Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More Discoveries

I’ve heard it said that trouble comes in threes, but in this case, it has come in fourteen—letters, that is, in a second set which I just uncovered over the holiday weekend while searching for something totally unrelated.

I suppose this is actually a blessing—a bonanza of material to help give a clearer picture of the main characters in this family history. I am only dragging my heels on this discovery as I struggle with how to plug this new set into my (up to this point) chronologically-ordered world.

The easiest way for me to proceed, I think, is to go back and insert each letter into the previous sequence, providing hyper-links to the letters already posted which would fall on either side of the new arrival. The newer material, hopefully, will fill in some of the gaps in those long stretches which, incredibly, had no mail during that first pass.

With that, we go back to the beginning—back to the first full day since Frank Stevens arrived at the Naval Training Station at Great Lakes, Illinois.

                                                                        Feb 25, 1942
                                                                        Francis X. Stevens
                                                                        Copany 162
                                                                        U.S. Navel Training
                                                                        Station. Great
                                                                        Lakes Ill
Dear Folks:
           I arrived safely on the 24th at 11:30 A.M. I have been pretty busy or I would have written yesterday. I am tired today for all last night we lay awake laughing ourselves sick at the boys falling out of their hammoks. One fellow fell out 18 times and he didn’t get much sleep. No one is home sick yet for everything is interesting. The food is fine, for breakfast today we had (Baked Beans puffed rice with cream and sugar coffe Bread + Butter fruit + cornbread) big breakfast eh – for dinner we had [?] steaks of ham potatoes soup (bean) bread + butter cake coffee + a apple, that kind of food sticks to your ribs.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Calendars, Contracts and Contacts

Even on a tiny piece of V-mail, Frank Stevens manages to squeeze in quite a bit. This Chicago boy is still looking forward to the date when he will get to come home. Even though we’re backtracking in time with the recent discovery of this letter—as we’ve already seen, Frank had yet to participate in the battle at Iwo Jima or head to Okinawa—Frank is so ready to leap up the front steps of 507 West Garfield, or wherever “home” is soon to be, and be reunited with his family.

Frank is still keenly interested in his father’s real estate dealings, wanting to know the progress of each contract, the disposition of each property. And the boy is still California Dreamin’. The grass is always greener elsewhere, especially for winter-bound Chicagoans eyeing the oasis of Los Angeles.

I wonder about all the names Frank mentions at the end of this note. Were they school friends? Neighbors? Is this gossip about who is marrying whom? The running commentary makes me wish I had a chance to take a peek at the other end of the letter exchanges.

The way I look at it I’m glad that I’m over here at last, for the sooner I get my year and a half in the sooner I’ll be back home, I figure I’ll get some State-side duty next time as I have over two years outside the states now. I was figuring it up today I’ve got an unbroken line of sea duty starting in August 1942 untill the present. I’m going on the assumption that everyone at home is in good health I’m glad that you sold 531, now if you move out south around Beverly hills everything will be aw reet, have you any special place in mind? Is Tony going to move into 507 or is he going to make an annex onto the corner write soon and give me the dope. Say Dad I don’t remember any Eleanor Quinn where did she live and who is Ray Simms. It was quite a suprise about Jun Swyer and if You see DeNormandie give him my best. I guess you were right about Trent Dad I thought he was doing all right for himself but I haven’t heard from him in two years I wonder how he got out of the Army I’ll have to clos now running out of paper. Write soon Love from your Affectionate Son, Frank

Monday, November 28, 2011


One of the ways of communicating during the second World War was by the use of something I had never heard of before yesterday: V-mail. Just think: instead of transporting 2,575 pounds of letters via the military mail system, that weight could be reduced to only forty-five pounds by transformation into a form of microfilm before delivery.

The way it works is this: the serviceman takes a specially-configured sheet of paper and clearly writes his message on it. The pre-printed instructions on the top of the form warn “Print the complete address in plain letters in the panel below, and your return address in the space provided on the right. Use typewriter, dark ink, or dark pencil. Faint or small writing is not suitable for photographing.”

Once the letter is completed, it is forwarded to the ever-present military censors, who scrub it of any incriminating remarks. The letter is then photographed and transported as a thumbnail-sized image. At its destination, it is converted to sixty percent of its original size and delivered.

The reconstituted letter takes the shape of a slip of paper measuring 4¼ by 5⅛ inches—basically a size sufficient to hide within the pages of the Navy’s Pharmacist’s Mate pamphlet I filed with the December, 1945, papers in the collection of Frank Stevens’ letters. And that is exactly what happened.

Unfortunately, for all the pre-printed instructions provided for use of these nifty parcels, the one thing not included was any mention of the date. For the sake of my organization-starved mind, I’ve assigned this note a date at the end of December, 1944, as that is what the change form on Frank’s ship's muster roll indicated as the effective date of the promotion.

