Not everyone has a bodyguard but 95-year-old Leonard Stevens does. The World War II glider pilot has Vonnie Wallace. She doesn’t accompany him armed with a pistol although when they first met, Wallace said she had one.
The unassuming duo met a few years ago when Stevens, who has a paralyzed arm from a war wound, asked her as she passed his house while walking her dog if Wallace could help him move a table.
She said okay, but told him she was “packing” a nine millimeter. If someone was behind the door who intended to do her harm, she would shoot because she was a great shot. Unfazed, Stevens replied if there was someone behind the door who didn’t belong there, she should fire. It was the start, as the expression goes, of a beautiful friendship.
In 1938 while the Great Depression lingered he joined the army at the age of 17.
He was hungry, Stevens explained. His father, a first sergeant during the Great War, told him how to use the system to his benefit.
He volunteered as a glider pilot and was sent to Rome, Naples, and Africa, even meeting Pope Pius XII on one occasion. Stevens wears a hat emblazoned with ‘WWII Combat Glider Pilot.’ It isn’t worn for show. He actually was a glider pilot in Operation Dragoon that in 1944 freed southern France. He lost 40 percent of his friends, killed the night before by Germans before they could clear his landing. His glider crashed, he was badly injured, and had to wait three days before rescue arrived.
He spent three years recuperating. Stevens retired as an Army Air Corps officer in 1949 and worked as a TV repair technician. His wife of 69 years, who bore two children, traveled the world with him until she passed away four years ago, WUNC reported.
Wallace and Stevens have gotten to know each other well, so well that she has learned his war stories and can fill in spaces if he forgets. She also does his paperwork. The symbiotic relationship works well despite her being approximately 40 years younger. Her husband had been in the military as was her father. She checks on Stevens daily.
In September Stevens was awarded the French Legion of Honour for his service in the Second World War. He is the last of the combat glider pilots.