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Bert H. Custer
"Bert"

Company G-1

30 July 1937 - 4 September 2012

Place of Death: Renton, WA

Interment: Greenwood Memorial Park, Renton, WA

It is with great regret and sorrow that we must notify you of the death of our Classmate, Bert H. Custer, on 4 September in Renton, WA. 

Bert is survived by his wife, Shirley; son, Derek; and granddaughter, Savannah. 

A public "Celebration of Life" service will be held at a future date.

Condolences may be sent to Shirley at 714 Cedar Avenue South, Renton, WA  98507-6044. 

Well done, Bert.  Be thou at peace.

Remembrances:

 Class Memorial Pages\G-1 Bert Custer.pdf

Obituaries:

Bert Harris Custer

Bert Harris Custer, Col., Infantry USA

Born in Seattle on July 30, 1937, raised in Renton, died Sept. 4, 2012 in Seattle. An outstanding student and athlete, Bert graduated from Renton High School in 1955, attended the UW for 2 years before being appointed to the USMA at West Point, NY. Graduating in 1961, he began a military career which included two tours in Vietnam, duty as a General's Aide, obtaining a Master's degree in Mathematics, and service in NATO. He also graduated from the Army's Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth, KS.

Retiring in 1986, Bert returned to Renton and, until his health began to fail, he taught Trigonometry and Calculus.

Bert and Shirley (Bakken) celebrated 46 years of marriage on August 7. He is preceded in death by his brother and sister-in-law Alec N. Custer (Barbara), and sister Maribeth Zwick, survived by son Derek Smith of NYC, grand-daughter Savannah Migliuri, brother Don (Loraine) Custer, sisters Gina Custer and Lia (Steve) Reardon, John and Frank Grabner, and nieces Rose, Ingrid, and Erika Custer, Rachel and Hillary Grabner, and nephews Richard, Tim, and Kjell Custer. A public "Celebration of Life" service will be held at a future date.

Published in The Seattle Times from September 6 to September 7, 2012

Bert Harris CUSTER
COL, Infantry USA

Born in Seattle on July 30, 1937, raised in Renton, died Sept. 4, 2012 in Seattle. An outstanding student and athlete, Bert graduated from Renton High School in 1955, attended the UW for 2 years before being appointed to the USMA at West Point, NY. Graduating in 1961, he began a military career which included two tours in Vietnam, duty as a General's Aide, obtaining a Master's degree in Mathematics, and service in NATO. He also graduated from the Army's Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth, KS.

Retiring in 1986, Bert returned to Renton and, until his health began to fail, he taught Trigonometry and Calculus.

Bert and Shirley (Bakken) celebrated 46 years of marriage on August 7.

He is preceded in death by his brother and sister-in-law Alec N. Custer (Barbara), and sister, Maribeth Zwick, survived by son Derek Smith of NYC, grand-daughter Savannah Migliuri, brother Don (Loraine) Custer, sisters Gina Custer and Lia (Steve) Reardon, John and Frank Grabner, and nieces Rose, Ingrid, and Erika Custer, Rachel and Hillary Grabner, and nephews Richard, Tim, and Kjell Custer.

Rose Custer

Taps Memorial Article:  

Bert H. Custer 1961

Cullum No.23370-1961  | September 4, 2012 | Died in Renton, WA
Interred in Greenwood Memorial Park, Renton, WA

The son of Don and Dorothy Custer, Bert Harris Custer was born in Seattle, WA and raised in Renton, WA in an extended, blended family of eight brothers and sisters and their parents and loving stepparents, Rose Custer and Lefty Grabner. In grade school, Bert demonstrated an early aptitude for athletics and academics and formed lifelong friendships among his schoolmates, graduating from Renton High School in 1955. 

Bert matriculated at the University of Washington in downtown Seattle and spent two years as a Husky before entering West Point as a member of the Class of 1961, assigned to Company G-1.

