Oldest WWII Military Police Officer is youngest at heart
Gene Stephens golfs a few times a week. He goes for a walk every day. He defeats his wife, Kathie, at Ping Pong and gin rummy way more than she wants to admit.
With youthful exuberance and energy, the slim and trim Stephens spryly bounces around his summer home at Blakes by the Lakes in Alexandria, telling stories and pointing out photos.
It's almost impossible to believe, but Gene Stephens is 94 years young.
And it's his age - along with his military service - that has earned him his long-awaited 15 minutes of fame.
Stephens is the last living original member of the Military Police (MP) Corps, a branch of the Army.
He will be honored for this feat at the Military Police Regimental Association's military ball on September 22 at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
"I didn't know I was the oldest living MP," Stephens said. "I had nothing to do with the military for years and now I came back into it. I could never anticipate anything like that. I'm kind of excited about it."
Stephens was born in 1918 during WWI. In 1941 he was drafted, just as the Army started its MP program. He was in the 281st Military Police Company.
Anticipating that the battalion would go to Finland, they had six months of ski training. Instead, they sailed aboard the Queen Elizabeth to Scotland.
"They took our skis away and gave us motorcycles," Stephens recalled.
He was stationed in Rushden, England, where he trained motorcycle riders. Their first assignment was at General Dwight D. Eisenhower's headquarters. Stephens and his crew were Eishenhower's personal company and would lead him where he needed to go.
But Stephens' first meeting with the general didn't quite get off on the right foot.
"There was a lot of military traffic around. Eisenhower put out a bulletin about speeding in the area. He said not to speed," Stephens said. "I was on post and here comes this battleship-gray sedan. I pulled it over."
Out of the car stepped a Navy officer, who came over to Stephens and said seriously, "Do you know who's in there?"
It was Eisenhower.
With a grin, Stephens said, "I did not give him a ticket."
In November 1942, Stephens was sent to North Africa. There his company directed convoy landings and assisted Major General George S. Patton's troops. He was also "in charge" of escorting President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who arrived on the Battleship Iowa.
"We transferred him from the Iowa to an airfield in Algeria so he could go to a conference with [Soviet Premier Joseph] Stalin," he said. "We didn't know he was handicapped. We were so amazed."
He was also assigned responsibility for crowd control when crooner Frank Sinatra toured for three days in Algiers.
"He was young then and full of pep," said the man who is no stranger to pep himself. "I was leading his entourage. Everybody just adored him."
After serving in North Africa, Stephens served for 14 months in Italy, where he recalled patrolling streets and escorting prisoners.
Mid-story, he stopped and rifled through the piles of photos on his table. He proudly pointed out one picture that he had taken of French General Charles de Gaulle, explaining that in addition to his MP duties, he also took photographs. He also spoke of meeting and working with General Mark Clark.
"I met most every general who was over there [when he was overseas]," he said. "There was always somebody in and out. We were kept really busy."
After being an MP for 43 months, Stephens was honorably discharged in October 1945.
"Every time you are overseas, they pin a stripe on your sleeve," he explained. "Each one represents six months. I had seven."
Despite his constantly rubbing of elbows with famous singers, high-ranking military personnel, and political figures, Stephens looks back at his time in the Military Police as just a "six-day work week."
"You just keep going and keep on doing the same thing all the time," he reminisced. "You get kind of blasé really."
But with his recently acquired fame, he now realizes that it was quite an accomplishment. At the upcoming military ball, a "black-tie" event, he will be presented with all five of his World War II medals. His name will be put on a brick on the walkway at Fort Leonard Wood.
Though it was his longevity that earned him this place in the spotlight, the oldest living MP veteran merely shrugs his shoulders when you ask him the secret to his fountain of youth.
"I'm just lucky, I guess," he surmised, adding that he has no regrets for the long life he has lived.
"You should never look back," he concluded. "Always look ahead."