When 21-year-old boxer Steve dePyssler joined the U.S. Army in 1941, it was because he wanted to box for the Army. He enlisted just before Pearl Harbor was attacked, and it’s probably safe to say that when he boarded that train in Chicago that would take him on his new adventure, he didn’t have a clue he would end up serving in four wars and hold every enlisted, warrant and commissioned officer rank in the Army and the U.S. Air Force.
Particularly since there was no U.S. Air Force when dePyssler enlisted. At that time, the USAF was a division of the Army – the U.S. Army Air Corps. But by the time dePyssler retired almost four decades later, however, there was an USAF and he was a Colonel in it. A full-bird colonel.
But retirement for Steve dePyssler didn’t mean kicking back and trading war stories with other veterans at down at the VFW Hall, though he’s done some of that – along with everything else - along the way.
In fact, when he retired from active duty in 1979, dePyssler was just getting started.
As a retiree himself, he saw first-hand the difficulty getting through bureaucratic red tape to access benefits to which veterans are entitled; and he also saw how many veterans, and widows of veterans, didn’t even know the benefits they were entitled to.
Since dePyssler and Gloria, his wife (now of 70 years) had their home in Bossier Parish, dePyssler did what he had done throughout his life – he bloomed where he was planted. He started helping veterans - and their widows – plow through the mountains of paperwork necessary to access money, goods and services available to them.
Possibly because dePyssler had held every enlisted, non-commissioned and commissioned officer rank up to colonel in the Army and Air Force, he was as sensitive to the needs of the lowest ranks in the Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy and Coast Guard, as he was the officers.
Through the eyes of Steve dePyssler, everyone who has honorably served in any branch of the military, regardless of the rank, is a hero. And dePyssler has spent the last 33 years wading through red tape for every hero who has come to him for help.
Saturday night, more than 200 of those heros gathered at Barksdale Air Force Base to say “Thank You” and celebrate dePyssler’s 95th birthday, which becomes official at 12:01 a.m. Monday.
He is the only known American to have served in four wars, including World War II, Korean, French IndoChina and Vietnam.
dePyssler worked tirelessly to help countless veterans, family members and widows with myriad issues. He worked with the state legislature to develop the Louisiana Veterans Honor Medal and other legislation.
He was instrumental in the development of the Northwest Louisiana War Veterans Home, the War Memorial at the Bossier City Civic Center and the Purple Heart Stamp.
dePyssler organized and served as host of numerous luncheons and events to honor Medal of Honor recipients, including the 2002 Medal of Honor convention in Shreveport, at which the late Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf gave the keynote address. Schwarzkopf commanded coalition forces during the Gulf War.
In addition, dePyssler put together POW/Purple Heart members and veterans from all wars. Devoted to the Ark-La-Tex Military Officers Association of American Chapter Scholarship Fund, dePyssler is founder and editor of two military and retiree newspapers for 20,000 readers.
Air Force Lt. Col. (Ret.) George Finck served as the master of ceremonies. Welcoming remarks were provided by Air Force Capt. (Ret.) Dave Jampole, president of the Ark-La-Tex Military Officers Association of America, and the invocation and benediction were given by Rev. Dr. Donald Webb, President Emeritus of Centenary College. The National Anthem and music was sung by the This-N-That Quartet.
La. State Representative and Army Lt. Col. (Ret.) Henry Burns presented a special recognition plaque for dePyssler by Gov. Bobby Jindal. Louisiana state Sen. and Marine Corps veteran Robert Adley was the guest speaker and remarked how men like dePyssler make this country how great it is.
Remarks were made by others, including Army Col. (Ret.) Ted Cox, Judicial Administrator with the Caddo Juvenile Justice Center; Air Force Col. (Ret.) Jack Lee; Air Force CMSgt (Ret.) Elmore Owens; Doug Rimmer, president of the Bossier Parish Police Jury; and Doug Dominick, president of the Caddo Parish Commission.