So, taking a slight detour backwards in time thanks to the find of this just-uncovered extra letter, let’s look at what Frank had to say to his parents, Will and Agnes Tully Stevens, upon the occasion of his coveted promotion.

 To:       Mr & Mrs W.A. Stevens
            507 West Garfield Blvd
            Chicago, Ill

From:  F.X. Stevens PhM1c USN
            U.S.S. LCI(L) 707 C/o. FPO
            San Francisco, California

Dear Mom Dad & All:

            As you can see by my return address I have made first class I shall now pause for applause, thank you my dear people. I received the box from Max Bill And Dave it was really the nuts. Everything was nice and fresh (my spelling gets worse day by day) and the date bars were mighty smooth. It’s too bad I won’t be home for Christmas, prehaps next year it will be different at least I hope so, that’s the whole trouble with this war you can never tell what’s going to happen. From the looks of things at this base the Nips don’t stand a chance. We have so much stuff here you wouldn’t believe it unless you could see it. I imagine the next big step will be when we go into manila, that should be quite a shuffle. The way I look at it I’m glad that I’m over here at last, for the sooner I get my year and a half in the sooner I’ll be back home.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Taking a Short Detour

In preparing yesterday’s post, there was something that troubled me about the date of Frank Stevens’ promotions. Even though I assume that there are missing letters in this collection of his family’s papers which I received during our trip to Chicago last summer, my mind wants to proceed as if there were no gaps. Even though I’ve not read through these letters until I actually sit down to transcribe them for each day’s post—insuring an element of surprise for me, at least, as I read through Frank’s progress—I still feel like something is out of order.

And it is. Going back to my “file” (a long portable table stretched out over the chair and ottoman in my bedroom, for lack of any other room in the house to leave an unwieldy, but organized, stack of papers) I discover that the carefully-stacked pile of letters, sorted by month of origin, has two surprises.

First, a closer look at the NAVPERS 15385 date-stamped “Dec. 20, 1945”—which, logically, I had put in the “December, 1945” pile—turned out to be a pamphlet “issued to you mainly to help you get a job in civilian life.” Silly me: in my initial organizing frenzy, I had assumed it was the document received when Frank was promoted to Pharmacist’s Mate, First Class. That is, after all, the label on the cover. I had had no inclination, at the time I laid out this pile of papers in what I thought was a logical fashion, to open the cover and actually read all that bureaucratese on the pages inside.

Second, inside, there was—wait! INSIDE THERE WAS…oh, no, I missed a letter! And, to boot, it was undated! Now, what? Oh, my precious organized world, obliterated by a late discovery!

On the other hand, I can take a more optimistic stance and celebrate the fact that I made one more discovery: a letter, out of sequence, that never-the-less deserves to take its place in Frank’s story line.

At least at this point, my halting “Yes, it was December 1945,” versus “No, it was December 1944” two-step can be set aside as we waltz toward the finish of this story of my father-in-law.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thinking About Promotions

I’m not sure where Frank Stevens is as he continues what amounts to a five page letter to his older brother Ed and his wife on July 15, 1945. The Battle of Okinawa lasted until about mid-June, and of what I could find online regarding Frank’s vessel’s history, the USS LCI(R)-707 remains in the area until June 30, 1945. After that, wherever he is, he now has enough time on his hands to snag a typewriter and let his mind run out on paper—lots of paper.

As much as Frank talks about coming home in his letters to his parents, William and Agnes Tully Stevens, he still has that competitive element in his spirit. After leaving his training station in the Virgin Islands over a year before, Frank has risen from Pharmacist’s Mate Third Class, to Second Class by the time he was received on board the LCI(L) 707 on July 20, 1944. At his next promotion, Frank makes First Class (T) effective December of that same year.

There is further room to grow, judging by this clip from his letter. The Navy career ladder for Pharmacist’s Mate includes a post—evidently a coveted post, in Frank’s eyes—labeled as Chief. But it is apparently not to be, at least for Frank and for the foreseeable future.

            Now that that is off my mind I’ll get on with the rest of this so called letter. I’m afraid that it will be quite some time before I make Chief, as a new letter came out lately and it states that no time will be waived between 1st and chief, burns me up as it was in the bag for the 1st of august, the group Medical Officer and I are big buddies and talk the same language.

Friday, November 25, 2011


It’s been two and a half months since Frank’s last letter—at least according to the collection of family papers we’ve inherited. Besides that, this letter goes not to Frank’s parents, William and Agnes Tully Stevens, but to the new Chicago address of his older brother Ed and his wife. The tone of the letter is much different than what’s been sent already. Of course, keep in mind that not only has Frank grown older and matured, but he’s been through a lot in the last year—something bound to have an impact on anybody.