As a cadet, Bert’s innate intelligence, athletic ability and two years of undergraduate study at UW readily overcame the academic and physical fitness challenges of West Point. However, as one who viewed the cadet disciplinary system and the Tactical Department with resigned amusement, he periodically ran afoul of cadet regulations and ultimately self-identified as the First Captain of the Area Squad, where he logged many hours, up to and including First Class year. But his enduring dry wit and thoughtful nature earned him a reputation as a good friend to all those who served with him at West Point, from Beast Barracks through graduation. 

Bert also claimed a distant kinship to an earlier graduate, one George Armstrong Custer, Class of 1861. Bert’s Howitzer entry noted that fact and accurately predicted that “his humor and industry will make him a credit to his chosen branch.” 

On active duty Bert distinguished himself as an exemplary Airborne and Ranger qualified Infantry officer, initially as a platoon leader in the 28th Infantry, later as aide to Brigadier General Jeff Irvin, the Chief of Staff, VII Corps in Stuttgart. The Irvins treated Bert like a member of their family, and Bert continued to serve as aide de camp when Brigadier General Irvin was made the Deputy Commanding General of the Army Training Center at Fort Jackson, SC. There, Bert became an avid tennis player and a role model for the general’s oldest son, Ross. Bert took it upon himself to provide a great deal of “real” information about life at the Academy to Ross who, despite this, decided to follow his father and Bert into West Point as a member of the Class of 1968. 

After a tour as a MACV advisor in Vietnam, Bert got orders to be one of the few Infantry officers to attend the 1966-67 Armor Officer Advanced Course at Fort Knox, KY. But, en route to Fort Knox, Bert took leave in his hometown of Renton to visit friends and family and, as he explained it, “to buy a new pair of tennis shoes” from a high school classmate’s sporting goods store. A casual conversation with that old friend led to the renewal of another friendship dating back to Bert’s childhood in Renton, with a newly single and ever beautiful friend from grade school through high school, Shirley Bakken. Bert was smitten. So was Shirley. In a matter of weeks, they married, applied for quarters at Fort Knox, and began a loving relationship (becoming known to many as “Shirt and Burley”) that flourished for nearly half a century, until Bert’s untimely death.

In Kentucky, Bert honed his New York Times crossword puzzle skills (in ink!) in the back row of the mandatory basic algebra class required for qualification as a NWEO (nuclear weapons employment officer). After Fort Knox, Bert, Shirley, and Shirley’s son Derek Smith relocated to the Hudson Valley, where Bert pursued his M.A. in math at RPI, followed by three years in the Math Department at West Point. During that time Bert renewed old friendships with classmates and colleagues at West Point and on the East Coast, and Shirley made a seamless transition to becoming a fully qualified Army wife, having moved the requisite three times in four years. For Bert, Shirley, and Derek, living and working at West Point was a major highlight of 25 years of active service. 

After leaving West Point as a major, Bert served in the G-3 shop of the Big Red One and attended Command and General Staff College. At Fort Leavenworth, KS, Bert and Shirley enjoyed a reunion with many friends who were Math Department faculty alumni. In 1980 Bert assumed command of the 2-60th Infantry at Fort Lewis, WA, not many miles from where he had entered the service nearly a quarter of a century earlier. 

Upon retiring as a colonel in 1986, Bert and Shirley settled in Renton, back home again among friends and family members and near a great place to buy tennis shoes. Bert took great pride in the achievements of Derek, who graduated from Juilliard and became an award-winning actor and affiliate of the Washington, DC Shakespeare Theater Company, with featured roles in stage, film, and TV productions nationwide, including several years on Broadway and in the national touring company of The Lion King as Scar.

Bert continued to teach math and play tennis—and with Shirley greatly enjoyed the role of actively grandparenting Derek’s daughter and the apple of Bert’s eye, Savannah “Banana,” born in 1986, who lived nearby with her mother. As doting grandparents, Bert and Shirley watched Savannah evolve from feisty toddler to brilliant young woman, now a psychologist in southern California with a special interest in working with children.

Bert died following a long and difficult battle with cancer. He is truly missed by his many friends and loved ones and will always have a place in their hearts.