graduating No. 10 in mathematics and 243 out of 244 in discipline," Steer said of his cadet time. "After arriving at West Point as a combat veteran of the 'Great War,' I called the upper classmen 'slackers' and 'draft dodgers.' Thereafter, two of the best hazers of the upperclassmen were assigned to me and were close to my heels at all formations."

Steer still owed 33 area tours in 1999 when officially pardoned on his 98th birthday by West Point Superintendent Lt. Gen. Dan Christman.

After graduation in 1925, Steer was assigned to teach in the academy's math department. He served in the Philippines during the 1930s and was later assigned to Hawaii as provost marshal of the Hawaiian Department. Right after the Japanese attacked Oahu on Dec. 7, 1941, he became the martial law provost marshal. Later, as mid-Pacific provost marshal, he was responsible for thousands of prisoners of war.

He was assigned to the Pentagon in 1947 as the first provost marshal of the newly established U.S. Air Force. After 32 years in uniform, Steer retired on June 30, 1950, and now lives in Kailua.

As for his secrets to longevity, Steer had a few simple recommendations.

"Chew your food," he told reporters. "It's more important than anything else. If you don't chew your food well, your digestive system won't be able to get all the nutrients out of it." Steer also recommended exercising the mind and body and, simply, "Wake up every day."

(Sgt. Bradley Rhen is the editor of the Hawaii Army Weekly, the command newspaper of the 25th Infantry Division [Light] and U.S. Army, Hawaii, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.)

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMaj. Gen. Eric T. Olson, commander of the 25th Infantry Division (Light) and U.S. Army, Hawaii, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, presents retired Col. Frank Steer a beret with major general rank pinned to it. The occasion, Jan. 12, 2003, was Steer's 102nd birthday. Photo by Sgt. Bradley Rhen, USA.  
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