Bernie Queneau was born in 1912; his earliest memories include the bombing of London during the infamous Zepplin Raids. As a boy, he learned several languages and lived through Europe until moving to the US in his teens. Prior to entering Columbia College, Bernie became an Eagle Scout; he is thought to be the oldest Eagle Scouts alive today.
During WW II, Bernie entered the US Navy on June 14, 1941 at the age of 29 after leaving a job as a professor at Columbia University. He was an ordinance officer and eventually became the commander of the armor and projectile lab in Virginia, where he worked to develop safer and more effective armaments for ships and aircraft. Just prior to the war’s end, he was chosen among a select group of engineers to enter Germany and study Hitler’s industrial technology.
This is not our first interview with Bernie Queneau; for years he’s been a regular participant and story-teller at events sponsored by The Veterans Breakfast Club–our non-profit parent organization. However, this is our first formal interview with Bernie, and we are grateful that he and his wife Esther took the time to meet with us.
Our interview was recorded on October 20, 2012 in the great Gettysburg Room of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh’s Oakland section. Bernie and Esther arrived promptly, as expected, carrying a small package of mementos to share with us–in particular, Bernie’s Commander’s cap and a WW I shell fragment from his boyhood home in Europe. “I remember the Hindenburg raids,” he told us. He was just a very small boy, of course; Bernie just turned 100 years old in July 2012.
At his age, one could mostly expect muddled stories but we were amazed at the clarity and detail of Bernie’s memories . . . about the war, but also about his 1928 Eagle Scout adventure across the country along the Lincoln Highway. Perhaps we’ll once again get the chance to interview Mr. Queneau. That is if he can fit us into his busy schedule!
The Final Story
Bernard Russell Queneau, age 102, formerly of Mt. Lebanon, died Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. He was born near Liege, Belgium, of an American mother, Abbie Jean Blaisdell Queneau, and French father, Augustin Leon Jean Queneau. Dad lived in England and France before moving to Minneapolis in 1925. BRQ graduated from high school at New Rochelle, NY and then attended Columbia University where he obtained his B.S. and M.S. degrees.
Later he attended the University of Minnesota where he earned a Ph.D. All of his degrees were in metallurgical engineering. Dad enjoyed his peripatetic upbringing as the son of a mining engineer. He had experiences as varied as entertaining recuperating soldiers of WWI, riding his own Corsican pony in the hills of Southern France, attending a posh boys boarding school in a London suburb and living on a dairy farm in Minnesota.
Many of his best memories were formed through scouting, particularly from the summer trip he took as an Eagle Scout across the Lincoln Highway in 1928. During the Depression, Dad worked for several companies and also for a time was an Assistant Professor at Columbia University. Realizing war was coming, he signed up for the Navy Reserves in 1939, was called up to active duty in June, 1941. His assignment was to the Armor and Projectile Lab in Dahlgren, VA. He was part of the team that developed safer airplane seats for pilots as well as specifying the steel used in ships’ armor plate. He rose to become head of the lab and a naval Commander. Following the war, Dad began work again with the US Steel Corporation, first at South Works in Chicago, then at Duquesne Works, Pittsburgh, next at Tennessee Coal and Iron Division, Birmingham, Alabama, and finally back to the corporate offices in Pittsburgh. He most enjoyed those positions that called for him to be active in the mills and solving problems with the quality of the product. He truly loved his work in the “steel game.”
He wasn’t done at 65, because he took a position as technical editor of Iron Age, the Iron & Steel Institute’s journal. He became one of the world’s experts in the field, traveling to many plants and conferences in other countries. After the age of 70, Dad took some consulting jobs, but he mainly wanted to travel. He also volunteered, driving for Meals on Wheels for over ten years, serving at St. Clair Hospital, and helping with the book sale shop at the public library every Friday until the day he was hospitalized with his final illness.
On June 28, 1941, he married Henrietta C. Nye of Minneapolis, and they had three daughters. Following her death, he later married Mary Goettge, who also predeceased him. His last marriage in 2003 was to Esther McNaull Oyster. Dr. Queneau is survived by his daughters, Jean (Hugh) Davis of North Haven, CT, Marguerite Marsh of Tacoma, WA, and Anne Queneau of Washington, DC; stepdaughters, Jean Oyster Franke and Jan Oyster Hunnicott; six grandchildren, Abigail Anne Marsh (Jeremy Joseph), Washington, DC, Kirtland Craig (Carolyn) Marsh, Washington, DC, Mark Russell (Kiowa) Biddle, Pt. Reyes, CA, Kathleen Biddle of Essex, CT; step- grandchildren, Andrew (Carolina Mejio) Davis, Chapel Hill, NC, and Jen Davis, NYC; nine great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews.
Funeral Services will be Friday, December 12, 2014. Interment will be in Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, MN.
See also: Obituary: Bernard Queneau / 102-year-old Eagle Scout