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94-Year-Old WWII Military Police Corps Officer Gene Stephens To Be Honored At Ft. Leonard Wood

9:16 AM, Sep 10, 2012   |    comments
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LAS VEGAS (AP) - Except for his snow-white hair and wire-rimmed glasses, Gene Stephens appears ageless at 94 years old.

He still looks fit in the Military Police Corps uniform like the one he wore in World War II - polished shin-high, brown cavalry boots, crisp khaki breeches and black armband with white "MP" letters.

To the best of his knowledge and in the memories of Military Police Regimental Association members, Stephens, of Las Vegas, is the last living original member of the Military Police Corps.

He'll be honored when the corps, which dates from 1941, holds its 71st anniversary celebration this month at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

"It's a new wrinkle in my life," Stephens told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "It's really awesome because it's something I never anticipated."

He intends to play golf at a Sept. 14 tournament, attend the induction of four former MPs into the corps' Hall of Fame, and don his uniform again for the Sept. 22 Regimental Ball at which Stephens is due to receive all five of his World War II service and campaign medals.

Then, he will change into his dress blues and sit at the head table with Brig. Gen. Mark Inch, commander of the U.S. Army Military Police Regiment and commandant of the Army Military Police School.

"Sitting at the table with the general, that's a really big thing," Stephens said.

During a recent photo shoot, memories of Stephens' days as a motorcycle MP in Algiers, Rome and London rolled through his mind after Bally Technologies executive Bruce Rowe drove a replica olive-drab Harley-Davidson into the compound.

The 2002 customized messenger motorcycle with Gatling gun exhaust pipes and bayonet-handle foot pegs was built as a tribute to Rowe's father and grandfather, Army veterans of World War II and World War I.

"This is unbelievable," Stephens said. "It brings back memories from way back. I just wanted to jump on that motorcycle and take off."

Stephens, known as "Tex" because he was raised in Edinburg, Texas, was a salesman working in Battle Creek, Mich., when he was drafted on Jan. 21, 1941.

He was sent to Fort Brady on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, where the 702nd MP Battalion was formed in May 1941. Four months later, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson established the Military Police Corps as a branch of the Army.

Stephens was in Detroit on Dec. 7, 1941, when Japanese warplanes attacked Hawaii, prompting the entry of the United States into World War II. He sailed from Brooklyn, N.Y., aboard the Queen Elizabeth to northern Scotland, arriving in June 1942.

Stephens trained motorcycle riders at an airfield at Rushden, England. As a sergeant in a traffic section, he was assigned to Gen. Dwight Eisenhower's Bushy Park camp in London with the 888th MP Company of the Army's Eighth Air Force.

In November 1942, Stephens' motorcycle unit was sent to Oran, Algeria, and renamed the 281st MP Company. They directed convoy landings on North Africa's Mediterranean coast and assisted Maj. Gen. George S. Patton's troops emerging from Casablanca to prepare for the invasion of Sicily.

In Algiers, Stephens' company took custody of surrendering German and Italian soldiers, and worked as crowd-control for celebrity USO tours including Frank Sinatra's three-day visit in 1943.

That same year, Stephens' team provided a nighttime motorcade escort for President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had arrived in North Africa to travel to the Tehran Conference and meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin.

Later during the war, he patrolled the streets of Rome to keep order among combat-hardened soldiers visiting the city on liberty passes.

Stephens was honorably discharged in October 1945.

After the war, Stephens made a career as a real estate manager for a Minneapolis-based retail chain store, Gamble-Skogmo Inc. He retired in 1971 and went into business as a consultant and owner of nursing homes and developer of about 20 retirement centers. He moved to Las Vegas from Clearwater, Fla., in 1992.

His three-word recipe for longevity: "Tender loving care."

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