Oliver Emil O’Kier was born June 27, 1923, in Cedar Point, LaSalle County, Illinois, to Jules O’Kier of Belgian descent, and Viola (Zuchorski) O’Kier of Polish descent.1 He had a sister, Frances, and two brothers, LaVerne and Pat. Living with the family at the time of the 1930 census was Oliver’s grandmother, Adelle O’Kier, and great uncle Emmanuel O’Kier, both born in Belgium and who spoke French. In 1940, Oliver was a new worker, and his father was a coal miner. Great Uncle Emanuel was still living with them.2 Oliver graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Oliver registered for the draft June 30, 1942, in Illinois, at which time he was employed at Cedar Point Locker Company.3 He enlisted in the Army February 9, 1943, in Peoria, Illinois. He had three years of high school at that time and was a skilled meat cutter.4
He married Nellie A. Vitale at Queen of the Holy Rosary Church in LaSalle, Illinois, on May 6, 1944. They had a daughter, Lynn Marie “Peaches” O’Kier Durham, born in 1947, and two sons, William “Bill” and Mike. In 1950, they lived in Bernalillo, New Mexico, where Oliver was in the Army, and where their son William was born.5 Nellie died at the age of 93 in 2011 and is buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery.6
Oliver served during WWII as a platoon leader of an infantry company.7 In December of 1944, Oliver’s father, who was working as a special investigator in the LaSalle County State’s Attorney’s Office, was notified by the War Department that Oliver had been wounded in action while serving overseas. Oliver was a lieutenant, 21 years of age, and serving with the infantry under General Patton’s Third Army. The message did not say how serious the injury was to his son.8 He later served as the Provost Marshal with the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe. He also served in Korea as a company commander and as assistant secretary of the General staff.
Oliver began new duties as staff and faculty member in the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in 1963.9 That same year, he was awarded a second oak leaf cluster for his Army Commendation Medal as a 2LT and instructor at the Department of Larger Unit Operations. As a Military Police Corps officer, he received the award for his service as an advisor with the Puerto Rico National Guard from August 1959 to October 1962.10
He then did two tours of duty at the Department of the Army Headquarters and twelve months as a Deputy Brigade Commander in Vietnam. In 1970 he was Acting Commanding Officer of the 18th MP Brigade in Vietnam.11 From escorting visiting celebrities to guarding military points, from patrolling the streets of Hue to keeping the highways of the Delta open, the role of the 18th Military Police Brigade in the Republic of Vietnam was diversified.12 It was established May 20, 1966, and sent to South Vietnam on September 26. The Brigade controlled all non-divisional MPs from the DMZ down to the middle of the Delta. It was the command element for two MP groups, seven MP battalions, seven infantry companies, a criminal investigation group, and a transportation company river patrol boat.
The 18th MP Brigade was also used in a combat support role, providing convoy escorts, highway and bridge security, refugee and detainee evacuation, and traffic control. In addition, the 18th MP Brigade had control of a 22-square-mile area as its own tactical area of responsibility, covering not only military operations but civic action programs. The Headquarters and Headquarters Detachment, 18th Military Police Brigade and its assigned units, 46th Military History Detachment and 284th Military Police Company, were awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation for exceptionally meritorious achievement in the performance of outstanding service during the period November 1, 1968, to April 1, 1971.
During the Vietnam War, Fort Gordon, Georgia, was the training location for the Military Police Corps.13 Oliver served there in the early ‘70s as Director of Instruction and Assistant Commandant of the Army Military Police School after his in-country service in Vietnam. In July 1972, after having served at Fort Gordon, Colonel O’Kier arrived at Fort Leavenworth to serve as commandant at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.14
The following year, two reporters from the Kansas CIty Star in Kansas City, Missouri, inspected several prisons after receiving hundreds of letters from inmates detailing conditions. Those inspected included Leavenworth and Marion federal penitentiaries, the Medical Center at Springfield, Missouri, and the U.S. Army’s Big Disciplinary Barracks (DB) at Fort Leavenworth.15 They reported that the Army’s Disciplinary Barracks was truly impressive with a staff of 706, including 548 enlisted men, 47 officers, 113 civilians, and 38 persons in their mental health section. There were 950 Army and Air Force inmates, 42 percent of whom were in for violent crimes, including 95 murderers.
