Allen Stevens was a 20-year-old Army sergeant when he earned a Purple Heart in a German field.
But he didn’t receive the honor until Saturday, when former U.S. Rep. Ike Skelton presented his medal.
“It means all the world to me,” said Stevens, 87, of Lawson. “It brings back memories as though we are fighting the war over again. I am very thankful to be here.”
Stevens, who grew up in Chariton County, Mo., enlisted in the Army on March 1, 1943, when he was 18. The Army kept him stateside for about a year before sending him to Europe as a combat infantryman with the 65th Infantry Division.
In late March 1945, the division broke through the Siegfried Line near Saarlautern, Germany.
“We were traveling just like a streak of lightning,” Stevens said. “There was very little resistance.”
The next morning his major came to him with a request.
“‘I have a bad job that I hate to wish off on you,’ ” Stevens recalled the major saying. “ ‘You’re the only one I trust to do it and come out alive.’ ”
The major wanted him to go back to a field near where they had broken through. The corpse of a German civilian was there, and someone needed to check the body.
Stevens returned with a driver and the two worked their way down a path. The driver rummaged through the civilian’s pockets, checking for anything of interest.
As they finished, the driver stepped off the path and onto a mine, which blew off one of his legs. A second explosion threw Stevens into the air. He landed on the path and fractured a vertebra.
“It has given me considerable trouble ever since,” he said. “But I have to say that Uncle Sam has taken great care of me.”
A clerical error was to blame for the delay in Stevens’ receiving his Purple Heart, said Freddie Dunn, service officer for VFW Post 6278 in Lawson. He learned of the situation while helping Stevens with benefit claims.
Stevens was near tears when Skelton presented the medal Saturday afternoon at Lawson Bible Church, Dunn said.
“It is important for every veteran who served his country and was wounded to receive his Purple Heart,” Dunn said. “And he deserves it. He put his life on the line for the freedom of the people of Europe and for the freedom of the American people. ”