It’s the early 1940s, and like so many other young men of his time, Frank Stevens is making the decision to follow in his father’s footsteps in making his occupational choice. Frank joins William Stevens’ real estate business, becoming one of Chicago’s youngest agents. Frank seems to enjoy the business, and definitely shows signs of being pleased that he can work alongside the man who holds such an important role in his life.
The strike on Pearl Harbor in 1941 shocks the nation and somehow convinces young Frank to drop everything and sign up for service in the Navy. A desire for adventure and a dream for traveling to far-flung places, typical youthful inclinations, may have played a minor part in this decision—but not enough to keep Frank from eventually waking up to a wave of that “ever present” homesickness.
He speaks often of wishing he were back home—especially so after his father suffers bouts of recurrent heart episodes and other serious near-misses, sometimes including hospitalizations. It seems Frank can’t get home soon enough when his father’s health shows signs of getting worse. Sometimes, it seems as if Frank is wondering whether he’ll even get the chance to go home before some health scare claims his father’s life.
But now it’s the beginning of a new year: 1946, and Frank is home to stay. He signs his confirmation of separation, declaring to all the world—at least to those who are interested in knowing—that he intends to go back to civilian life for good.
That year, 1946, holds perhaps the very thing Frank has been fearing. Whatever happens in those winter months is hard to tell without any letters or journals to provide a clue. I take my cue from the many episodes and hospitalizations Frank has already mentioned to surmise that more of the same continue to occur, for come spring and the beginning of May, Will evidently suffers a coronary thrombosis. By the morning of May 10, 1946, the very thing Frank had feared for all those years he was away comes to pass, and the most important person in his life is now gone.
Gone. That’s a hard concept to get one’s head around. There is something deep inside us that acts as if—thinks as if—life will go on forever. But it doesn’t, and for Frank that morning, no matter how great the love, how earnest the admiration, the power of those very real emotions was not great enough to stop the force that took his father away from him.
Things changed a lot for Frank as he bridged the gap from childhood to adulthood—for, after all, at that point he was only six months past his twenty-first birthday—and in looking back and analyzing what happened to him over the years, family members have always concluded that it was the war years that had changed him. But now that I’ve gone page by page over these letters, now that I’ve gotten to so closely know this man I never met, it’s my guess that the stress that changed him—if it was any type of post-traumatic stress that made the difference—was not solely owing to what he endured in his months of service in the Pacific. It was, above anything else, finally coming home only to lose the one who meant so very much to him.