Though I don’t know much about Frank, the fourth-born son of William and Agnes Tully Stevens, I know even less about his younger brother. Like Frank, Gerald Anthony Stevens met an early death and has been long gone from family life and family memories. I don’t think I even have a photograph of him as an adult. What I’ve learned about Gerry comes mostly from the few things the family has mentioned and from such far-removed items as the newspaper report of the fiery car wreck that claimed his life.
I figured that military duty was a part of Gerald Stevens’ life story, but I didn’t even have details on that—nor was I able to find records in the usual online places. Born in Chicago in 1930, Gerry was too young to have participated in the battles of World War II, but he died just outside Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, in the same way and near the same place where his brother Frank had lost his life eleven years before.
It wasn’t until I found an entry for Gerry in the Find A Grave website that I was able to determine his military involvement to any extent. There on his gravestone was the legend: “U.S. Air Force, Korea.” What active duty on the Pacific arena battlefield of World War II had been to Frank, the next decade’s conflict in Korea had been to his younger brother. As had happened to Frank, something about that experience brought Gerry back a different man.
The only tale of his military service that I knew of was that inferred by his obituary: membership in the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and service as a past commander for Disabled American Veterans in both New Jersey and New Mexico. A mention of service in the Tularosa Police reserve was a reminder of the work of both his grandparents. Other than that, I can only imagine what went into the making of the man that Gerald Stevens became.
Oddly enough, it was through genealogy that I eventually met Gerald’s widow online. She was interested in that same pursuit as I, and had found me through a posting in a genealogy forum for the Ohio county where my mother-in-law was born. We emailed back and forth for a while, but then I lost track of her. When I subsequently received the many Tully and Stevens family papers I’m now cataloging, I was told that there was another collection to pass on to Gerald’s sons, but by then I knew no way to get in touch with them.
The internet is an amazing tool, but it sometimes has quirks. People mysteriously waft into our online lives and then as mysteriously drift away. I’d like to hope the system could bestow me such a favor once again in reconnecting with these missing relatives, but I’m afraid I know better. Perhaps that is why people sometimes recall that phrase, “lost in the ether,” when talking about the nether reaches of the internet. Vanished—yet still really out there, somewhere—these are people with whom we yearn to connect.
Perhaps that is just the feeling behind the call to family research, itself, too.