If a young man graduated from high school in 1942, he was expected to go to war, and Harold Stevens did.
The Saratoga Springs High School graduate joined the army and would die barely two years later, after being severely wounded during fighting in France and then being captured by German forces. His death as a wounded POW came only days after his 21st birthday.
Stevens, who died on Aug. 22, 1944, was honored Jan. 17 as Saratoga County's Deceased Veteran of the Month. He was one of 178 Saratoga County residents listed as killed in action in World War II, their names listed on the county monument at the Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery.
It was the first time in its 13 years of existence that the monthly program has honored someone who was both a POW and qualifed to be listed as killed in action, said Andrew Davis, the county's director of veterans' services.
Stevens, a private first class, was a tank gunner in the famed Second Armored Division — known as the "Hell on Wheels" division.
He fought in Africa and in the invasion of Sicily before being part of the D-Day invasion force, and then wounded and captured during the fierce fighting around St. Lo, France, in July 1944.
Before joining the army in December 1942, Stevens had worked for five months at General Electric in Schenectady, which had also geared up for wartime production.
"At that point in time, young, able-bodied males had no control of their future in life," said Eugene Corsale of Saratoga Springs, one of the coordinators of the monthly programs. "The government and world affairs controlled their future and their lives."
During the ceremony, Stevens' surviving relatives, including a brother and several sisters, were presented with citations and proclamations by Saratoga Springs Mayor Scott Johnson and other dignitaries.
Harold was one of eight children, with six sisters and one brother. His younger brother Robert, now 85, served briefly in the Navy late in the war effort.
"He was one hell of a kid, smart in high school and everything," said Robert Stevens, who lives in Hudson Falls and attended the ceremony.
After the ceremonies, relatives displayed a number of pictures of the young Harold Stevens, as well as the Purple Heart he was awarded posthumously by the War Department.
"The family has known about this for years, but there was never any recognition before," said Barbara Hefter of Saratoga Springs, a niece.
Stevens was initially buried in France, but the U.S. government had his body returned in 1949, and he is now buried in Candor, N.Y., between Ithaca and Binghamton, where his parents are also buried.
As a result of the ceremony, a flag that has flown over the U.S. Capitol at the request of U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, will fly over the county complex in Ballston Spa in Stevens' honor, though the usual ceremonial flag-raising was cancelled that day due to a cold rain.