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John K. Stephenson


No. 19707 17 June 1931 28 February 2016          


Died: Olympia, WA


Cremated. Interred in Tahoma National Cemetery, Kent, WA


John Kent ‘Steve’ Stephenson was born in West Union, OH to J. Arthur and Lucile Stephenson on June 17, 1931. Most conscientious and with many interests and a love of adventure, Steve became an Eagle Scout at age 14 and soon after began running the rifle range at a nearby BSA camp. He joined the Ohio National Guard following his sophomore year of high school, attaining the rank of staff sergeant. Then, after his 1949 graduation from Manchester High School in southern Ohio, he joined the Air Force and served on active duty until entering West Point with the Class of 1954 on July 5, 1950.

Steve was assigned to Company A-1, a flanker company with high esprit de corps. He quickly demonstrated that he was a good student and that the cadet routine, even during plebe year, would not be a problem. An all-around athlete, he played “C” squad football and was a major asset on A-1 intramural teams.

Always busy with cadet activities, Steve made many friends across the Corps who shared his numerous and varied interests. In addition to his membership in the Russian Club and four years as a Howitzer representative, fellow A-1 classmates soon learned that he had a major passion for music, a fact he readily demonstrated by participating as a member of both the Cadet Chapel Choir and the Glee Club. In addition to his love of singing, with his deep bass voice, Steve enjoyed playing the trumpet in the Cadet Orchestra. Classmates recall his quick mind, his gravelly voice, his good nature, and his willingness to always help others.

After graduating from West Point and receiving an Air Force commission, Steve took primary flying training at Stallings Air Base in Kinston, NC. His bachelorhood ended quite quickly during this assignment when he met, courted, and wed Virginia Randolph.

Following basic flying training in multi-engine aircraft, Steve received his pilot wings in 1955 and was assigned to the 75th Air Transport Squadron at Travis Air Force Base (AFB), CA. For nearly two years Steve flew C-97 Strat cruisers, transporting military passengers and dependents to overseas points all around the Pacific basin. Debi, Steve and Virginias first child, was born during this time.

After training in the C-124 cargo aircraft, an assignment with the 48th Air Transport Squadron at Hickam AFB, HI was next. During this tour he became an aircraft commander, accumulated several thousand flying hours in the C-124, and was able to enjoy island life with Virginia, Debi, and their new-born son Mike (’80) between flights. They lived in Kailua on the windward side of Oahu, where Steve got in many rounds of golf at the nearby Kaneohe Marine Corps Course between his MATS missions. As he did whenever he had the option, Steve chose to live on the economy and be part of the local neighborhood.

Steve then attended the USAF Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH for two years, earning an MS in nuclear engineering, following which he applied his knowledge to projects for the Aerospace Technical Center. Their daughter Gwen was born on this assignment.

Assigned to Dover AFB, DE for the next three years, Steve flew C-124s for the 31st Air Transport Squadron, accumulating many more air hours. Randi, their fourth child, was born during this tour. Squadron picnics and other outings enhanced the family’s stay in Dover.

In 1966, Steve was assigned to the U.S. Military Mission in Zaire on an accompanied tour, which was an adventure for all of the family. He flew weekly to Brazzaville and other larger cities and also piloted trips for the U.S.-sponsored president of Zaire. An incident in which American dependents were deemed to be in danger resulted in the mid-tour evacuation of Virginia and the kids to Wiesbaden, Germany and their subsequent move to Virginia’s hometown of Kinston.

Returning to the continental United States following his Africa tour, Steve was assigned to the Armed Forces Staff College, followed by a classified job with the Defense Intelligence Agency until 1974.

While working in the DC area, Steve lived in a fixer-upper in Fairhaven, MD overlooking the Chesapeake Bay. He stayed involved in his kids’ lives by driving down to see them in North Carolina on weekends and holidays and providing adventurous summer vacation opportunities for them at his home. Jean joined the family when she married Steve in 1971, and soon after Debi joined the newlyweds in Maryland.

Steve retired exactly 20 years after his West Point graduation, with 24 years of longevity including his pre-USMA service. Steve, Jean, and Debi then moved to Yelm, WA, where Steve progressed from part-time agent to vice president for a realty firm. Specializing in assisting military families, he founded a real estate firm, later adding investment and travel consulting. He was also active as a board member for TROA and the Yelm Chamber of Commerce. His major retirement interest was playing poker,  at which he was exceedingly successful. A true numbers guy, he was always multiplying, dividing, and figuring percentages in his head, and he studied the game and his opponents. He traveled to increasingly larger tourneys and his winnings drew considerable attention. One newspaper telling of his success jokingly captioned his picture “Dewey Cheatum wins another tournament.” A classmate saw him on one of Steve’s many trips to Reno, NV, where he more than held his own with the country’s elite poker players.

Steve was intelligent, good natured, most competent in all that he did, and a friend to many. Rest in peace, Steve, on this, your final flight.


Originally published in TAPS, Summer 2016

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