Captain Richard C. Steere (USN)

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Richard C. Steere

Also Known As: "Commander Houdini"
Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Husband of Francesca Martin

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Captain Richard C. Steere (USN)

From a contemporary press report:

Richard C. Steere, a retired Navy captain who was the weather expert for General George S. Patton during the Anglo-American landing in North Africa in November 1942 and a member of a bronze medal-winning U.S. fencing team at the 1932 Summer Olympics, died March 17, 2001 of pneumonia at Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham, Virginia. The longtime McLean resident was 92.

Off the coast of Morocco, Patton and other aides expressed pessimism at the heavy seas and what it meant for a landing that was the opening of a new theater of operations during World War II. But Capt. Steere, then a Navy meteorologist, steeled Patton's resolve with a forecast that, though at odds with information from London and Washington, proved correct. This feat earned him the fiery general's confidence and the nickname "Commander Houdini."

Captain Steere was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Chicago. He learned the rudiments of fencing from a drama professor at the University of Chicago, where his brother was a student. Capt. Steere was on a fencing team at the Naval Academy, from which he graduated in 1931. With his lightning-quick hand movements, he was named to the foil team that won a medal at the Los Angeles Olympics.

At the Olympics, the U.S. team tied for first, which resulted in an elimination round. American sports pages were filled with stories of the competition, since, during the early rounds, the American foil team had beaten the storied French team for the first time.

Capt. Steere received a master's degree in meteorology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1940. After the Africa landing, he was promoted and served at various command posts predicting weather conditions for naval actions. He was among the Navy group that forecast surf and swell conditions for the D-Day landing at Normandy.

After the war, he taught at the Naval Academy, commanded the Bainbridge Naval Training Station in Maryland and commanded two destroyers, the New Kent and the Porter. He retired from the Navy in 1961 and moved to McLean.

From the 1950s into the 1980s, he was a fixture at the Naval Academy, where he taught and fenced with young midshipmen. Fit and compact, he fenced into his late seventies and won various titles of the Amateur Fencers League of America, which became the United States Fencing Association. With his eyesight failing, his last recorded tournament victory was in 1989. He loved fencing, he told an interviewer, because it was a "complex puzzle."

From 1961 to 1976, he worked as a mechanical engineer for Tracor Corp., a consulting firm. Among his jobs there was helping to mechanize duties of the Postal Service.

He was a member of the Army and Navy Club, American Meteorological Society and Naval Academy Association. He also was a member of the vestry of St. John's Episcopal Church in McLean.

His wife of 52 years, the former Francesca Martin, died in 1998.

Survivors include two sons, Richard M. Steere of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and David S. Steere of Panama City Beach, Fla.; a daughter, Christine Lamb of Bristol, Maine; a brother; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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Captain Richard C. Steere (USN)'s Timeline

March 17, 2001
Age 92