Patriotic ‘poster child’

Everett native plays part in war memorial

By KATHY KORENGEL

Herald Writer

EVERETT — An organization advocating a national World War II monument has called on an Everett native to be its "poster child."

"I’m a little long in the tooth to be a poster child," admitted Winslow "Steve" Stevens, 84, now a Florida resident, who was in town recently for his 65th reunion from Everett High School.

The National World War II Memorial organization called on Stevens because of his colorful background, which included a 13-month stint in one of World War II’s most infamous tours of duty, Merrill’s Marauders. The regiment fought behind Japanese lines in Burma and suffered huge casualties, as much as from dire living conditions as from combat, Stevens said.

So far, Stevens’ duties as they relate to the monument have included being featured in ads in the August VFW magazine as well as a magazine for retired officers.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the memorial, which will be built near the Reflecting Pool on the National Mall at an estimated cost of $100 million, is scheduled for Veterans Day, on Nov. 11.

Stevens’ colorful credentials go beyond the six years he spent in the service, starting with his birth in his grandfather’s logging camp near Silvana, he said.

"My daddy was killed in my granddaddy’s logging camp, and my grandfather was shot in a payroll robbery," Stevens said.

The ads about him "gussied it all up and made me into a real Cascade mountain hillbilly," he added with a laugh.

Stevens, who was in the citrus-growing business, alternated between tales about horrific combat injuries to jocular retellings of his poker prowess and weakness for martinis when he recently recalled his World War II experiences, but there’s one thing he stumbled on every time it came up.

"I just think of all those boys we left behind along the trail in Burma," Stevens said, as he fought back tears and his voice cracked. He said the graves had to be hidden, partly because of wild animals..

"It’s the one thing that still chokes me up," he said. And it’s also the main reason he’s agreed to help with the effort to build a monument in Washington, D.C.

Stevens joined the National Guard in 1934, and after the Guard was federalized in 1940, he did a tour in Australia, where he first heard of Merrill’s Marauders, named for commanding officer Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill.

"Gen. MacArthur came out and called for volunteers for extreme hazard duty under a foreign government," Stevens recalled. "He said there was a 50 percent chance of coming back alive and," Stevens paused, "no chance of coming back unharmed."

He said he never figured out why he volunteered that day.

"I guess I was just a patriotic kid. I figured if the president of the United States called for volunteers it had to be extremely important to our country."

Stevens joined the 3,000 or so men chosen for the special mission of paving the way for several divisions of Chinese troops to fight the Japanese within Burma. The unit’s job was to cut off supplies to Japanese troops.

The mission involved combat, sometimes in the dark, where the members were often outnumbered 10-1, Stevens said.

But the majority of casualties came from the primitive conditions, he said.

"They (the rest of the military) basically lost us. They were unable to find us in the dense jungle and high mountains. We had limited radio contact," he said.

"We had 24-year-old maps. Some of the native villages we were supposed to get supply drops in weren’t even there."

After six months, the unit came out from behind enemy lines. Stevens spent more than a year in convalescent hospitals in Florida, suffering from acute malnutrition and anemia, among other problems, he said.

A doctor diagnosed his trouble sleeping and recurring nightmares as signs of post-traumatic stress.

Stevens recalled his doctor’s advice: "He said I could go back to the Cascade mountains and contemplate my navel or go back to Florida with my girlfriend I was engaged to at the time." He chose the latter.

And Stevens, for many years, did his best to forget the war, although he still continues to have nightmares about it.

"Most of us, all we wanted to do was to go back home and to work and forget about the whole stinking mess," Stevens said. "We’d had all the fighting we wanted for eternity."

In Florida, however, he had joined a group of retired National Guard officers. One of the group’s members had served with one of the generals involved in the effort to build a national World War II memorial. The buddy introduced Stevens to the general, and, hence, Stevens’ poster child status began.

Stevens said part of the reason he agreed to participate is because of his two grandchildren.

"It’s possible some day they’ll be happy knowing that their grandfather, or great-grandfather, is part of a memorial in Washington, D.C.," Stevens said.

The Herald/JUSTIN BEST

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