WWII Veteran Glider Pilot Has Special Bond His Best Friend And ‘Bodyguard’

Troop carrier Douglas C-47s tow Waco CG-4A gliders during the invasion of France in June 1944.
Troop carrier Douglas C-47s tow Waco CG-4A gliders during the invasion of France in June 1944.

Leonard Stevens is a World War II veteran glider pilot.  To hear his story, you have to learn the story of the woman he refers to as his bodyguard.

The two are now as connected as Stevens is to his blue cap that says, “WWII Combat Glider Pilot.”

“I’m the last of the glider pilots living, and I wear this hat,” Stevens said. “We walk into any place and people start talking to me: ‘What the Hell Is a Glider Pilot?”

Vonnie Wallace is Stevens’ neighbor.  They met a few years ago and have been friends ever since.  They met when she was walking her dog in front of his home.  Stevens, who has a paralyzed arm from wounds he received in the war, asked her to help him move a table.

She agreed but informed him that she was carrying a 9mm and that if someone in the house wanted to hurt her, they would get shot.

Stevens laughed.  He told here that anyone behind the door did not belong there and she should shoot them.

Since then, they have grown close enough that she can fill in the gaps in his war stories.  She filled in all the paperwork to get the French Legion of Honor, which he received in September.

Stevens joined the Army in 1938, before the war. He was 17 and the Great Depression still ravaged the country. He joined the service because he was hungry.

Stevens volunteered to be a glider pilot. He was sent to Africa, Naples and Rome.  He even got to meet Pope Pius the XII.

In 1944, he was sent to France for Operation Dragoon, which attempted to liberate southern France.

“Forty percent of my buddies got killed,” Stevens said. The paratroopers that were supposed to clear the landing site for the gliders were killed the night before.  Stevens crashed and sustained massive injuries and was only rescued days later.

It took him years to recover from the wounds he received that day.  He retired in 1949 as an Army Air Corps officer.  He got a job as a television repairman.  He and his wife were married 69 years and raised two kids.

His wife died four years ago, and Stevens just drifted until he met Wallace, 89.3 KPCC reported.

Someone asked him who Wallace was and she said she was his bodyguard.  Now, even though there is 40 years’ difference between them, they feel like they are part of the same military family.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE