Major General Stephen Wheeler Downey, III was born on June 1, 1916, in Sacramento to Edith Jennings Downey and Stephen Wheeler Downey, Jr., just 18 months after his brother Jack’s birth. In September 1918 when Stephen Downey was 2 years old, Edith died and his grandmother Eva Downey and one of his father’s sisters, Aunt Norma, came in from Laramie, Wyoming, to take the boys to Laramie until their father returned from France where he was fighting in World War I.
Young Downey loved Wyoming where horses were everywhere! Stephen Downey’s father made sure that everyone in the family rode from the earliest practicable age. By the time his youngest sister Tink started riding at 5, Stephen Downey was already an accomplished horseman at 11 years old.
At the age of 15 he attended the New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, which was also a junior college, and graduated in 1936. In 1939 Downey graduated from Stanford. While at Stanford he participated in its Reserve Officer Training Corps, and in June 1937, as a Distinguished Military Graduate, was commissioned a “Second Lieutenant of Cavalry” in the Regular U.S. Army at the age of 23
By the late summer of 1944 Downey at the age of 28 had been promoted three times and was wearing the gold leaves of a Major. He was doing reconnaissance with the 33rd Infantry Division in the southwest Pacific and later participated in the New Guinea, Admiralties Islands, Leyte Gulf, and the Luzon Island campaigns.
He was a member of the faculty at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania from 1954 to 1958 when he was transferred to SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) outside Paris, France until 1964 (with one year in Ulm, Germany from 1961 to 1962).
As a newly promoted Brigadier General (May 24, 1964), Downey was assigned to Fort Hood, Texas 2nd Armored Division as assistant commander in 1964 to 1966 when he left Fort Hood to become the Director of Doctrine in the U.S. Army Combat Developments Command at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
Downey advanced to the rank of Major General in 1967 and in 1968 he became the commander of the Fourth Armored Division in Goeppingen, Germany. He remained there until 1970 when Downey became chief of staff, Central Army Group, NATO in Heidelberg, Germany. He served there until 1972 when he was called back to the Pentagon. His last assignment was to have been to Fort McPherson in Atlanta. Sadly, he suffered his fourth heart attack and was medically forced to retire from the life he loved and did so well.
Downey earned the Silver and Bronze Star Medals, the Legion of Merit with 4 Oak Leaf Cluster, the Army Commendation Medal and the Purple Heart as well as the Distinguished Service Medal.
He followed in his great grandfather and father’s footsteps into militarily service although Downey was the only one to do so for life. He lived the life he wanted, in the army he loved, and his service would have made his forbearers proud. It was one family, three generations of magnificent service, and one name: Stephen Wheeler Downey.
He died 4 days after his 60th birthday on June 5, 1976, of his fifth and final heart attack.