I had a real struggle deciding whether to include this letter in the blog posts in this series. For one thing, it shows a quite different aspect of the man’s personality—the endearing, respectful letters home to mom and dad painted a picture that I hated to see shattered with what was yet to come. On the other hand, being able to have the composite picture of the whole man, somewhat like looking through the compound eyes of a fly on the wall, gives a more honest look at what went into his future—not to mention, what added to the mix of the roots in our heritage.

Another reason for my reticence: I’ve always found it proper to not include the names of the still-living in genealogical discourses, and this letter mentions someone very much alive and loved in our family. However, it technically does not mention her name, but her nickname. That, hopefully, will provide a modicum of privacy for the beloved matriarch of this Stevens clan. (Her nickname, by the way, comes from her childhood: an anglicized version of a Low German word meaning grimy, owing to what her elders criticized as a dirty face. I tried hunting down the word; keeping in mind the German pronunciation of the letter “z,” the best approximation I can come up with is muzhrijch.)

Even so, I feel compelled to clip a few of the more private passages in the letter, as they involve parts of the life stories of several of those still living, for which I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

So…what is Frank up to, now?

Dear Mutz, Ed et all - - - -
            yep about a half an hour ago we had a mail call and it brought to lill ole F.X. two letters one from youse and one from Jeanne, am answering yours first as the latter will require some deep thought. You asked some questions Mutz so I’ll go down the line and try and answer them.
            I know that you have been awfull busy trying to get your new place in order so you’re forgiven for not writing sooner, sure am glad to know you have a half way decent place, must be pretty hard to find a land lord that doesn’t mind the kids. Now that YOU speak of it Mutz I do faintly remember having made mention of V.O. or red eye in one of my letters, listen carefully and I’ll give all the details as to ways and means of sending it. First one must have a bottle of the specified fluid THEN one must break the seal and fill said bottle of fluid up to the very brim with a like fluid when this is done half the work involved is also finished. The next step is to wrap the bottle up well, using shavings, cotton, old newspaper and the like, thus to insure against breakage en route. Next lable the carton well using a phoney return name and address. Remember to fill the container up to the brim as a gurgle may prove embarrassing to all concerned. I will forward one thin dime and the wings off of a zero to defray the cost of packaging and shipping.
            Now that that is off my mind I’ll get on with the rest of this so called letter.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Much to Be Thankful For

The close, yesterday, of Frank Stevens’ letter home from his Navy post somewhere near Okinawa during World War II, marked a turning point in the letters I’ve found in the Tully/Stevens family collection. Whatever happened at this point in Frank’s service—and his life, for that matter—has left no trace among his parents’ belongings that have been passed down to us. The next letter in the collection is not sent for another two and a half months—this one to his brother and sister-in-law, rather than to his parents.

A partial listing of lost ships from that battle—those among the possible attacks Frank might have witnessed just before mailing his last letter—provided in yesterday’s comments thanks to Iggy, is more than enough to cause me to stop and take stock of the monumental toll in valuable lives, skilled service, and investment in equipment this one series of battles at Okinawa cost this country.

Today, in this country, we celebrate Thanksgiving—a time to be thankful, initially, for the solid principles our nation was founded upon, ideals that later upheld the establishment of a truly singular land of opportunity. While all that holiday represents to us today has morphed over the years to now become an expression of individual thankfulness, I can’t help but recall what someone once told me: you can’t have Thanksgiving without having someone to give thanks to.

As I look over this list, expanded from Iggy’s original post to include the numbers of officers and crew lost in that one-month span, I find plenty of people to be thankful to. And I remember that, just like the family heritage we each research in our individual pursuits of genealogy, our national heritage will only become our descendants’ legacy if we value it enough to preserve, memorialize, and honor it ourselves.

On April 6, 1945, off Okinawa:

USS Bush (DD 529) hit by 3 kamikaze planes; 87 crew members lost; the remaining 227 survivors had to abandon ship.

USS Calhoun responding to a call for help from the just-struck USS Bush, hit and sunk by kamikaze and bombs, 34 killed, 21 wounded

USS Emmons struck nearly simultaneously by 5 kamikaze planes, heavily damaged and sunk the next day to prevent falling into enemy hands; 60 dead, 77 wounded, remaining crew had to abandon ship

SS Hobbs Victory hit by one kamikaze plane, eleven of the ship’s crew killed plus one Navy man from a responding Navy fireboat.

