MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
At the end of the Korean War, Airman 1st Class Alan R. Stephenson received an assignment to Misawa Air Base, Japan, as an electronics specialist on what is known today as Security Hill. It was here in 1954 that he discovered 13 obsidian tools, spear points, and arrowheads. At the time, he thought nothing of collecting them and kept them as souvenirs from his time in northern Japan. For the next 64 years, these artifacts sat in an old Kodak movie film box in his office, protected and preserved from time.
After his return to the United States, Stephenson dedicated himself to his education and excelled at Albany State University, receiving his Bachelor of Arts in 1955 and his Master of Arts in 1958. He would later earn a Ph.D. in communications from The Ohio State University, too. He credited his career path to his electronics training and experience he received while serving in the United States Air Force and operating theatrical lighting for Page Hall presentations.
Stephenson worked in the new medium of television, becoming the Director of School Television for the State of Massachusetts for three years. He then returned to Ohio to work at a local television station in Cleveland. Stephenson also worked briefly as the executive vice president of a small cable company before becoming an associate professor (1985-2002) and professor (2002-2015) in the Tim Russert Department of Communications and Theater Arts at John Carroll University in Ohio. He had a passion for life and many wonderful experiences. He traveled extensively, including more than three trips to Africa and a trip behind the Iron Curtain to report on the Holocaust. This report garnered him a regional Emmy Award.
Stephenson also served as the lead author of the Broadcast Announcing Work text and was instrumental in developing the North East Ohio Broadcast archives at the university. Later, he received the Lower Great Lakes Chapter of the National Academy of Arts and Sciences President’s Award for “Outstanding Contributions Made to the Development and Advancement of Educational Television and for Dedication to Preserving Cleveland’s Television History Archives.”
It was his love of education and his work with the Holocaust documentary and Television History Archives that eventually brought him to the realization the artifacts he collected so long ago in Japan were probably culturally significant to the Japanese people, similar to the significance of Native American artifacts to the tribal cultures of the United States.
As he grew older, he determined he would find a way to return these artifacts to the people and Government of Japan. Sadly, Dr. Alan R. Stephenson passed away on Aug. 10, 2017, before he could accomplish his goal, but the executor of his estate, Dr. Mary E. Beadle, followed through with his final wishes. She contacted Mr. James Burrett, the 35th Fighter Wing Historian, who ensured the safe delivery of the artifacts to Japan.
After examining the artifacts and consulting with historical agencies throughout Japan, Burrett and local historians determined they were from the Neolithic era, estimated to be between 2,300 and 15,000 years old. These artifacts are particularly significant, as tools from that era had not found in this area before and helped to establish new knowledge about the Aomori prefecture history.
On Oct. 23, 2018. Col. Kristopher W. Struve, the 35th FW commander, officially repatriated the arrowheads and tools to the Government of Japan and the Japanese people, thus fulfilling Dr. Stephenson’s dying wish to have them returned to their homeland and people for future generations to study and learn from them.