Harry Raymond Steffensen – Colonel, United States Air Force

Courtesy of the United States Military Academy:

Harry Raymond Steffensen, NO. 17852
Died 19 September 1981 in Vienna, Virginia, aged 57 years.
Interment: Arlington National Cemetery, Fort Myer, Virginia.


Over thirty years have passed since my USMA roommate, Harry Steffensen, asked me to write his biographical sketch for the Howitzer. By rights, that job should have fallen to the third who shared that room tucked away in a cozy corner of South Area over Grant Hall. Howie Mitchell, after all, had been Harry’s roommate throughout the entire four  years of our cadetship. I joined them at the beginning of yearling academic year. I got the job, then, based not on closer familiarity and friendship but more probably because of my only academic distinction: I could write passing English themes with the same ease that I regularly blew recitations in math,
acknowledged by my roommates in the following traditional skit performed often for my benefit:

Mitch: “How many math sections are there, Steff?”

Steff: “I dunno, Mitch. Wait, I’ll find out…. What section you in Pablo?

Such ragging was utterly devoid of malice: Harry hadn’t a mean bone in his body. It was his subtle, mirthful way of telling his goatie roommate, “We’d hate to lose you ? get cracking on your homework.” There’s no law against being compassionate and funny at the same time, and the Moose (as he was affectionately known) was both.

Howie Mitchell cannot remember how Harry earned his nickname and neither can I, although I have two theories. The first is that when enraged at The Systern and some of the personalities within it, as he frequently was during those four years, you could hear him bellowing defiance like a wounded bull moose throughout the division of barracks. The other, and more likely, is that his sighs and groans were akin to those of a lovesick moose ? and the truth was that our Moose was hopelessly smitten from plebe year on and so remained forever.

At first glance, they seemed ill-met by moonlight, this soft-spoken, demure girl from the urban East and the exuberant young man raised on a midwestern farm. But Harry would have revered his alma mater if for no other reason than it bridged the distance between Lynn, Massachusetts and Forest City, Iowa and brought him Lois. They were married 2 July 1950 and lived happily ever after.

Harry’s good fortune continued with the birth of three children: Janet (now Mrs. James Johnson), Carol (now Mrs. David Huff), and Jim, and culminated in the birth in 1981 of his first grandchild – a son Eric, born to Janet. Eric now has a sister Laura, born in June 1983; Carol and Dave produced another granddaughter, Julie, in July 1985. They are as eloquent a testament to the value of Harry’s life as any man could wish, but there is more.

In his professional career, Harry established an enviable record of service to his fellow citizens, both in uniform and out. By the time he elected early retirement, he was an Air Force command pilot who had served his country nobly and well through two wars, Korea and Vietnam, in a series of important command and staff positions.

Somehow during those 23 years, he managed to earn two more degrees – a Bachelor’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Oklahoma and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration at the University of Connecticut. The
latter was put to good use when he gave up the warrior’s role for that of public servant in one of this country’s most populous and affluent counties. At the time of his death, Harry was serving Fairfax County as its assistant director of finance.

Harry possessed all of the virtues customarily associated with a boyhood spent on the farm. He was direct, honest, hardworking, and as comfortable to be with as an old pair of shoes. One could, as we did because our career paths diverged, lose contact for years at a time, and pick up on the same warm familiar chord when paths crossed again as if hardly a day had passed. These traits, coupled with his staunch loyalty to his friends, made him one of the most popular members of the Class of 1950 in the Washington area where, incidentally, he was one of the “sparkplugs” behind the monthly class luncheons.

Except for a lack of both height and heft, Harry might well have become one of the class’s most noted athletes. Among us runts, at any rate, he was admired for his fierce competitiveness and physical coordination. He had the momentum, but not the mass, to become a star forward on the West Point hockey team, settling instead for a manager’s slot just to be near the game he particularly enjoyed – and pitching his company to an “intramurder” softball championship along the way to help vent some of the frustration.

Not surprisingly, Harry remained an active sports buff for the rest of his life. It somehow seems appropriate, then, that the end came on a particularly lovely Indian Summer’s day in Northern Virginia – on a golf course. Among the friends and classmates who thronged his wake a few nights later, one was heard exclaiming softly, “What a beautiful way to go!”  Scant solace for the heavy loss we were suffering together, but understood and appreciated nonetheless.

In addition to Lois and the children, Harry is survived by his father, Mr. Harry N. Steffensen, and his sister, Mrs. Helen Wooge. From the privileged intimacy of our cadet days, I can attest to Harry’s special respect and love for them both and, on behalf of the class, thank all of them for their unique influences that helped shape the qualities of character of the man and so the more endeared him to the rest of us. The pleasure of his company is sorely missed.

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