SS Logan Victory sustained several injuries, including in at least one resulting in fatality

On April 7, 1945, off Okinawa

USS LST-447 empty after discharging cargo on beach prior to kamikaze attack; numerous casualties sustained by crew remaining on board at time of attack

On April 12, 1945, off Okinawa

USS Mannert L. Abele (DD-733) sunk by kamikaze attacks; 73 crew members lost with the ship; survivors in waters as ship sank strafed by enemy aircraft fire

USS LCS(L)(3)-33 sunk by kamikaze attack

On April 16, 1945, off Okinawa

USS Pringle sunk by kamikaze attack; 69 killed, 70 wounded, 258 survivors

On April 22, 1945, off Okinawa

USS Swallow (AM 65) sunk by kamikaze attack

USS LCS(L)(3)-15 sunk by kamikaze attack

On April 27, 1945, off Okinawa

SS Canada Victory sunk by kamikaze attack

On May 3, 1945, off Okinawa

USS Little (DD-803) sunk by multiple kamikaze attacks, 31 killed, 49 wounded, survivors rescued from the waters in a risky after-dark operation

USS LSM(R)-195 sunk by kamikaze hit and concurrent explosion, 9 killed, 16 wounded

On May 4, 1945, off Okinawa

USS Morrison (DD-560) struck by four enemy aircraft, submerging within fifteen minutes of the final blow, taking with her 152 crew members

USS Luce shot down one kamikaze plane, but the explosion from the bomb it was carrying inflicted serious damages, followed by the hit from a second plane; was sunk amidst a violent explosion, claiming 126 of 312 men and officers aboard

USS LSM(R)-190 sunk by three kamikazes, 13 killed, 18 wounded

USS LSM(R)-194 hit by a kamikaze, sunk, 13 killed, 24 wounded

Total for Okinawa Navy casualties:
4,907 killed or missing
4,824 wounded
36 ships sunk
368 ships damaged

Gratefulness will not bring these lives back, nor be the antidote to the cost of their sacrifice, but it will provide me with the right perspective to properly pass on the treasure they honored with their lives. I'm thankful. And I want our children to have that same opportunity to honor, hold and appreciate what we are blessed with.
Happy Thanks-giving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Home for Christmas? Maybe, Maybe Not

Hmmm…if a busy young serviceman during his off hours starts a letter on May 3, then hits several hours of duty where everything is going crazy, is it possible that that four page letter would take him a few more days to complete? That is the question uppermost in my mind as we try to figure out what specific information was snipped out of Frank Stevens’ letter home that he dated May 3, 1945.

Somewhere in the Pacific near Okinawa, wherever the USS LCI(R)707 was positioned during the middle of that protracted battle, the ferocity of Japanese kamikaze attacks on naval vessels was increasing—so much so that an astounding aggression prompts Frank’s visceral comments, whatever they were, in his letter home. This is uncharacteristic for him, as he’s been so careful to avoid censorship in most all of his earlier letters preserved in this collection.

From the context of the remaining parts of the letter, it seems a ship was sunk, but for whatever reason—special assignment? immediacy of the news? potential to demoralize the public supporters back home?—the censor feels it necessary to remove the details from Frank’s letter.

Of course, that mystery doesn’t stop some researchers. Once again, I’m fortunate to have the inquiring mind of one reader, “Intense Guy” (who in the blogging world has been dubbed “Iggy”), who commented yesterday that the ship referred to in Frank’s letter may have been the USS Morrison, a destroyer bombarded by four kamikaze hits so brutal as to sink the vessel within fifteen minutes of the final blow. The shock of the initial hit knocked out most of the ship’s electrical system, preventing transmission of orders to abandon ship. Coupled with the crippled ship’s sudden plunge under the surface, the sequence of events meant the loss of 152 men, most of whom were serving below deck at the time of the attack.

The speculation seems plausible until I realize that the date of Morrison’s demise is May 4. Frank’s letter—at least the first page of it—is dated May 3. Did he write the opening page—the one surviving the censor’s scrutiny relatively uncut—then set the letter aside to finish later? I check the postmark on the envelope to see if I get any support for that notion: postmarked May 9, 1945, at the new Chicago home of Frank’s parents, William and Agnes Tully Stevens, the date leaves enough wiggle room for such a theory. On the other hand, in the letter, Frank asks his dad if he has read about the incident in the Chicago newspaper, indicating that whatever the event was, it would have had to have enough time to hit the news back home—not likely something that happened during the course of writing this letter.

Whether he witnessed the sinking of the Morrison—or another ship like the nearby USS Hazelwood whose April 29 bombardment cost the lives of 67 crew members and ten officers, including their Commanding Officer—Frank certainly got enough of an eyeful to prompt him to focus again on going home—if he ever can make it to the end of this tour of duty. He has his mind fixed on Christmas again, but as if to keep himself from possible disappointment, he projects his comments, and the accompanying feelings they must evoke, upon his parents, even to the point of urging them to take care of themselves! With their son so evidently in harm’s way, I’m sure it was Will and Agnes earnestly praying that Frank would be one taking such care.

