WWII vet thankful for opportunity to serve
By SUZI BARTHOLOMY | The (Owensboro, Ky.) Messenger-Inquirer | Published: January 31, 2014
Howard Stephens is almost 92 years old and he remembers his role in World War II as if it was a recent event.
He was drafted in 1942, but prior to being called up he tried to join the Navy, but was rejected. His next step was the Marines, but they didn't want him either.
"I was a wild young man and ready to go," Stephens said.
"The Navy and the Marines wouldn't take anyone who had had a serious illness," Stephens said. "When I was 14, I had spinal meningitis."
The Army didn't care about the meningitis, he said. He served three years in the Army and had tours in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Czechoslovakia.
Stephens' job was in communications. He strung the wire that allowed his unit to be in contact with officers giving the orders for combat.
His job was constant, he said. Shrapnel would hit the thin strands of wire and take them down around the clock.
"We had to work under fire," Stephens said.
They dodged shrapnel 24 hours a day, he said.
"You could die turning your head to the left instead of the right."
He was always aware that his life could end at any second.
He won a Bronze Star for performing his duties under dangerous conditions. "Luck is what brought me home," he said.
Noise from artillery fire went on day and night, Stephens said. He has acute hearing loss and wears hearing aids.
"The ground and trees quivered constantly," he said. And then, there was the weather.
"It was so cold we had to wiggle our toes all the time so they wouldn't freeze."
The former pipefitter said he does not regret one minute spent in the service.
"I was awful happy to get home, but I think every man should spend some time in the military," Stephens said.
"I didn't have much discipline before the Army," he said. One thing he wished he had done was stay in school since his formal education stopped after the eighth grade.
"I thought I was smart," he said. "When I told my dad I wasn't going back to school, he didn't say much."
"I had the ability. I should have applied myself," Stephens said. "I had potential."
When Stephens returned from the war, he went to welding school and joined Plumber and Pipefitters Local Union 633. He also worked as a boilermaker in Indiana and Illinois. He retired when he was 62.
A year or so after Stephens returned from the war, he met and married his wife Hazel. They said they've been 67 or 68 years.
"I don't really remember," Hazel Stephens said.
"I met her on a blind date and I've been blind ever since," Stephens said.
"I thought he was a smart aleck the way he walked and talked," Hazel Stephens said with a smile, but it didn't take long for her to be won over. They married within a year after meeting.
Stephens' hobby is music. "I can only play three cords on the guitar, but I can sing."
He sings with a few musicians who entertain at area rest homes. He used to sing with the Whitesville Hoedowners.
Stephens said he serving his country is something he is very proud to have done.
"I was going to help defend my country or die trying," he said.
"The man who said war is hell was right," Stephens said. "But as bad as it was, it was the biggest adventure of my life."