SF veteran fights for Korean War memorial

Wayne Freedman Image
ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Monday, May 26, 2014
United States Marine Corps retired Lt. Col. John Stevens sits at his desk
United States Marine Corps retired Lt. Col. John Stevens

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A 93-year-old Bay Area Korean War veteran is telling his story of battle and survival, in the hopes of preventing future conflicts. He's dedicated to building a memorial in the Presidio.

In an office four flights above Van Ness Avenue, United States Marine Corps retired Lt. Col. John Stevens still goes to work every day, even at 93. He is diligent, as always.

The stuff on his office wall tells only part of his story. If you look around, you can see how these days, Stevens remains fiercely dedicated to raising $1 million more for a Korean War memorial in the Presidio.

"We need to have people know about wars so that we can hopefully prevent wars in the future," said Stevens.

He not only knows about the wars, he experienced them. From the attack on Pearl Harbor in World War II to that same war in Korea, to a difficult battle in the dead of winter for the Chosin Reservoir. There were 20,000 Marines that were surrounded by more than 100,000 communist Chinese in temperatures of -40, at times.

When asked what it was like being surrounded like that, Stevens replied, "Gave you lots of targets."

There were 3,000 Marines who died in that battle and 6,000 were wounded. Today, just 101 of them remain alive.

When all but one are gone, hopefully, he'll still be able to make it to the Marines Memorial Association in San Francisco, where anyone can eat in the restaurant and bar. And if you look in the corner of the bar, there is a last man bottle -- a bottle of brandy. That's something that might have been a profound luxury on one of those cold Korean nights in 1950, but all these decades later, there is a twist to such bottles.

It's for the last surviving man of that battle. It's not the last two or three.

"It will be a very sad day," said Stevens.

There will be one more sad day to come, after a war filled with them.

So far, the fundraising effort to build a Korean War Memorial in San Francisco has raised more than $1.6 million. The goal is $3.5 million. If you would like to donate, you can do so at the Korean War Memorial Foundation's website.