(Nov. 9, 2012)
Veterans Day carries extra meaning for one faculty member at the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine, whose own personal ties with the military and those of his family run deep.
Dr. Stevan Thompson joined the faculty this year after 27 years on active duty in the Army. He retired at the rank of colonel.
His service included a 2005 deployment to Afghanistan, where he served with the 249th General Hospital at Bagram Air Base north of Kabul. There, he helped stabilize wounded troops for transport to a military medical center in Germany. He also cared for locals hurt by land mines, gunfire, accidents and disease.
Thompson and some other members of his unit received the Bronze Star for their service.
Thompson was born in Charlotte, and both of his parents were World War II Navy veterans. He graduated from N.C. State University in 1974 with a bachelor's degree in zoology. Throughout college, he knew he had a good chance of being drafted in the Vietnam War, but never was.
Following dental school and a residency in oral and maxillofacial pathology at Emory University in Atlanta, he taught oral and maxillofacial pathology at a university in South Africa. Afterward, he joined the Army to practice pathology, provide patient care and teach residents.
"It was a good opportunity," Thompson said of his decision to join the Army. "It was not necessarily my intent to stay as a career." But, he said, he had good assignments and enjoyed the people he worked with. He completed oral and maxillofacial surgery training at Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Ga.
Among his assignments was a stint at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii. "We never had anybody come to South Africa to visit, but they did come to Hawaii," he said.
Thompson met his wife, Madge Gay, while working at Emory University Hospital during dental school. She is a native of Winterville, a 1977 ECU nursing graduate and a part-time instructor in the ECU College of Health and Human Performance. She is also the daughter of the late Kenneth Dews, a World War II Navy veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor, and the granddaughter of Dennis McLawhorn, a World War I Army veteran of the American Expeditionary Force in France.
"I heard many stories from Kenneth about his World War II experiences and Pearl Harbor," Thompson said.
After serving in Afghanistan and completing a fellowship in New York, Thompson was assigned to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. While there, he became the integrated chief of oral and maxillofacial surgery as Walter Reed and the National Naval Medical Center were merged into one military medical center. He helped restore soldiers' disfigured faces, many with limbs and eyes missing from IED explosions or militant attacks and at least one with no limbs at all. Thompson received the Legion of Merit award for his service at Walter Reed.
"There are a lot of men and women who have sacrificed quite a bit, including their lives, to keep us free," he said. "It's something we should never forget."