My View

BY DON SORCHYCH  |  February 24, 2016

don sorchychSam Steiger

I was shocked when I tried to call Sam Steiger’s son, Gale, and the number had changed. I called a friend and Sam died in September almost four years ago. Although I subscribe to the Arizona Republic it is too liberal to read without getting mad as hell, so I only read the sports page and TV guide and missed the obituary. Recall Sam had a stroke about ten years ago and was taken care of by his loving family and friends. I had planned to publish some of his editorials but I will introduce him here before I do. His editorials written in 1998 are timely still. One is an “Open letter to John McCain” and the other is “The GOP is dead.”

He was really special and is missed.

Sam Steiger
March 10, 1929 – September 26, 2012

The hard part about Sam Steiger, for those who knew him well and loved him, was that he could and frequently did alternate between being the coolest guy ever and, as he might've put it himself: a total !#%*. But the good part was if you had to choose just one guy you knew to charge in and get you out of a burning building, he would've been it.

He almost never talked about his military service but in his youth he commanded a tank platoon dug into a snow-covered mountain range on the front lines of Korea for over a year, during which time his platoon sustained a 150 percent casualty rate and he himself was awarded, on separate occasions, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

Though he was born and raised in New York City and a good chunk of his early education came from the Ivy League east, Arizona in the end was definitely home. He fit right in here too. He had been sent here to a camp in Williams (run by the Turley family) at age 14, where each kid got a colt they had to break to ride. After his service stint, he came to Prescott, got into ranching, and married the postmaster's daughter.

Politically, he worked his way up through the ranks of the Arizona State Legislature in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He served as a U.S. Congressman from Arizona's District 3, which included Prescott along with the rest of northern Arizona, from 1966 through 1976.

From the early 1980s until his first big stroke in 2002, he was a resident curmudgeon, newspaper columnist, and a radio or TV talk show host for the most part, interrupted by various short stints of public service at state and local levels and multiple bouts of "home run" entrepreneurship wherein a few really good ideas were more or less cancelled out by others that were frequently just a little ahead of their time.

He had a big heart, big ideas, and a big mouth. He was a swashbuckler, a gambler, a Don Quixote, a daredevil, a visionary. The stroke that rendered him speechless for his last decade seemed like a particularly cruel blow at the time: Here was a professional b.s.-er deprived of his greatest weapon. But, after all that stoic suffering he went through, the peace he seemed to find these last couple of years was nice to see. He seemed, finally, to almost take comfort in the inability to speak or remember. He was pretty chipper, ultimately, for that last little while. No small part of that had to come from countless kindnesses he experienced at the hands of his primary caregiver, Pam Hinderliter of the Prescott Manor; his terrific doc at the VA, Dr. Keng (and the entire Orange Team, among others); a raft of caring Prescott cops and Yavapai County firemen who would stand him back up in his power chair and send him on his way if they could after he tipped over while tooling around the neighborhood; and all his true friends (and they know who they are) who stuck with him over the years through thick and thin.

When all is said and done there are those of us in his immediate family (and we know who we are) who really owe him for things tangible and otherwise he gave us individually or steered us toward which have turned out to be the best parts of our own lives. And there are lots of others: people from Prescott, from Arizona, and from points beyond, who can certainly say he helped them out in some fashion, large or small, or at least gave them a chuckle or two along the way (and most of you know who you are, too).

What he got the Silver Star for was emblematic of who he really was and, deep down, always wanted to be: He crawled on his belly in the night across a mile of enemy territory to rescue the crew of a knocked-out tank surrounded by hostile Chinese. He had to crawl up under the tank and get everybody out the escape hatch and lead them back through the darkness because they didn't know which way to go on their own. He didn't even know these guys. He was a guest lieutenant who'd been sent to take over this particular platoon for the son of a famous general who'd been called to the rear for a couple of days to visit his father. The only reason he went himself to get them out that night was that no one else from their own platoon would volunteer to do it.

Rest in peace, Dad. All of us who really did know you are thinking of you now, and believe me, we won't forget you.

A celebration of Sam's life will take place in Prescott, Ariz., on Nov. 17, 2012, from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Yavapai County Mounted Sheriff's Posse House on Sheriff's Posse Trail off Copper Basin Road.

Donations in Sam's memory can best be sent to Hospice Family Care, Arizona, 100 E. Sheldon St., Suite 100, Prescott, AZ 86301.