- Name: Stephen "Steve" Arthur Austin
- Location of Birth: Janesville, Wisconsin
- Date of Birth: March 14, 1918
- Date of Death: November 6, 1999 (81 years old)
- Parents: George Austin and Alice (McCullough) Austin
- High School and Class: 1935 - Rosholt High School, Rosholt, South Dakota (Valedictorian)
- Highest Rank: CPL (Corporal)
- Branch: Marine Corp
- Other Branch:
- Date Sworn In: March 24, 1944
- Place Sworn In: Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Date of Discharge: December 7, 1945
- Place of Discharge: United States Naval Ship Yard, Mare Vallejo Island, California
Units and Locations:
Start Date End Date Unit(s) and Location(s) Served October, 1944 March, 1945 Guadalcanal - British Solomon Islands April, 1945 July, 1945 Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands July, 1945 September, 1945 Guam - Mount Tapotchau September, 1945 November, 1945 Tsing Tao, China
- Military Awards:
- Military Highlights:
Bronze Star Medal
"In the name of the President of the United States, the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, takes pleasure in awarding the BRONZE STAR MEDAL to PRIVATE FIRST CLASS STEPHEN A. AUSTIN, UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS RESERVE for service as set forth in the following CITATION:
"For heroic achievement while attached to a Marine tank battalion during operations against the enemy on OKINAWA SHIMA, RYUKYU ISLANDS, on 12 May, 1945. While serving as a tank crewman, Private First Class AUSTIN dismounted from his disable tank ahead of the infantry lines, and despite enemy machine gun and rifle fire, aided his wounded tank commander to the cover of another tank and then to safety. His courageous act, accomplished under perilous conditions, and his unselfish concern for a wounded comrade were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service." This award was signed by Roy S. Geiger, Lieutenant General, United States Marine Corps.
Received certification from Russell C. Shepherd, Jr, Major General of the United States Marine Corps Commanding 6th Marine Division, certifying that Corporal Stephen A. Austin, United States Marine Corps Reserve participated in the ceremony at the surrender of Japanese Military Forces in the area of Tsingtao, China, 25 October, 1945.
Article written by George Grim (no date):
"Steve Austin, the ex-marine who is vice president of Triangle Transportation, a bus company operating out of Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Like every returned serviceman, Steve had his favorite story. Unlike most of his buddies, he did something about it. It turns tragedy into a spectacularly happy ending.
It was Easter Sunday of 1945 when Steve, a member of the Sixth Tank Battalion, Sixth Marine division, landed on Okinawa. For three months, he and his fellow marines covered the island completely.
"Misery and memories," Steve would say in telling the story that had haunted him since one morning in May.
"We were near Itoman on the southwest coast," Steve would say. "Our tank was awaiting orders to attack one of the ridges. We looked around in the fields--saw nothing.
"There were the bodies of a father, his son, his daughter. We guessed that the father had cut his children's throats and killed himself.
"The father and brother were dead. The little girl's throat wound was not as deep. She was still breathing."
So Steve and his tank companions made a stretcher, carried her to the tank. Steve administered first aid.
"She was terrified at first," says Steve. "But soon she knew we were trying to help her as we dressed her wounds. Suddenly, she smiled the most beautiful smile I ever saw. That meant "Thank you" in any language."
Steve's tank radioed for permission to move out of formation, to carry the wounded child, who was about 10 years old, back to a compound where she could receive more medical care.
"We put her on top of the tank, handed her over to medics, then drove the tank back into formation." Steve would say. Then there would be a pause in his story.
Someone would always ask:
"Ever hear what happened to the girl?"
Again and again this happened, until last September. Steve decided to find out. It seemed hopeless, but he did want to know.
"I have four daughters," says Steve. "The oldest, Karen, is 11 now. Reminds me of that little girl I found."
First, Steve asked the Rev. Gerald Thompson in Thief River Falls about missionaries. Were there any on Okinawa? Through the pastor he got the name of a young man who was on Okinawa as a relief worker with LARA--licenses agencies for relief in Asia. He wrote that young man, Bob Smith.
The reply gave him hope:
"At first it seemed, almost as you suggested, hopeless.
"However, after talking with the people in the army's information and education department, this was decided upon:
There are three newspapers with large circulation in Okinawa, so the first thing to do was give them as complete a description as possible and let them try to locate the child. We also will write a description of her and have it sent to all of the school teachers on Okinawa and the adjacent islands. She ought to be in school now."
And had anybody seen her around Iotman--where Steve first found her?
"There are people who think they remember seeing a girl of about the right age near Itoman who had a scar about the throat. We'll follow that one."
Steve waited for weeks. Then, in came a photograph.
"That's the girl," said Steve. There was the telltale scar, from the base of her throat half-way around her neck.
But the smile was as much of an identification, too. The same, suddenly trusting smile the child flashed at the boys that morning at the tank.