           We had a Major in the Army aboard that was with [censor cut out three quarters of a line here]… He (the Major) gave us the whole story and I’ll be able to tell you about it when I get home.
Don’t raise any false hopes about my getting home right away as they need us out here – now don’t get me wrong cause I may be home before Christmas and then again I may not. I’ll probably have a hash mark when I do come home and I get that this November, in fact the day I’m 21, so you can see that nothing is certain. I received a lot of mail today – three from you folks, one from Grandma (cheerful as usual) one from Mutzie, five from Jeanne and one from John, also one from Sue Rairdon a cute little mick from the North side.
I’m afraid I’ve made this pretty lengthy and when I started out I just intended it to be a short note. Really must close now. Folks take good care of yourselves and Dad please be careful if anything happened to you I don’t know what I would do, I feel I’m very lucky to have such a wonderful family and I love you all very much. Nite now.
P.S. I’ll forward the cash for the pictures as soon as I know how much they are. Thanks again Dad. Frank

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Long Letter Meets the Censor

As Frank Stevens continues what turns out to be an uncustomarily long letter, he realizes that perhaps not all of what he wrote that May in 1945 will make it home to his folks in Chicago. He evokes the specter of the ship’s censor, Ensign Jerome Kaplan, grinding his molars. Whether those molars met such a gnashing fate is unknown; however, the fate of his letter was obvious, once it reached William and Agnes Tully Stevens, by all the lines snipped from Frank’s four newsy pages. The gaps only leave us to wonder what happened after that first “stiff invasion” when Frank must have met some sort of challenging action—or what happened to the other ship he alluded to, or what atrocities prompted such a strong reaction.

Frank is keen on getting a copy of a picture of his ship, LCI(R) 707, which must have run in the Chicago Tribune, tempting me to take a whirl through the paper’s archives for those months in search of the item, myself.

The mention of the censor’s name reminds me that I do have a list naming all those who served on this vessel along with Frank. Though so few from this time period are still with us, it makes me wonder if any of these other men’s families might have any corresponding material from the time they all served together with Frank—do any of those wartime relics name names as this letter does?

Guess I’ve been sounding off quite a bit Pa but I’m pretty proud of our old Lady and we’ve called her less complementary names on several occasions but she’s brought me through  one stiff invasion and pretty [censor cut out one and a half lines from the top of page 3] …
            Dad if you can get a print or proof of the picture of the ship please have 50 prints made. They should run 5 or 10 cents apiece but get them made and send them to me as the whole gang wants a copy. We know it’s our ship because we were the only one up here that has those numbers.
            Did you read about the [censor cut out a few words here]…I was on here the day before she left and a pretty good friend of mine was a patient on her. Those lousy so and so’s are going to pay for every one of those atrocities and I mean right through the nose. I imagine I’ve said too much now and the censor (Ensign Jerry Kaplan) is probably grinding his molars at me now but maybe all I’ve said will go through. I hope they do as it will give you a pretty good picture of what’s going on out here. Please ask Joe Burke’s parents to ask Joe what kind of a job we did with our gidgits up at Iwo.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Packing a Big Punch

"It's a funny feeling to see a plane...falling into the sea"
Assigned to serve in a Landing Craft Infantry vessel—not a glamorous post like battleship or aircraft carrier but a smaller craft designed for the more utilitarian role of delivering fighting troops to the beaches of enemy territory—it is understandable that Frank Stevens might have been somewhat defensive about the capabilities of his ship. After all, wasn’t it an admiral of one of those more imposing vessels that had looked down from his battleship and declared LCIs to look like a bunch of waterbugs? Small wonder the nickname “Elsie Items” was preferred to that by those who manned the LCIs.

Charged with the grunt work of getting right up into the front lines, these servicemen saw an immense number of casualties. Whatever action Frank saw that was removed from the text of this letter, we’ll never know, but the impact it left on him was indelible.

It’s a funny feeling to see a plane burning and falling into the sea. [censor cut out a full line here] …and if it’s a nip that has been made good you’re hoarse for three days. I’ll have a lot to tell you Dad so get set for a long earnest bull session when I get home. Dad our ship had the dubious honor of making the first firing run on both Iwo and this place. We’ve got a cocky and pretty salty crew Dad and the grandest bunch of guys I have ever met in my life. All of our officers are tops and are just part of the crew. When you’ve got a gang of men like those on here tojo just doesn’t stand a chance. We’ve also got the best looking ship in the Flotilla and we do everything possible to keep it that way. She may not be a battleship but she packs a big punch and I’m damn proud to be a part of her.

Photo, top right:  A Japanese Kamikaze fighter before crashing into the sea after trying to hit a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier off Okinawa in 1945. At the time of this letter, that was where Frank was serving. Photo courtesy the collection of the U.S. Navy National Museum of Naval Aviation via Wikipedia. Photograph in the public domain.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Keeping His Good Humor

Something seems to have turned a corner for Frank Stevens with this most recent letter home. Dated May 3, 1945, it follows only three days after Frank’s last letter to William and Agnes Tully Stevens in Chicago.

