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WWII vet volunteers time at museum as 100th birthday approaches

A WWII veteran's hat. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cory J. Mendenhall)

In only a couple of days he will turn 100 years old, but that didn’t stop Edward Stever on Sunday from his ritual of driving to the U.S. Army Airborne and Special Operations Museum to volunteer his time and share war stories.

He usually heads to the Pacific Theater section of the museum, where a movie plays of World War II, sharing stories with museum-goers about what it was really like to be there.

Stever, who served in the Army Air Corps for three years in the China, Burma, and India Theater of Operations as an aircraft radio operator, will turn 100 on March 22.

“He has volunteered at the ASOM since 2011 and has logged in over 2,400 hours,” said Jim Bartlinski, the museum’s director. “Ed is here every Sunday and still drives. Stever has a lifetime of experience to share about volunteerism, service to nation and heroism.”

Jimmie Hallis, the curator of the museum, said Sunday afternoon that Stever has a ritual.

“He goes to church on Sunday, then goes to his daughter’s house,” Hallis said. “They have a brunch, and he gets in his car and comes here. At the end of the day, he likes to lock the doors. Nobody gets to lock the doors until Mr. Stever decides its time to lock the doors. He is a great guy. He’s sharp as a whip.”

Stever, a widow, was married for 69 years to his wife, Shirley. His hometown is Buffalo, New York, where he was drafted to go into the war in 1943.

“I have a very nice house here in Fayetteville and I do all my yard work,” he said. “I maintain the inside of the house. I keep busy. I exercise every day.”

Stever was drafted in 1943 and went through basic training on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

After basic training, he got assigned to be a radio operator and was sent to several different schools, learning long-range radio and short-distance radio from planes to a tower.

“I basically had to keep in contact with all the destinations and bases that we would fly to, and keep the plane on a flight plan,” he said. “If we had severe weather, or we were shot at, I had to call in a S.O.S. to notify that we were having a problem.”

He flew in a transport squadron of C-46s, C-47s, and converted B-24s.

After school, he was sent to a small air base in what is now called Assam Valley on the eastern side of the Himalayan Mountains. “I was there about seven days, and then had orders to go to a place called Luliang, China. It was in the middle of nowhere. Our jobs were to fly over the Himalayan Mountains to transport bombs and airplane fuel into China. We would go from India into China. The supplies were all in India, and could only get into China by air.”

He said his job was 24 hours a day.

“It could be snowing,” he said. “It could be 40 below zero. We had to keep flying because the squadron of 20 planes I was in, it was our duty to transport gasoline or 500-pound bombs for the single-engine fighters called the ‘Flying Tigers.’”

He recalled several harrowing moments, including one when bullets passed through the aircraft seat he was sitting in only seconds after he got out of it.

“We nearly got shot out of the sky at 4 o’clock in the morning down in Burma taking a special mission of medical equipment and food,” he said. “It was a very dangerous mission to be flying around at 4 o’clock in the morning in pitch dark. We were right at the destination – a little dirt landing strip. And we had a lot of ground fire coming up. If I hadn’t released the seat belt to get up to look over the pilot’s shoulder, I would have been gone that night.”

On another occasion, a plane he was flying in at a high altitude plunged 6,000 feet in a wind pocket, but the pilot was able to recover.

He said he’s met a wide range of interesting people at the museum, including four-star generals, the late Sen. John McCain, Sen. Marco Rubio and the police chief of Boston.

He said he feels very fortunate to have lived 100 years and said he has only personally known one person to live over 100.

“I’ve had several people I knew, including my mother, who lived to be one month shy of 99,” he said.


© 2019 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.