March 2, 2009 – Saturday afternoon saw a group of family members and friends come together at Pickett Rucker United Methodist Church to pay homage to PFC. Billy Edward Stevenson as part of Black History Month.
Stevenson was killed by enemy fire in Vietnam in 1966. Through the efforts of Annette Stafford and others, a portion of Baddour Parkway was named for him in 2008. A table full of pictures, citations, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart were on display.
Mary Harris, president of the Roy Bailey Museum and director of the Black History organization in Wilson County, welcomed everyone and introduced Don Hatcher, who delivered a prayer. Patricia Marable, Stevenson's sister, then introduced Howard Wigginton, the keynote speaker who had done all the research on Stevenson's service time and the circumstances of his death.
"It's a blessing we can share stories," said Wigginton. "Billy was a class A student and an outstanding ball player when he graduated from high school in 1965. He volunteered for the Army right out of school and wanted to be a paratrooper. He went through basic training and jump school and was assigned to the 101st.
"Vietnam had erupted and Billy knew he was facing combat. He fought in several engagements prior to ending up in the Battle of Trung Luong, one of the bloodiest and most horrible battles to be fought in any war and one that should be listed up there with the Battle of the Bulge, etc. An infantryman, rifleman and assistant machine gunner, Billy went into that battle along with 37 others on June 19, 1966. I learned later only six came out of it."
This was only part of the story and all the Stevenson family had been told by the Army. The family had a lot of unanswered questions and a hard time making any closure over Billy's death. Then, a lot of years later, Marable and Wigginton ended up working at the same place. They became friends and would talk. One day, Marable was in Wigginton's office staring at something. He asked her what she was looking at and she pointed to a flag sitting there. He told her it was his father's flag.
"Her eyes filled up with tears and she told me she a brother killed in Vietnam. I asked her what had happened. She said she didn't know. All she knew was some men came to her parent's house and said he'd been killed, but had no answers on what happened," he reflected.
"I had just gotten started into computers at the time and as she'd come up with a bit of information, I'd research it," said Wigginton. "Finally, I put out a message asking if anyone had known Billy. It took about a year, but I finally received word from Lt. Colonel Retired Chuck Beagle of Oklahoma who had been Billy's platoon leader. He came to visit us in person and it was from him we learned the rest of the story."
It seems Billy was in a creek bed when he was hit twice in the side by AK47 fire. He went down and was taken to a field hospital. He was alive when they took him away, but died the following day. He told them Billy was an outstanding and absolute soldier who followed orders to a "T."
"People I care about are not heart heavy anymore," said Marable. "What had bothered me all those years was that he didn't have time to make his peace with God, but now I know he lived long enough to do that."
Wigginton reiterated once more on how horrible the Battle of Trung Luong was and suggested to anyone who wanted to read about it, check out the book or movie titled "We Were Soldiers Once and Young.'
An elderly aunt of Stevenson, Catherine Smith, had come in from Detroit for the tribute.
At the end of the program, questions were raised as to getting the marker corrected that was placed on Baddour Parkway because it lists Stevenson as a Private instead of PFC.
Everyone agreed there is a distinct difference in the two ranks and they would pursue the correction.