The letter also takes on a different tone—more like a heart-to-heart talk between father and son, while past letters seemed much more to be in answer to his mother’s notes.

Two new aspects present themselves in this letter. For one, whether for a transitory chatty mood or a just-plain-fed-up attitude, Frank produces not his usual one page cheery greeting but a four page missive. Perhaps it is this attitude change that beckons the censor’s scissors to do their job, for this is the first letter home arriving literally in shreds where the offending lines and phrases were simply snipped out of each page.

Whatever it was that Frank saw, whatever it was that he lived through in these last few months, it is now taking its toll on something deep inside him. The change may still seem outwardly imperceptible—his understatement about “keeping my good humor” notwithstanding—but it is beginning to slip out and leave telltale prints on his letters home.

Dear Mom + Dad:
            Pop you win the $64.00 question – I just received your letter of April 9th and you were right on the ball. I wish you would call up the Tribune and ask for a proof of that picture as every man on board wants a copy of it. Incidentally the ship’s name has been changed. We are now an LCI (R). I told Ed all about the ship when I made the trip down to Van Nuys from Frisco. We were converted from an ordinary LCI (L) just before we left the states so we don’t haul troops any more. This is pretty rugged duty Dad, worse than Iwo –...but you see I’m keeping my good humor so that’s about all that counts.
            I’ve come pretty close to shaking hands with the final C.O. but I guess every man out here has experienced the same thing. So far we haven’t been touched and I’ve had a few big thrills – things have happened to me in the past few months that I’ll remember the rest of my life.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wasting a Silver Dollar Moon

It’s the end of April, 1945, but as far as Frank Stevens is concerned, the war might as well be over. At least, that’s how ready he is to go home.

As usual, he mourns his lack of mail and speculates as to what the hold-up might be. There were precious few diversions on board, and the mail was the only attempt at filling that sizable gap.

There might have been a hint at another gap in this Chicago boy’s life: wasted moonlight in the face of no mention of Jeanne for quite some time.

Pat’s boy friend is lucky to receive ordinary mail in five weeks. I suppose mine is laying on the bottom of the pile in some ware house on one of these gook islands. I’m looking forward to seeing Chi—I’m pretty tired of all these wide open ocean with no where to go and nothing to do. When we left Pearl Harbor we were allowed a case of beer per man but it was all gone before we hit Iwo Jima. We were allowed a can per man per night while we were in port and none while we were underway. Haven’t been off the ship since January 20th except for a few minutes at Leyte when we went up for the mail. Except to go ashore here before we leave sure hope so its rather tantalizing to be so near terra firma and yet be so far. Weather is nice and beautiful moon lit nights—moon as big as a silver dollar, seems a shame to have it go to waste. From what the radio says our job at Iwo wasn’t in vain—with fighters going straight to Japan almost every day. Must close now. I’ve got the 12 to 4 and have to get some sleep. Nite now.
                                                                            Your loving son,

Friday, November 18, 2011

Becoming a Man

While Frank Stevens doesn’t mention the actual date he expects to get home, any flip of the calendar pages brings him that much closer—and that is enough for him.

                                                                          April 30th, 1945
Dear Mom, Dad + All:

            Well another month all shot to hades—I’m glad to see them go by as I keep getting closer to the time to go home every month. I’ve got hopes of being home for next Christmas and maybe my birthday. It would be kind of nice to become a man at home. Glad to hear that you like the new place. It sounds pretty nice. Prehaps when I get home we will be able to swing a nicer place further out south.
            Things are the same out here. Can’t tell you anything as yet but I figure you know where I’m at. Ed’s new job sounds grand. $60 per is pretty good dough if it’s not a flash in the pan. Here’s hope its steady and good for peace time. Glad to hear my God-daughter is such a swell girl. Looks as though she takes after her unk Frank.
            Mail is pretty irregular. Received Mom’s letter of the 19th of March one day and two days later got Pat’s letter of April 12th. Haven’t received the pogey bait (candy) as yet but might soon.

How ironic to think of “becoming a man” in the perspective of all this teenager has seen in this year of service in the Pacific. While it is true that much of his tour of duty was spent in training for Pharmacist’s Mate in the idyllic hideaway just offshore from his native land, when he did see combat, it was in the face of the fiercest fighting the Pacific arena had to offer at the time. That will grow a man in short order.

And he has grown—changed, at the very least, as witnessed by the maturing perspective in these letters over the years. As if he doesn’t recognize the difference within himself, he keeps expecting something external to bestow that essence upon him.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Three Years to Catch Up

Not that Frank Stevens is counting the days or anything, but the calendar seems to figure prominently in his attention at the moment. The lack of mail is weighing on him. Was it his desperation to hear from someone—anyone—that prompted him to write to his dad’s estranged half-sister in Fort Wayne, or did I let another family member’s grudges paint a false impression of Catherine Stevens Stahl? At any rate, Frank seems quite comfortable with sending her letters, even if he can’t remember her address; this short note served as cover letter for the one he asks his mom to forward to her.

