Dwight Steve Varner Monticello D. Steve Varner, 97, WWII hero and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Clusters, American POW medal, and the Italian Military Cross for Valor passed away Tuesday, December 9, 2014, at his home. He was born in rural Piatt Co., April 24, 1917, the son of Stevenson Falstaff and Laura Bertha (Fowler) Varner. He married his college sweetheart Avis Beede of Dixon on Dec. 24, 1940. She passed away Oct. 25, 2008, after nearly sixty-eight years of marriage. He was also preceded in death by his parents, a brother George David, and sisters Margarite and Betty. Steve is survived by four sons: Alan (Frankie) of San Mateo, FL; Larry (Patty) of Galva, IL; Bruce (Connie) of Creve Coeur, IL; Eric (Susan) of Carlock, IL; and his caregiver of many years, Doug Beals of Monticello, whom he referred to as his main man. He is also survived by six grandchildren: Teresa (Sergio) Arellano, Michael (Angela) Varner, Mark Varner; Ben (Erin) Varner, Jennifer Varner, and John Varner, and nine great-grandchildren and several step-grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Also surviving are his sisters Florence Wrench of Marshfield, MO, and Linda Fombelle of Decatur, IL, and a sister-in-law Leona Varner, also of Decatur. After graduation from Monticello High School, he enrolled in the University of Illinois and the ROTC. Varner was a member of Alpha Zeta, Phi Eta Sigma, Phalanx, Agriculture Club, Cavalry Officers Club, and Hoof and Horn Club. He graduated in 1941 as a Bronze Tablet recipient with a Bachelor of Science degree from the College of Agriculture. After enlisting in the Army in June 1941, Varner was assigned to the 1st Armored Division. In 1942 Lieutenant Varner landed in North Africa. As a tank commander he fought his way through Algeria and into Tunisia as part of General Pattons command. Varners tank, named Fighting Illini, was knocked out of action, and he was taken prisoner by the German Afrika Corps. After a forty-mile march he and his tank loader were able to escape. He soon encountered seven Italians and captured them by bluffing that a mess kit spoon in his pocket was a pistol. Within minutes eighteen Germans in a truck were also captured. Driving through German lines unchallenged, Varner took the prisoners to the Allied forces. Later, several hundred Italian soldiers surrendered to Varners small force of tanks. After receiving heavy indirect fire, Varner moved the prisoners to keep them out of harms way. In 1946 the Italian government recognized Varner for his humane treatment of POWs by awarding him the Italian Military Cross for Valor. The Italian Consulate officially presented this medal to him in 2006. In February 1945, due to numerous injuries and combat-related wounds, Varner was medically retired as a Major. After the war he earned his MS in Animal Nutrition from the U of I. Varner worked as the original research and quality control head for VioBin Corporation for twenty-seven years, retiring in 1977. He not only raised registered swine and cattle but also operated Illini Iris Garden on North State Street. He received national recognition for his hybridizing of many award-winning irises, day lilies, lilacs, peonies, and other plants. In 2006 Steve was inducted into the Monticello High School Hall of Fame for his many accomplishments. In 2013 Major (Ret.) Varner, one of an inaugural group of fourteen, was inducted into the University of Illinois ROTC Hall of Fame. Steve enjoyed hunting and fishing with his sons. He was also a member of the First United Methodist Church and the American Iris Society.