Joseph L. Stephenson, 93, a decorated Army captain who retired in 1962 and then spent 20 years as a social studies and history teacher in Prince George’s County Public Schools, died Feb. 26 at the Washington Home hospice in the District. He had pancreatic cancer.
The death was confirmed by his son-in-law Glenn Ivey, former Prince George’s County State’s Attorney.
After joining the Army in 1942, Capt. Stephenson served in Europe during World War II in the all-black 92nd Infantry Division, which saw much combat and had high casualty rates.
The division — which took its nickname “Buffalo Soldiers” from the 19th century black cavalrymen who fought in the American Indian wars — became the subject of the James McBride novel and 2008 Spike Lee film “Miracle at St. Anna.”
During the Korean War, Capt. Stephenson was company commander of an early integrated unit. He received the Silver Star in 1952 for his actions during the Battle of Triangle Hill. According to his award citation, he voluntarily ran a telephone line despite intense enemy fire and “reorganized a section of machine guns from his company, moving from foxhole to foxhole encouraging and assisting his men.”
Despite being wounded, he helped move more seriously injured soldiers to safety. He also “checked all defensive machine gun positions before he allowed himself to leave his position on this hill.”
His other decorations included two awards of the Bronze Star Medal, two awards of the Purple Heart and the Army Commendation Medal.
Joseph Leander Stephenson was born in Petersburg, Va., and raised in Goldsboro, N.C. He was a 1941 graduate of the historically black North Carolina A&T State University. He later taught ROTC at Howard University.
In Prince George’s County, he was a teacher and coached football and track. He spent about a decade each at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro and then High Point High School in Beltsville.
He was a resident of Leisure World retirement community in Silver Spring before moving to his daughter’s home in Cheverly about five years ago. His memberships included Cheverly United Methodist Church, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Alcoholics Anonymous. He did volunteer work with the Boy Scouts.
His marriages to Frances Stephenson and Shirlita Hutchins ended in divorce. His third wife, Genevieve Abel Stephenson, whom he married in 1968, died in 2006.
Survivors include two children from his second marriage, Sheridan “Steve” Stephenson of Gotha, Fla., and Maryland Del. Jolene Ivey (D) of Cheverly; and five grandsons.
— Adam Bernstein