Keeping connected seems to be on Frank’s mind, too—thinking about his younger brother, Gerry (Chip), and a neighborhood friend, Roy Hodges, with whom he lost contact.

Oh, how he wants to come home. That phrase is becoming his litany. After three years at sea, one can hardly blame this Chicago boy for the sentiment.

 Dear Mom Dad + All:

            I’ve finally gotten a letter written to Aunt Katie but I found I’ve misplaced their address so I’m sending it to you for forwarding. Nothing new out here, guess things don’t change much. Haven’t received any mail from you for almost five weeks now; last mail call was at Leyte. (got two letters on the 20th)
            I’ve got some Jap school books that should interest Chip. I’ll send them as soon as possible.
            Hope they invade Japan proper pretty soon as I want to come home, am getting fed up with this sort of life. I just happened to think of something funny on Jan. 18th I was in the Navy just 3 years and on the 19th I went in on my first invasion so it took them three years to catch up with me.
            Hear any news about any of the boys from the neighborhood? I’ve been looking all over for Roy Hodges but so far no luck. I’ll have to close now. I’ll write more later.
                                                                        All my Love

P.S. Please send the enclosed along to Aunt KT and send me her address. Love again.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

“When I Get Home”

Young Frank Stevens may have sounded despondent in his letter of April 19, 1945, but he hasn’t totally lost his spirit. That old personality still has a bit of twinkle coming out on paper here—and persistence.

Perhaps thinking of home is more of a help than a hindrance to this homesick boy. Perhaps it has dawned on him that the reason his letters aren’t being answered is that the mail may be going to the address of a not-yet-settled home. He must have thought a lot about “home”—wherever it turned out to be—for he wonders about all the details of this new place. Being able to see himself at home again—something to hope for in the future—may very well be the propellant to keep him vigilant and determined to make it through whatever difficulties might befall him and his shipmates.

And there were more difficulties ahead for the craft. From the end of March through the end of June, the LCI (L) 707, Frank’s ship, participated in the assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto. Of course, Frank couldn’t say that in his letters to William and Agnes Tully Stevens, but perhaps that’s the destination that he presumes his parents have guessed about.

            I imagine by now you have guessed where I am and all I can tell you is that things are going better than was expected and you don’t have to worry about little F. X. as I’m now known as fox hole Stevens. It’s very interesting to watch a man dig a fox hole in a steel deck. I’ll show you how it’s done when I get home.
            I imagine you have moved into the new house by now. At least that’s where I’ve been sending all my mail – how is it and is everything settled? What parish are we in now, and how is the kid doing in school? Got to close now as I’ve got a watch to stand. Bye Bye for now and take care of yourselves.
                                                            Your loving arfspring

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

No Mail

A gap in the letters makes me wonder whether Frank only wrote when he was responding to a letter from home. In this letter, dated April 19, 1945, he mentions that he hasn’t heard from William and Agnes Tully Stevens since the middle of March. Frank’s own last letter—at least the last one in my possession—was dated March 4. Either there is a missing letter, or problems with the Navy’s war-era mail system.

One clue as to mail delivery difficulties might be in Frank’s first paragraph, the mention of a midway stop between his ship’s duties at Iwo Jima and its current unnamed mission: Leyte. Though that stop was well after the epic battles there were concluded, the overall air in this letter seems more despondent than Frank’s usual patter. His tour of duty seems to be wearing on him.

 Dear Mom Dad + All:

            Still no mail, this makes it more than a month since I’ve received any and that was at Leyte. Hope someone gets on the ball bonito pronto and gets some up here to us. Got word today that Ernie Pyle was killed by a Jap machine gun slug over on Eie island. That makes two great men gone inside of a week’s time.
            Hope this finds every one at home feeling okay. I as usual am so healthy I stink or is that due to the lack of soap and water – oh well what the hell maybe some day I’ll be on a ship that doesn’t have to ration water and then I’ll smell real purty.
            Just got a letter off to Jeanne but don’t know when I’ll get a chance to mail it and this. I have to get a note in the mail to John + Clara as they both have birthdays this month.
            Gee it’s pretty bad when you get to the point where you can’t think of a blessed thing to write about. Of course I could write a lot of things but what’s the use of giving the censor the work of cutting them out.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Homesick? Or War Weary?

In the rest of Frank Stevens’ March 4th letter home—the first to go to the new Chicago address—he betrays some hints of wanting to get back home, or at least of moving on to a different assignment.