Already Steve had sent clothing packages to the girl, whose name is Misae. She wears a size 14 dress, speaks no English. She could use some food. And the local high school would be delighted to translate any of Steve's letters.
9 Han, Oroku ku, Oroku Mura." And who lives there?
An aunt and uncle, who had been searching for Misae, read Steve's appeal in an Okinawa newspaper. The child has a home now.
Everybody on Okinawa, it seems knows the story. Says Smith's last letter:
"The story of your interest in that little girl has been a wonderful inspiration to the people of Okinawa. You said in your last letter you wished you could do a lot more than send packages to Misae. You have done far more by remembering a child whom you only knew for a few minutes.
"People on Okinawa talk of it everywhere--editorials in the papers, sermons in the churches. As one paper puts it:
"This story is about a very beautiful human friendship that was born on the battlefield...."
Steve Austin, ex-marine of Thief River Falls, has indeed done more than he ever can know! He has told, this first Sunday of Lent, the wondrous story of triumph over tragedy, of a new and glorious life that was born of suffering and belief."
Ken Hickman, in his May 8, 2011, Shooting the Rapids column in the Grand Rapids Herald Review, addressed the Minneapolis Tribune column by George Grim. Mr. Hickman added: "Mr. and Mrs. Austin and their daughters later moved to Grand Rapids where he retired from an outstanding career as a driver license examiner for the State and a church and civic leader. All of us who knew and treasured Steve understood that he was really one of the good ones--but this is the first time we've heard this story."
Information from Karen (Allen) Gilbertson--Military Career Highlights
If my dad were alive he could do a much more detailed write-up on this.
I remember him talking about spending Christmas Eve in a fox hole and hearing artillery in the background. Then from one of the fox holes someone started singing "Silent Night" and then everyone from the fox holes starting singing. Very touching memory.
In the Media section of the website, there are additional pictures from the Stephen Austin collection, including a picture of the southern tip of Okinawa, Sugar Loaf Hole, and Taps at the 6th Marine Division Cemetery on Okinawa.
- Wars Involved:
World War II
- MIA / POW:
- Civilian Life:
In 1933, Stephen Austin earned the Eagle Scout rank. There is a picture of Stephen as an Eagle Scout in the Media section of the website.
Information from Karen (Allen) Gilbertson--Life After Serving:
"Our dad returned home to his wife and three daughters. A fourth daughter was born later.
A very important part of his life was to attend his 6th Tank Battalion of the 6th Marine Division-Company A reunion each year. They were hosted by members of the Battalion all over the United States. The wives usually attended and events were planned for them during the day. I feel during this time the men talked about the horrific things they saw and had to do to survive. After World War II, they didn't talk much of their war memories and little was known how to help them cope. So probably being able to talk to one another was their therapy. One thing I remember him telling was finding a billfold on a body, which you had to make sure wasn't booby trapped and seeing a picture of a woman and children. At that moment you realized the enemy too had wives and children.
Our family knew that the saying, "Once a Marine always a Marine" very much described our Dad. We were proud of him marching in uniform in parades, attending funeral services for vets. He served on the draft board for several years and also served as Commander of the American Legion in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. My mother was a faithful member of the Auxiliary there and in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
Our dad was very much a perfectionist in any job he did--right down to his highly shined shoes! God, Country, and Family were his life. I would say his oath as an Eagle Scout, at age 14, stayed true to his whole life,
Austin Hall, at Camp Hiawatha in Deer River, Minnesota was named after Stephen and Hazel Austin in the fall of 1999. Stephen and Hazel, along with daughters, Kathy, Karen, Jean, and Geri attended the ceremony.
He was buried on November 10, 1999, which was the anniversary of the formation of the United States Marine Corps. The Marine's Hymn was played at the recessional at his funeral.
Steve was united in marriage to Hazel Arneson in 1935. He lived in Thief River Falls, Minnesota for several years, where he was a co-owner of Custom Motor Garage and Car Dealership. He also worked for Triangle Bus Lines.
He was past commander of Ecklund Holmstrom American Legion Post 117 in Thief River Falls, Minnesota.
In 1953, Steve started working for the State of Minnesota as a driver's license examiner. He moved to Grand Rapids in 1959, where he became driver's license exam supervisor for the northern region of Minnesota, until his retirement in 1983.
He was active in the Itasca YMCA, Grand Rapids High School sports and activities, and the Coffee Club at the Home Town Café, in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. He was a member of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce, the American Legion Post, Itasca Twirlers and Zion Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.
He is survived by his wife, Hazel; daughters Karen (Allen) Gilbertson, Geri (David) Stout, Jeanne Hartje, and Kathy (Gary) Patten; a cousin Bill Bertelson; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Buried at Itasca Calvary Cemetery in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. (Plot C-A-16-2-4)
- Tribal Affiliation(s):