Steel, Harry Van, Sr. (1900–1965)


By: William V. Scott

Type: Biography

Published: July 20, 2022

Updated: July 20, 2022


Harry Van Steel, Sr., officer in the Thirty-sixth United States Infantry Division and businessman, was born on August 22, 1900, in Smithville, Texas, to Van Archibald Steel and Linnie (Estes) Steel. His mother died in 1901, and his father, a locomotive engineer, married Madie Braun in 1905. By 1910 the family lived in Temple, Texas, but Van Steel died from complications of nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys) in 1914. After his father passed, Harry Steel attended Temple High School and then worked as a clerk. In 1918 he was living at the YMCA in Waco and worked as a batteryman for Central Electric Company. Steel married Dorothy Jeannette Leonard about 1922. The couple had two sons—Harry Jr. and John Leonard. Census records going back to 1930 list his residential home as San Antonio.

Harry V. Steel enlisted in the United States Marine Corps after World War I and served from April 18, 1919, through July 13, 1920. He then immediately enrolled as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy and graduated on November 4, 1921. Steel was commissioned in the Officers’ Reserve Corps of the Quartermasters’ Corps as a second lieutenant on December 1, 1922, to July 23, 1928, and progressed through the ranks of the Special Troops of the Thirty-sixth Division—as second lieutenant of infantry on December 6, 1927; then to first lieutenant on November 26, 1929; captain on June 25, 1932; and major on January 27, 1936, when he commanded Headquarters Company of the Seventy-first Infantry Brigade, stationed at San Antonio. After graduating from the Command and General Staff School’s National Guard Officer’s Course in 1938, Steel was promoted to lieutenant colonel of the National Guard of the United States on November 25, 1940, and tasked with the charge of training and military intelligence of the Thirty-sixth Division on the staff of Maj. Gen. Claude V. Birkhead. Steel was soon placed on special duty with division headquarters as acting G-4 at Camp Bowie near Brownwood. He was later promoted to colonel and served with the Thirty-sixth Division until 1943.

As Colonel Steel prepared for the entry of the United States into World War II, his family accompanied him to Brownwood, Texas; Louisiana; Florida; and Massachusetts. Steel was director of G-4 (supply) on the staff of Maj. Gen. Fred Walker. The Thirty-sixth Division took part in the Allied campaign in Italy, but after the invasion, Steel came down with an illness and was evacuated from Italy. He was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Order of the Crown of Italy for outstanding service in organizing and directing supply of the Thirty-sixth Division during and after the landing at Salerno, Italy. The former award was presented by Brig. Gen. James A. Bethea at the U.S. Army Hospital, McCloskey General Hospital, at Temple, Texas, where Steel was a patient. In 1947 Steel was made a coordinator in the veterans’ training program, which placed 1,353 veterans in trade training and also placed them for part-time work. His official retirement date from all military service was January 9, 1960.

In Steel’s civilian life, he maintained a longtime construction business that he started in the 1920s in San Antonio. The enterprise later became the family business of H. V. Steel and Sons, working in real estate and construction as general contractors. In San Antonio, Steel was an active member of St. George Episcopal Church and served as Worshipful Master at Victory Masonic Lodge No. 1160 in 1935. He was a member of San Antonio Chapter No. 3 of the Order of the Eastern Star, San Antonio Commandery No. 7 in the Knights Templar, and the Associated General Contractors of America. Harry V. Steel, Sr., died on his ranch outside of Boerne, Texas, on February 3, 1965, and was buried with full military honors in the Boerne City Cemetery.

“Harry Van Steel,” Find A Grave Memorial (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/103312764/harry-van-steel), accessed July 19, 2022. San Antonio Express, February 5, 1965. United States Military Registers, 1902–1985 (Salem, Oregon: Oregon State Library).

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

William V. Scott, “Steel, Harry Van, Sr.,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 18, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/steel-harry-van-sr.

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July 20, 2022
July 20, 2022