Major General Gerald T. Sajer died peacefully at his home surrounded by his family on May 14, 2011.
General Sajer was the Adjutant General of the Pennsylvania National Guard from January 1987 through April 1995. As Adjutant General, he was responsible for command, control and supervision of 24,000 soldiers and airmen of the Army and Air National Guard in units of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and for providing trained and equipped units capable of performing their war-time missions and for providing military support to civil authorities in responding to man-made and natural disasters.
General Sajer was born in Milton on April 12, 1928. He received his secondary education and graduated from Girard College, a school for orphan boys, in Philadelphia in 1946. He received his bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, from Tufts University in 1956, where he was selected for membership in Phi Beta Kappa based on high academic standing. General Sajer received his law degree from Harvard University in 1959 and a master’s degree in public administration from Shippensburg University in 1984.
General Sajer began his military career when he enlisted in the Army as a rifleman in 1946. After basic training, he was selected for the Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga., and received his commission as a second lieutenant in 1947. He attended the Engineer School at Fort Belvoir, Va., where he completed the Engineer Associate Officer Course in 1947.
General Sajer was assigned as a company officer in engineer units in Korea and Japan from 1947 to 1950. Following the outbreak of hostilities in Korea, General Sajer attended Airborne School and Ranger Training at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1951. He then served in Korea in 1952-53 as a Ranger captain in intelligence collection activities in support of the Eighth United States Army.
General Sajer left active duty to attend college and law school and transitioned into the United States Army Reserve. He subsequently joined the Army National Guard in 1959 as a captain in the 28th Infantry Division. He served as the Assistant G3 Plans and Operations, division G3 responsible for operational planning and execution, and as Chief of Staff of the 28th Infantry Division. He was promoted to Brigadier General and appointed as Assistant Division Commander (Maneuver) for the 28th Infantry Division. He was appointed as Adjutant General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania on Jan. 20, 1987, and promoted to Major General.
After Persian Gulf I, when active, Guard and Reserve units were being downsized, the Army proposed to cut the 15,000-man 28th Infantry Division to a 3,500-man cadre. General Sajer’s vigorous opposition over three years saved the entire division. He then converted the 28th Infantry Division from a light infantry to a modern heavy mechanized division, accomplishing that transition within three years. Under General Sajer’s leadership, the Pennsylvania National Guard grew to the greatest strength ever — 24,000 — and was widely regarded as the best Guard in the country.
While Adjutant General, General Sajer conceived and constructed the first modern training buildings for the training of officers and noncommissioned officers at Fort Indiantown Gap, a $30 million project. During his tenure, the Pennsylvania National Guard was allotted three-quarters of all of the National Guard’s construction money and actively constructed armories, veterans’ homes and other facilities throughout the Commonwealth.
General Sajer was responsible for the enactment of landmark legislation, including the Education Assistance Program, which gave Guardsmen tuition monies for enlisting, and, with the outbreak of the Persian Gulf War, legislation to modernize the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act to better protect Guardsmen.
General Sajer spearheaded a major environmental cleanup initiative at Cressona, Schuylkill County, to eliminate the issues caused by tens of thousands of burning tires, for which he was honored at the White House by President George H. W. Bush for community excellence service. He created the legislation to construct the memorial and amphitheater at the National Veterans Cemetery at Fort Indiantown Gap and served as the Chairman of the Commissioning Committee for the U.S.S. Pennsylvania, a Trident submarine. General Sajer was active with the military abroad, forming a training partnership with the First Panzer Division of the German Army and assisting in the development of the Lithuanian military forces.
General Sajer initiated a modern family support program for the Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers and their families, including a day care center, a summer camp, a day camp, and an emergency relief program.
General Sajer’s awards and decoration include the Distinguished Service Medal, Soldier’s Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Pennsylvania Distinguished Service Medal — Second Award, General Thomas J. Stewart Medal, Pennsylvania Service Ribbon, and Parachute and Ranger Tabs.
General Sajer was a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, Cumberland County Bar (Pennsylvania), Phi Beta Kappa (Tufts Chapter), National Guard Association of the United States and Pennsylvania, Association of the United States Army, 28th Infantry Division Heritage Association, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. General Sajer was a trustee of the Army War College Foundation, a member of the Boards of the First Regiment of Infantry Association and of the Minuteman Institute of National Defense Studies.
Prior to assuming his position as Adjutant General, General Sajer was an attorney in private practice with Stone & Sajer in New Cumberland, focusing on civil litigation.
General Sajer retired from military service in March 1996. After his retirement, General Sajer resumed the practice of law and remained active in military affairs. He wrote several award-winning articles on the National Guard of the United States and was regarded as an expert in the planning and response to catastrophic events and homeland security. He had a life-long love of history and military history, and was frequently invited to speak at military and civic ceremonies. A student of the Battle of Gettysburg, he conducted tours of the battlefield for business and military groups.
After his retirement from military service, General and Mrs. Sajer moved to Hidden Horse Farm, a Revolutionary-era farmstead in Adams County. General Sajer was a creative thinker and prolific writer, drafting articles, position papers and legislative proposals, and researching and drafting two screenplays. General Sajer was a member of the Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Camp Hill and of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Abbottstown.
General Sajer is survived by his wife, the former Helen Leskanich, to whom he was married for 54 years. He took enormous pride in his six children, all of whom have graduate degrees and three of whom served as Army officers, and his 15 grandchildren. He will be greatly missed by Marsha, an attorney and retired Army lieutenant colonel and her husband Geoffrey Clymer of Camp Hill; Mark, a business executive, his wife Shari, and children, Helene, Luke and Jonathan, of New Providence, N.J.; Susan, a medical doctor, her husband, Robert Stoddard, and children, Ted and Amy, of Lincoln, Mass.; Scott, business executive, former Army artillery officer and graduate of the United States Military Academy, his wife, Diana, and children, Matthew, Stephen, Timothy and Michael, of Summit, N.J.; Frank, a banker and retired lieutenant colonel who served in Fallujah, Iraq, his wife Connie Coyne Sajer, and children Sara, Megan and Katie, of Camp Hill; and Peter, a professional engineer, his wife, Amy, and children, Anna, Maria and Nicholas, of Seattle, Wash. General Sajer’s love of country and family and sense of honor and decency are among his many legacies to his family.
A Mass in celebration of General Sajer’s life will be held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Harrisburg on Thursday, May 19, at 10:30 a.m., followed by a memorial ceremony and military honors at the Indiantown Gap National Cemetery, Pennsylvania Veterans Memorial, at 1:30 p.m. A reception will follow immediately afterwards at the Keystone Conference Center on Fort Indiantown Gap.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Pennsylvania Wounded Warriors, c/o Colonel (Ret.) Allen Kifer, Treasurer, 6549 Baywood Drive, Harrisburg, PA 17111.