|Birth: ||Jul. 28, 1895|
|Death: ||Sep. 11, 1986|
An article in the Mount Dora Topic on November 15, 1984 "A Veteran...A Survivor...An Example" a special story for Veterans Day. Oscar D. Stephens is 89. He has trouble walking. Some days it is hard for him to collect his thoughts. He lives alone off Lake Joanna in Eustis in a small neatly kept home, surrounded by many mementoes of his family and his life and near death in service to his country. His wife of 65-plus years is in a convalescent home, a son lives nearby, another recently died of emphysema. Stephens gets out very little, barely knows his neighbors now and spends most of his time either at home or at the V.A. hospital in Gainesville, FL. Many will remember the laundry and dry-cleaning business he owned with his son in Mount Dora. It has been closed now for several years.
Oscar D. Stephens is one reason why America celebrates Veterans Day. We must all, as part of this great and united country, at least once a year, realize what devastating battles stopped tyranny short of our front door....realize that it was our soldiers then who fought hand to hand with the enemy...and reflect on those who are gone, killed in bloody combat and never to see home, family and friends again. Oscar D. Stephens is old now but he must never be forgotten...NEVER. For the years he gave our country as a soldier, like those of countless others before and after him, make life in America just what it is. We should know his story. It stands for America. In the horrible war in 1918 (World War I), the atrocities of combat in France were beyond simple description. For Oscar D. Stephens, an Alabama farm boy knowing only the rural beauty of life, the hell of war must have been horrible. He was barely 25 and death was everywhere around him. His platoon leader had died, along with many comrades. He was appointed a replacement head for his small group of machine gunners. Oscar was promoted in the field to a corporal. Things happened quickly then. The Germans were relentless and it appeared to young Corporal Stephens the very worst battle of the war between them was right where he huddles, machine gun shakily in hand. He was right. For Corporal Stephens was in "the wheat field" near Bella Woods, the bloodiest battle ground of all France. A meeting with superiors soon after his appointment led to an offer of another position, away from the battlefront unlikely to see combat. But before he could accept, the Germans advanced on his weakly held ground. They used gas, "mustard gas" Stephens now recalls and a wretched "cloverine gas" he said "would make you so hungry you'd eat your gun, if you could". And they used machine guns, splattering bullets designed to shatter on impact with soft flesh. The gas started wafting into Stephen's hole. First the strangely spicy, but deadly, mustard and then the cloverine. And, then into the dirt bunker came round after round of machine gun fire. Corporal Stephens and his platoon were hit. Whether dying of their gunshot wounds or about to die from the gas, the Germans left corpses where they lay and moved ahead. Shortly, Stephens and his men were wrapped in blankets, old tent canvas and whatever was available. They were dumped in a gully to be covered by a plow when the clean-up could be managed. Maybe a few words were said, probably the weary and frightened G.I.'s held back tears, many were, after all, still only young boys. But the battle was still on and they had to fight or end up dead in a hole like Stephens.
But something happened. The next day, no one can be sure exactly when, allies, perhaps French farmers or tradesmen, noticed the corpses wrapped in canvas and blanketing. And saw a movement or heard a sigh. Stephens, gravely wounded with more than one hundred pieces of shrapnel in him and unconscious from gas, was still alive and was taken to a small aid station behind the lines. From there he was transferred to Base 48 Army Hospital. Stephens says he was unconscious for weeks. Later, he remembers that many operations were performed on him to get him walking again and to let him use his arms and hands. He was honorably discharged from the army as "disabled" and sent home for additional treatment in America. His military service was over, barely two years after it had begun. He came home still crippled by his wounds, but his country found him work as an apprentice and then supervisor in a plant making dental plates from gold and silver. But, unfortunately, the gasses involved in the plate making process overcame his already weakened lungs. One day he fell unconscious at the plant and was again to spend years in a V.A. Hospital. It was a time when doctors were just beginning to understand disease. And a dreadful plague was killing thousands all over the world - its symptoms remarkably like Stephens's, lung problems and unconsciousness. Tuberculosis was fatal and those suspected of it were believed highly contagious. Stephens, likely ill from only dental gas and his earlier exposure to mustard and cloverine gasses was diagnosed as having TB. He was given a year to live and strongly advised to remain in the V.A. hospital for what was left of his life. But, recently married, he would not have his last days spent on his back in a hospital bed. His wife had friends who spoke of Mount Dora, Florida as a healthful and invigorating place to live. Against his doctor's wishes, he "escaped" from the hospital and began a new life in Mount Dora. He has lived there with some pain and a few aches, for 65 years. Pain and aches, yes. But a life in love with it's country. A man with no debt owed his country, but allegiant and still filled with praise and honor. Oscar D. Stephens is what Veterans Day is all about. We, those who share this glorious country, take this day to say thank-you to Corporal Oscar Stephens. And also to those no longer with us, who, like him, gave us America.
Postscript: Stephens asks that this be dedicated to his Alabama 42nd Division, 167 Infantry, and the company he fought with, Company C. We so dedicate it. He also encourages all able bodied young men and women to volunteer to serve their country; he suggests, however, "anything but the infantry!"
OSCAR D STEPHENS.......
Oscar D Stephens, 91, of Eustis, FL died Thursday, September 11, 1986 in Mount Dora. He was born in Bessemer, Alabama and moved to Eustis from Mount Dora in 1981. He was the retired founder and owner of Stephens Cleaners of Mount Dora. He was also a Baptist and a Veteran of World War I having served in the U.S. Army. He is survived by his wife, Alma Stephens of Eustis, son, William C. Stephens of Eustis; two sisters, Mrs. Lula Mae Lee of Oxford, Alabama and Mrs. Rushie Burk of Talladega, Alabama; six grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren. Graveside services were held at Pine Forest Cemetery in Mount Dora the Rev. Martin Smith officiating. Hamlin and Hilbish Funeral Directors, Eustis were in charge of arrangements.
Alma Wallace Knox Stephens (1899 - 1991)*
Oscar Deloney Stephens (1920 - 1978)*
William Charles Stephens (1930 - 2001)*
Pine Forest Cemetery
Created by: palsg
Record added: Jan 30, 2007
Find A Grave Memorial# 17754079