Alumni Spotlight: Thomas W. Stevens
After receiving his high school diploma from Ozark High School in 1951, at the age of eighteen, Tom Stevens enlisted in the United States Air Force. For a kid who had grown up on a Wisconsin farm, this was an opportunity to serve his beloved country and explore. 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 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 with his flight crew to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa. Stevens served as a tail gunner on a B-29. Each 700 mile one-way flight to North Korea lasted 7-9 hours, depending on how far the assigned target was into North Korea, and he completed 27 of these combat missions. “We were fortunate. Every one of them was a round trip.”
After being honorably discharged in April of 1955, Tom took advantage of the GI Bill of Rights and began his education at Drury College. From 1955 to 1959, Stevens earned his degrees in Economics and Psychology, achieving a place on the Dean’s Honor List his second semester of senior year and becoming a member of Lambda Chi Alpha. The Drury family truly became a reality during his time at Drury when Tom met his future wife Barbara in Introduction to the Bible. Barbara is 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, December 27 will be their 59th anniversary.
After graduation, Stevens joined the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company as a management trainee, retiring 32+ years later as the District Manager Personnel for the State of Missouri. After retiring, Stevens became increasingly involved with the local Kansas Chapter in Overland Park and the National Korean War Veteran’s Association, Inc, USA, (KWVA). Stevens served as a National KWVA Board Member from 2010-2016. In June, 2016 he was elected President of the National Korean War Veterans Association, Inc. Acting in this capacity, he was privileged to attend the 2016 Veterans Day breakfast at the White House and meet President Obama. This year, 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 ANC and was privileged to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
He was also instrumental in the planning, financing, construction and maintenance of the beautiful and meaningful Korean War Veterans Memorial in Overland Park, Kansas. It 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.
Tom and his wife Barbara live in Overland Park, Kansas and have four children, two sets of twins, and seven grandchildren. Tom spends his days dealing with KWVA matters, 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. He loves Drury Basketball, men’s and women’s and attends as often as possible. Through KWVA, Tom has been able to reconnect with his English Professor, from his college days, Dr. Thomas Watling. Dr. Watling unbeknownst to Tom had been a B-29 Flight Engineer during the Korean War. They have now become good friends.
Over 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.’”