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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, January 13, 2003

102-year-old soldier tells secrets to long life

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Frank Steer of Kailua, the oldest living graduate of West Point, a doughboy who fought under Gen. John J. Pershing in the First World War, and the martial law provost marshal who rounded up suspected Hawai'i spies and policed Hotel Street during World War II, revealed his secrets for a long life yesterday.

World War I veteran Frank Steer receives a lei from Mrs. Hawaii International Tara Easley during his 102nd birthday party at the Kane'ohe Marine Corps Base Officers Club. Steer was provost marshal in Hawai'i during World War II.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

The first is one your mom told you a long time ago.

"Chew your food."

Steer, who was named honorary provost marshal general of the Army and the Air Force on his 102nd birthday yesterday, is serious.

"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," he said.

Are you going to argue with someone who was conceived in the last year of the 19th century and who celebrated his birthday again yesterday in the 21st?

Of course, you want to know what he learned in France in the Great War.

"I still know a few words of French," Steer told French Consul Patricia Lee, who presented him with that country's Legion of Honor decoration a few years ago.

And what might those words be? "Voulez-vous couchez avec moi ce soir?" Steer said from his wheelchair.

That was after he turned to Mrs. Hawaii International Tara Easley, the 24-year-old wife of West Point Capt. Brian Easley, and said, "You are pretty good looking for such a young girl."

But most of all, you want to ask: "Frank, how did you do it? How do you keep your mind so sharp? And what advice do you have for the rest of us?"

"I teach my brain," Steer said during a break at ceremonies on Marine Corps Base Hawai'i. "Every morning I say to myself, take the number 30, add four, subtract seven, divide by nine and multiply by 10, and if I end up back where I started from then I know I am OK.

"Then I have my three unrelated words, which I check to see if I can remember. Bicycle. Basketball. Trash can. If I can't remember them, then I know I'm in trouble."

It's sort of Steer's version of reading the paper every morning to make sure he is not in the obituary column.

He says he also exercises his body, doing curls with "little one-pound weights," leg lifts knees to chin and other bed calisthenics.

Some of the rest of the advice is pretty predictable. "No smoking. Right now."

And you have to give up drinking. Sooner or later.

"I quit drinking hard liquor when I was 69," Steer said. "I drank wine until I was 97, and I asked the doctor if it was OK, and he said, 'I'd rather you didn't.' "

There's one other recommendation:

"Wake up every day."

Reach Walter Wright at wwright@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054.