Seventeen years of births in one family provide a timeline full of changes, and a span from 1913 through 1930 does the same for world history. From the time of William and Agnes Tully Stevens’ firstborn son’s arrival in 1913, the family—as well as the rest of us—endured World War I, the Russian Revolution and the rise of Communism, the initial pre-war power-grabs of Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy, and the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that heralded the Great Depression, all before Agnes’ baby boy became the occasion of the Stevens family’s last birth announcement in 1930. Understandably, childhood for firstborn John Kelly Stevens was vastly different from the zeitgeist influencing the early years of the last two sons born into that family.
Perhaps it was war itself that set the last two boys apart. So many times, it’s been said that those serving were “never the same” when they came home from the battlefield. That may well be why the story for the youngest two Stevens boys turned out differently for them. The only two in the family to serve in conflicts, Frank and Gerry had radically different adult lives than their older brothers.
In this brief overview of Will’s sons, today would be the day to discuss the fourth-born son, Francis Xavier Stevens, which I’ll do. Tomorrow, I’ll follow with a brief sketch of the baby brother, Gerald Anthony Stevens. I had been tempted to reverse the order owing to the considerable amount of material I’ve amassed on Frank, but think it will be better to visit that collection of his letters and photos as a separate series after completing introductions to the family. So, I’ll get back to more on Frank after discussing Gerry tomorrow, and then concluding with the only daughter Will and Agnes had.
Frank, like all his brothers, was a Chicago boy, born in 1924. Congenial, outgoing, with a likeable attitude mixed with flair and a sense of humor, Frank felt the call to enter the military when his formal schooling drew to a close. Enlisting in the navy in February of 1942, Frank set off on a training path that led from Norfolk, Virginia, on the USS Ariel (AF-22) to St. Thomas of the Virgin Islands, and ultimately to the Pacific, where he served as a Pharmacist’s Mate aboard the USS LCI (L) 707. While I found documentation for these ships and locations through Ancestry.com, I also am now transcribing letters from Frank to his mother that detail these same steps.
Once the war was over, Frank soon was serving in the newly-formed United States Air Force. Despite taking the time to find and marry a bride near the Ohio home of his aunt, Mary Monica Tully McGonagle, he found himself assigned to a post in England, where his young wife followed him, and where his first two children were born.
Upon return to the States, Frank eventually settled in the town by Holloman Air Force Base, although the family moved a few years later to Albuquerque. In civilian life, Frank followed the path of his father before him—perhaps due to that innate knack in sales—and became a regional sales representative. Whether it was the odds of spending so many hours on the road, or perhaps something inside from those war years that still drove him, Frank met an early end in a late-night single-car wreck on the side of a New Mexico highway when he was forty-one. He left four children, the youngest of whom was only five, to mourn the loss.
The long absence of someone who would have otherwise participated in the rites of grandparenthood in these last few years gives this man an aura of one belonging to a prior generation. Long separated from those closest to him, he becomes a shattered memory, pieced together by photographs or letters. As if researching a great-grandfather of our own, we come to know him only by reading between the lines on those tokens he’s left behind.