Friday, April 9, 1999

Yugoslavia too big
a bite, honored
veteran says

'They made a mistake thinking
they could beat them with only
bombs and missiles'

Col. William Steer
A veteran of both world wars says we
shouldn't have intervened in Kosovo


By Gregg K. Kakesako


One of the nation's oldest living World War I veterans, retired Army Col. William Frank Steer, says "the U.S. may have bitten off more than we can chew" in the Yugoslavia crisis.

Steer, 98, said he doesn't believe the United States has any business intervening in Kosovo and made even a bigger mistake by ruling out the use of ground troops.

"They made a mistake thinking they could beat them with only bombs and missiles," said the Kailua resident who served in World War I and World War II.

On Sunday, Steer, who believes he may be the sixth oldest living graduate of West Point, will be honored by the French government's Legion of Honor.

French Consul General Andre Parant will hang the white star medal suspended from a red ribbon around Steer's neck at the West Point Founder's Day dinner at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel.

Steer graduated from West Point in 1925 and hasn't ever missed these annual functions.

"I think it's a great honor," said Steer, who believes he is the only one from Hawaii to be awarded France's highest military award.

"I will wear it with pride," said the Army veteran, who also holds two Legion of Merit medals awarded by the U.S. government for his years of service.

The French government last year decided to mark the 80th anniversary of the World War I Armistice by honoring the remaining survivors of the 2.1 million American "doughboys" sent overseas between 1914 and 1918 to defeat the Germans.

The medal was created initially by Napoleon Bonaparte on May 19, 1802, to honor valor on the battlefield. But it is also commemorates other achievements and more than 550 Americans were awarded the French medal before the new criteria were announced to mark the anniversary of the World War I Armistice.

So far, about 100 medals have been awarded since the new program was announced last year. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that about 1,600 World War I veterans are still living.

On Kosovo, Steer said the United States eventually will have to send ground troops despite continual denials of such use by the Clinton administration.

"Either that or we are going to have to take a beating like we did in Vietnam," Steer said.

"They are killing a lot of men, boys and children there. We have to stay in until we win or lose now that we are committed."

Steer was 16 and attending Oklahoma A&M College, now called Oklahoma State University, in 1917 when he decided to volunteer.

"I lied about my age to get in," said Steer, who said he enlisted because "my other close friends volunteered."

He was assigned to the 33rd Division and participated in three battles, including the Battle of Argonne. In 1918, he returned to the United States and attended West Point, graduating in 1925. He would later go back to the academy to serve as an instructor.

The Army assigned him to Hawaii in 1940, and following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, he was named commander of the Hawaii Department MP Company. As provost marshal, he was in charge of the territory's utilities, security and police departments.

Following 32 years in uniform, including the last few as a member of the United States Air Force, Steer retired on June 30, 1950.

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