There is a group of veterans that meets for breakfast at Denny’s each Monday at 7:30 am. To qualify for joining this breakfast group which is called “Been Shot At” or BSA, you need to have been shot at in a combat situation. Almost the entire group is made up of pilots and most from the Korea and Vietnam Wars. Paul W. Stephens holds the distinction of being the oldest member and having been shot at over more countries than probably any other “BSA” member.
Stephens, now 95, is the oldest member hands down. His DD214 form barely has enough space on the form to include all of his areas of service and all of his awards.
Stephens was born in Temple on September 10, 1916. His dad worked for the railroad and he attended and completed all of his schooling in Temple. While in high school he worked at Woods Drug Store, one of the more popular spots in Temple in those days. He continued his education at Texas A&M in 1934, in the middle of the Great Depression. He became a member of the Class of 1938, graduating in May of 1938.
Upon graduation from A&M with an Architectural Engineering degree, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army as a cavalry officer. He did not remain on active duty long, and returned to civilian life. With the war clouds building in Europe and the Pacific, he was called back to active duty on August 11, 1941, prior to the start of World War II. His time of service to his country would extend from that date to almost 32 years before he retired in 1970 as a Colonel in the Air Force.
When Stephens returned to active duty as a 1st Lieutenant, the cavalry was being dismantled so he volunteered for and was accepted into flight school. He completed his basic flight school and advanced flight training at Victorville, California. With the start of World War II, Stephens was among the first of the Army Air Corps to be sent to England.
Because of Stephens’s age and rank, he became the commander of his bomber squadron. As the squadron commander, he was responsible for leading his squadron on its various missions and was also responsible for sending letters to the families of those who did not return from missions.
During the early part of the war in Europe, there were a lot of losses. The losses were sometimes as much as 50 to 60 percent of the planes sent on those early missions over France and later Germany. That meant a lot of letters had to be sent to the families of those who did not return from those missions. Stephens was also involved in missions in north Africa when it was invaded by Allied forces.
Now at 95, Stephens has difficulty remembering the particulars of those missions but he did remember a young English girl he met and whose parents would not let her go to the U.S. after the war. He can no longer recall how many missions he flew during World War II, but records indicate he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944. He was also awarded the Crois De Guerre with a Red Star by the French government after the war in Europe ended. Although he cannot recall today the reasons for those awards, they are not awarded because he flew a desk.
With the war's end, Stephens decided that flying and the Air Force would be his career. He later served in Korea and eventually retired from active duty with the Air Force on June 22, 1970.
Life has been long and good for Stephens but one thing he looks forward to each week is breakfast with his brothers in arms, the BSA group. It is a group of men he is comfortable being around and a group he admires, and is admired by in return.
Stephens' story originally ran in The Eagle in April 2012.
If you know a World War II, Korean, or Vietnam War veteran whose story should be told, contact the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial at www.bvvm.org or Bill Youngkin at 979-776-1325.