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Tribute: Decorated Army chaplain saved souls and lives

Father Leonard Stegman, 97, buried with full military honors

SAN ANTONIO – Having earned a Purple Heart, two Silver Stars and a Bronze Star, Father Leonard Stegman is being remembered as an Army chaplain who saved souls as well as lives on the frontlines of Korea and Vietnam.

For those reasons, "Father Len," as he was best known, was rare among military chaplains, said David Jackson, national adjutant with the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

"(He was) a gentle man but true to his beliefs in protecting others," Jackson said.

The 97-year-old retired colonel was buried Thursday with full military honors at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery.

"What a life," said Roger Hutson, a longtime family friend.

Hutson said he was only 2 when he first met Father Len.

"He was there for my marriage, gave my mother and father their last rites. He was part of every major event in my life," Hutson said.

Angelique Herran, a women's auxiliary chaplain for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, said it wasn't until his heart attack seven years ago that she met Father Len.

Herran said since the auxiliary "leaves no veteran alone or friendless when in need," she became Father Len's aide.

"He kindled a fire of love and a fire of faith like nothing I had ever seen," Herran said.

She said as an example, she and Father Len would travel to Fort Hood where he would pray and counsel war widows.

Herran said Father Len's devotion to military members and their families did not end with his retirement as a colonel in 1977.

She said even at age 90, he ministered at Lackland, Fort Sam Houston, St. Pius X Catholic Church -- where his funeral mass was held -- and the Village at the University of the Incarnate Word, where he lived.

"He was surrounded by Irish nuns and had a chapel outside his room where he prayed," Herran said.

She said Father Len had by then earned an award from the Military Chaplains Association for best personifying the concept of "chaplain for life."