By Abby Mercer ’19
After receiving his diploma from Ozark High School in 1951, Tom Stevens ’59 enlisted in the United States Air Force. For a kid who had grown up on a Missouri farm, this was an opportunity to serve his beloved country and explore beyond small-town Missouri. Little did he know that his decision would lead to a lifetime of preserving and honoring the memories of those involved in the sacrifices and triumphs of the Korean War.
“From Okinawa, Kadena Air Force Base to Drury Lane”
A month before President Eisenhower’s landslide election victory, Stevens had completed his basic, aerial gunnery, and flight crew training and was shipped to Kadena Air Force Base, Okinawa. Stevens served as a tail gunner on a B-29. Each one-way, seven-hundred mile flight to North Korea lasted seven to nine hours, depending on how far the assigned target was into North Korea. Stevens completed twenty-seven of these combat missions. “We were fortunate. Every one of them was a round trip,” he said.
After being honorably discharged in April of 1955, Stevens took advantage of the GI Bill of Rights and attended Drury College from 1955 to 1959. He earned his degree in economics and psychology, achieving a place on the Dean’s List his senior year and becoming a member of Lambda Chi Alpha. The Drury family truly became a reality when Stevens met his future wife, Barbara, in a class called Introduction to the Bible. Barbara was a history major. They were married in Stone Chapel on December 27, 1958, by Professor G.H. Benton, Barbara’s history teacher and an ordained minister. This year will be their 60th anniversary.
Stevens joined the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company as a management trainee, retiring more than thirty-two years later as the District Personnel Manager for the State of Missouri. After retiring, he became increasingly involved with the National Korean War Veteran’s Association, Inc, USA, (KWVA). He served as a National KWVA board member from 2010-2016, and was elected president of the association in June 2016. Acting in this capacity, he was privileged to attend the 2016 Veterans Day Breakfast at the White House and meet President Obama. In 2017, KWVA was the host Veterans Service Organization for Veterans Day commemorations at Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C. Stevens gave remarks from the podium in the amphitheater at the cemetery and was privileged to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Stevens was also instrumental in the planning, financing, construction and maintenance of the beautiful and meaningful Korean War Veterans Memorial in Overland Park, Kansas, which was dedicated in 2006.
“The Forgotten Victory”
Currently, Stevens is both president of the National Korean War Veterans Association and his local Chapter of KWVA, Kansas Chapter No. #181. He has received two Ambassador for Peace medals, which represent the appreciation of the people of South Korea for the service of the American Armed Forces to preserve their freedom.
The Stevenses live in Overland Park, Kansas and have four children, and seven grandchildren. Stevens spends his days dealing with KWVA matters and volunteering at a variety of organizations, such as the Hawthorne Place Homes Association, St. Joseph Medical Center and Church of the Resurrection United Methodist. He also serves as president of the 307th Bomb Group/Wing (1946-54) and is their newsletter editor. Through KWVA, Stevens has been able to reconnect with his former English professor, Dr. Thomas Watling. Unbeknownst to Stevens, Dr. Watling had been a B-29 Flight Engineer during the Korean War. They have now become good friends.
More than six decades ago, the American Armed Forces, with 21 other UN countries, served in the Korean War. Today, their service is honored and remembered through the efforts of people such as Tom Stevens. “It is no longer the ‘Forgotten War.’ We prefer to think of it as the ‘Forgotten Victory.’”
Tom will be recognized in September at the alumni reunion with the Distinguished Alumni Award for Community Service.