STEPHEN H WARNER

STEPHEN H WARNER - SP4

  • HOMETOWN:
  • skillman
  • COUNTY:
  • Somerset
  • DATE OF BIRTH:
  • February 21, 1946
  • DATE OF CASUALTY:
  • February 14, 1971
  • BRANCH OF SERVICE:
  • Army
  • RANK:
  • SP4
  • STATUS:
  • KIA
  • COUNTRY:
  • South Vietnam

Biography


Stephen H. Warnerwas born on February 21, 1946.  His home of record is Skillman, NJ.

He was drafted into the US Army in June 1969 and he attained the rank of SP4.

Warner was killed in an ambush near the Laotian border on February 14, 1971, just before he was to return to the United States.  He is buried in Princeton Cemetery.

The following was taken in part from the exhibit brochure, "Words and Pictures from The Vietnam War," at the Montgomery Center for the Arts, Skillman, NJ, in May 2002.

Stephen Warner grew up in Montgomery Township where he attended public schools, which then included high school in Princeton.  From 1964 to 1968, Stephen majored in history at Gettysburg College.  After graduating Phi Beta Kappa, he went on to Yale Law School.  He was drafted in June 1969, after completion of his first year at Yale.  Upon finishing his army training at Fort Dix, he was ordered to a one-year tour of duty in Vietnam where he was assigned to the public relations staff of Army Headquarters - Vietnam.

Stephen was perceived by those who knew him to be open-minded and considerate of others, but intense about those social and ethical matters that concerned him most.  He is described by his former advisor at Gettysburg as having been "radically intellectual, a non-collegiate type interested in the arts, history and economics."  His former commanding officer in Vietnam describes Stephen as "one of the most compassionate men I've met in my life.  He had compassion and respect for the men and soldiers who fought in the war."

The period during which Stephen was a student at Gettysburg College was a relatively quiet one in terms of student concerns about United States involvement in Southeast Asia.  Personally, Stephen had doubts about the war, and was instrumental in establishing an Ad Hoc Committee against the Vietnam War.  Although everyone knew where he stood regarding the war, he had a sense of duty.  When drafted, he considered conscientious objector status, but could not bring himself to sign the required statement that he would not fight for his country under any circumstances.

As with every other aspect of his life, Stephen threw himself whole-heartedly into his duties in Vietnam.  And he tried to perform them in a way that he thought would be consistent with his principles.  His assignment involved writing feature stories about individual soldiers for distribution to their hometown newspapers.  In addition, Stephen wrote articles for military newspapers, including Stars and Stripes.  Always aware of what was expected of him - to put the best spin possible on stories about the Army for dissemination to the U.S. public, he nevertheless made every effort to report things as he saw them.

In doing his job, there was no requirement that he accompany troops into combat.  However, he felt compelled to report things firsthand, and spent most of his time in the field with the men about whom he was writing.  He disliked the way the press back home in America was beating up on the common soldier in Vietnam, and he made it his mission to portray the soldiers in a truthful manner.  In a letter to his parents, Stephen wrote, "Ignoring my original objections to coming over here (which I think are still valid, but all history now), I wouldn't give up what I'm doing here for the world."

Stephen's dedication to accurately portraying the experience of our soldiers in Vietnam can be seen clearly in the photos chosen for the exhibit.  In one of his letters, he drew a parallel between himself and the great World War II correspondent, Ernie Pyle:  "He hates war but loves the men who have to fight...that about sums me up too!"

His letters began to evidence a growing frustration over the Army's management of the news.  The command to "paint out beads" at the bottom margin of one of the photographs on exhibit is representative of such management by the headquarters' reviewers (i.e., censors).  The wearing of such bodily adornments, popularly known as Love Beads ("Make love, not war!") were not only in violation of military dress regulations, they were emotionally charged symbols of the anti-war protests being led by college students back home.

Stephen Warner was killed in an ambush near the Laotian border on February 14, 1971, just before he was scheduled to return to the United States.  Stephen is buried in Princeton Cemetery.  He bequeathed all of his personal papers to his alma mater where they are maintained as the Stephen H. Warner Memorial Collection in the college library.  They comprise some 4000 photographs and several boxes of journals, notebooks and letters.  In addition, Stephen specified that his estate be used in the field of Asian Studies, and to create an atmosphere of, as he put it, "intellectual excitement, doubt and challenge at the College."

Sources: Montgomery Center for the Arts and NJVVMF.

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