 Looks as though that scuttlebutt about getting relieved the first of March is bum dope, I just hope we will all be home by next Christmas. I’m glad you found a nice place, it sounds as if it’s going to be all-right. Did you notice whether or not there were any good looking squaws in the new neighborhood??? I’ve been doing all right for my sweet smelling sister, tell her that her short snorter will be the envy of the gang. Did a little work today. I had to give 40 shots (plague), it’s days like these that make the crew wonder whether or not I should be tossed in the drink. The Boots just came through and informed us lights were going off in five minutes so I’ll have to finish this tomorrow. Till then, love, Frank.
                                                                     April 6th, 1945
Hi again:
            Just have time to finish this off. Things are still going along okay so don’t worry. Nothing new except a batch of sore arms. Have to quit now. Lots of love, Your Keed, Frank

Things must still have been hopping on board, despite Frank’s minimizing of his duties. Whatever the reason for misdating his postscript, the letter did get off in time to arrive with a March postmark at the new home of his parents, William and Agnes Tully Stevens—who probably still discarded their boy’s advice and continued worrying about him.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Frank

It’s a sobering thought to know that these letters, sent from the site of such a devastating battle, were written by a serviceman not yet twenty-one. As of the letter posted below, written March 4, 1945—just after the initial attack on Iwo Jima was winding down—Frank’s birthday was still over eight months away, not to occur until November 13.

In the face of the multiple casualties sustained in this battle—after all, serving as a Pharmacist’s Mate, Frank must have seen the full spectrum of the injuries sustained on those beaches just beyond his ship’s position—it seems that the grisly experience would reflect in his letters. However, surprisingly, this first note home post-battle seems “up.” Frank even enlisted some puns to help slip past the censors on this one. I can only imagine that the crew was pumped about the victory, no matter how much it cost them, and that the grim reality had yet to sink in.

On the other hand, perhaps the experience had rattled him more than he thought. His sister-in-law, Maxine, must have wondered what he meant by his comment; her birthday was nowhere near the February date he had in mind. No matter whose birthday it was, though, I’m sure it represented a date Frank would never forget.

 Dear Mom Dad + All:

            I’ve got a little time to myself so I thought I’d write you a letter even though I’m not sure when it will be mailed. As you can see in the papers we have been pretty busy and tell Maxine that even if I couldn’t send her a gift that I remembered her birthday and that I’ll never forget it again as long as I live!!! Get it. The weather is a little nippy but it’s not bad so don’t worry about me, I’ve still got the luck of the Irish and it doesn’t show any signs of deserting yours truly. Wrote a letter to Grandma and one to Mary Fitzpatrick. Haven’t heard from you folks for over a week but then I’ve been to sea for quite some time. There’s a rumor going around that we are going to Australia for a rest in a few months – sure hope so. I’d really like to see that part of the world and meet some of its people.

If he were alive today, on this day, Frank would have turned eighty-seven. There are not too many from that generation still with us. With the passing of this Veterans Day—originally designated to honor those serving in the Great War, and subsequently also those serving in World War II—we memorialize the wars of now-bygone generations. Should History wish to repeat itself, let our remembrance of its past failures temper its intentions.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

On The Other Side of the World

Frank Stevens’ parents had every reason to be worried about their son. While Frank’s letters home consistently asserted that he wasn’t permitted to inform them of his exact location, newspaper reports of the war had recently been riveting. News travels fast; headlines of a devastating attack on a far-off island near Japan, complete with photograph of beach landing, had been published within fifteen hours of the operation’s start on February 19, only five days before Frank wrote William and Agnes Tully Stevens to assure them that he was safe. By the time Sunday’s newspaper landed on the Stevens’ new front porch on February 25, 1945, flashing Joseph Rosenthal’s iconic visual of U.S. Marines’ conquest of Mount Suribachi, it served poorly as relief for the concerned parents; they had yet to hear from their son.

Where, exactly, was Frank? Based on the documents saved from that time period and passed along via family, Frank’s orders on April 18, 1944, showed him reporting to Norfolk, Virginia, for assignment to the Atlantic fleet. However, an undated note written by Will indicated that his son was headed through the Panama canal to the Pacific. Indeed, Frank’s last few letters bore the return address of a Fleet Post Office in San Francisco.

It took some searching through military records to find further information on Frank’s whereabouts. From the date he returned from leave in May, 1944, I could find no record until July 20 of that year, when he is listed as “received on board” the USS LCI (L) 707, the date the ship, itself, was commissioned.

By December 31 of the same year, Frank was still listed as on board that craft, and the muster roll shows his advance to Pharmacist’s Mate First Class (T)(LC).

Between the end of that year and the point of Frank’s last note home, the USS LCI (L) 707 made its way across the Pacific, stopping at Maui for maneuvers with other units of the Pacific Fleet Amphibious Force, then proceeded westward to provide fire support, along with other Flotilla 21 ships, for the Iwo Jima landings of February 19, 1945.

Small wonder Frank ended his note home on February 24 with the request to “pray for your loving son.”
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