The enlisted men there had all received four weeks of corrections training at Fort Benning, Georgia, eight weeks of military police school, and an additional two days of training upon arrival at DB. Their attitude toward the inmates was remarkable and may have been attributed to the fact that the inmates and the guards were all members of the military. The DB had a nation-wide job placement program to help servicemen after their release, the only major prison to have such a program at that time.
The staff were carefully picked from a vast Army manpower pool. Colonel Oliver O’Kier said if a man had the wrong attitude for working at the prison, he transferred them to another post. The commandants are also routinely changed to keep ideas fresh and to prevent stagnation. In addition, a recommendation by Colonel O’Kier to the military review board in Washington often resulted in an inmate’s sentence being shortened. The average years served on a lifetime sentence was seven, and no man had been there longer than eight years.
In July 1974, Oliver retired from the Army with 31 years of experience in law enforcement and corrections work for the military.16 He was then appointed as a parole board member for the State of Arizona Board of Pardons and Parole by then Republican Governor Jack Williams, pending Senate approval in winter of 1975. However, when Democratic Governor Raul Castro took over, he wanted someone else. Oliver sent a letter requesting his nomination be withdrawn and moved back to Illinois.17 The State Judiciary Committee learned there was no provision for a withdrawal and that Oliver must be rejected or resign. The committee voted to reject him in May 1975.
Later that year, Oliver became the Chief of the Bureau of Detention Standards for the Illinois Department of Corrections.18 In 1980, Oliver weighed in on the construction of a fire escape at the Rock Island County Jail in his capacity with the Bureau of Detention Standards, after a lawsuit was filed against the jail for several problems with jail conditions, including the lack of fire escapes.19 He stated that it must follow the National Fire Life Safety Code, must be enclosed with chain link fencing, have a secure area at the bottom, handrails, and emergency lighting. And the security doors leading to the fire escape should have locking mechanisms on both sides.
Oliver was still working at the Illinois Department of Corrections in 1983. He lived in Oglesby, Illinois, and was a member of the Oglesby American Legion and the Oglesby Elks. In 2010, Oliver met Deputy Randy Bailey from the LaSalle Sheriff’s Department. Deputy Bailey was writing a suspense novel called Daddy Six Actual set in Peoria that incorporated his experiences with the U.S. military’s criminal investigative Services. The inspiration for the main character in the book came from Deputy Bailey’s meeting with Colonel Oliver O’Kier.20
Oliver died at the age of 93 at Illinois Valley Community Hospital, Peru, December 2, 2016. He was buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery along with his wife.
8The Times (Streator, Illinois) · 9 Dec 1944, Sat · Page 1 – Lt. Oliver O’Kier WIA
9 The Leavenworth Times (Leavenworth, Kansas) · 23 Jun 1963, Sun · Page 6 – Thirteen Officers Assigned at Post
10 The Leavenworth Times (Leavenworth, Kansas) · 14 Aug 1963, Wed · Page 12 – Six Officers Honored for Past Service
14 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri) · 13 Jul 1972, Thu · Page 31- Commandant Arrives at Post
15 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Missouri) · 4 Apr 1973, Wed · Page 21 – Curing Convicts the Best Option
16 Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) · 21 Aug 1974, Wed · Page 23 – New Parole Board Member
17 Arizona Republic (Phoenix, Arizona) · 6 May 1975, Tue · Page 29 – Pull out from Job
18 The Times (Streator, Illinois) · 8 Sep 1975, Mon · Page 2 – Waive Restriction on City Jail Cells
19 The Dispatch (Moline, Illinois) · 6 Jun 1980, Fri · Page 7 – Fire Escape Shows Good Faith
20 The Times (Streator, Illinois) · 12 Jul 2011, Tue · Page 6 – Deputy draws on past experiences for new novel