William J. Stephenson was born October 7, 1895 and grew up at Basehor, Kansas. He graduated from Basehor High School in 1913. In 1917 he graduated from Park College at Parkville, Missouri, and one month later, July 30, 1917, he enlisted in the army at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas to serve in WWI.
He was sent to Jefferson Barracks and then to Camp Robinson, Wisconsin, with the heavy field artillery, and in December, 1917, was sent overseas with the Second Division, the Indianhead Division. He was stationed at Camp Valdahon for special training. After his early training, he served in the 2nd Division of the Army until he mustered out at Camp Dodge, Iowa August 14, 1919. During his entire service with the 2nd Division, he had charge of the communication of the battery.
The 2nd Infantry Division was born on 26 October 1917, at Bourmont, France. The 2nd Division is the only division formed on foreign soil and during WW1, it was the only time in U.S. military history when Marine Corps officers commanded an Army Division. The division was commanded twice by Marine Corps generals, Brigadier General C.A. Doyen and Major General John A. Lejeune.
The Division spent the winter of 1917-1918 training with French and Scottish Army veterans. Though judged unprepared by French tacticians, the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) was committed to combat in the spring of 1918 in a desperate attempt to halt a German advance toward Paris. The Germans had been suffering for some time due to the British blockade. They were making a last effort to bring the war to an end. The Germans believed a strong push might bring the war to an end without the Americans being involved. General Pershing wanted the troops from The United States to fight with American units, but the English and French wanted the Americans to be assigned to the their units and to be under English or French control. Pershing was definitely against this, but Pershing could see that the Allies needed immediate help. So in the spring of 1918 he allowed the American troops to fight under control of the English or French. The 2nd Infantry Division drew its first blood in the Belleau-Wood. It helped shattered the four-year-old stalemate of trench warfare during the Chateau-Thierry campaign that followed. March 14, 1918, Wm Stevenson was in the Troyon sector near Verdun. He was then shifted to Chateau Thierry, where he remained until the offensive took place, and was then sent to Soissons. The Marines assigned to the 2nd Division performed in an outstanding manner. After the battle of Belleau-Wood, the French renamed it, “Wood of the Marine Brigade” in honor of their galant effort.
Later Pershing got his wish and the American troops in St. Mihiel and the Muse-Argonne Forrest fought under American control.
Stephenson fought at St. Mihiel. He was next engaged in the Aisne offensive at Argonne Meuse in the Champaign sector (a major part of the final allied offensive from Sept 26 to Nov. 11, 1918), and from there went to Argonne Forest offensive, where he remained until the armistice was signed November 11, 1918.
On 11 November 1918 the Armistice was declared, and the 2nd Infantry Division marched into Germany where it performed occupational duties until April of 1919.
Later, he was sent to Fortress Ehrenbreitstien on the Rhine River where he remained until July, 1919. He returned to the United States August 4, 1919. He was mustered out at Camp Dodge, Iowa.
The 2nd Division lost 1,964 killed in action and 9,782 wounded in action. These numbers include the Marines who served with the 2nd Division. The Indianhead Division fought in every major battle in WW1. It was considered by some to be the most decorated division of WW1.
Editor’s Note: The “most decorated unit of WW1” has also been attributed to the 93rd Infantry Division, which was an all Black American Unit that was totally under French control.
He was made corporal at Camp Robinson, Wisconsin, and promoted to sergeant at Troyon sector, Verdun.
Stephenson received a Croix De Guerre (Cross of War) on the Champaign front for distinguished service at Mont Blanc, France. He also has three certificates of citations for bravery in action.
Wm James Stephenson taught his first school at Easton, Kansas, and accepted a position at Basehor which he began in September, 1920. Sometime later he was teaching in Tonganoxie High School. This picture here is the 1927 Champion Tonganoxie basketball team. Wm Stevenson is the coach of that team. Sometime before 1933/34 Mr. Stevenson became associated with a Tonganoxie Bank. This bank was formed after the Farmers and Merchant’s bank was closed by the state banking commission in 1925. For a few years this bank was associated with a Leavenworth bank. It used the Farmers and Merchant’s bank building until 1933.
In 1933 the bank took a new charter and became the First State Bank of Tonganoxie. The bank moved to the SE corner of 4th and Bury Street, and Mr. Stevenson became the Cashier. Very soon he became the CEO/President and remained in that position for many years. He died on April 11, 1964.
Bill as he was called and his wife, Mable, belonged a card playing group known as the Owls. This club met for over 40 years. In the beginning they played Auction Bridge every two weeks. Many years later the club met less often. Usually the game began on Saturday about 8 PM and went until someone was the winer. Desert was served and people went home.
He was considered a very good person, a good manager and he was extremely well liked by most of the townspeople. He met everyone with a genuine smile.
A true story was told about a 10 year old boy going into the bank with his mother and demanding his money from the bank. They boy’ s mother was visibly upset. Mr. Stevenson pacified the boy by giving him a dime from the bank. Everyone was happy.
The story sums up how easily Mr. Stevenson handled the public.
Editor’s Note: Some of this information is located in “The History of Leavenworth County”, published in 1920.