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


  1. It sounds like he was chatty this letter. Perhaps, excited or lonely...who knows. His letters are getting more censored than usual so the war is getting worse?

  2. The Japanese also used Kamikaze boats during the battle of Okinawa. It must have been a truely vicious battle.

    Here is a list of ships sunk by kamikaze aircraft at Okinawa up to May 4th.

    Apr. 6 Bush (DD-529) (destroyer)
    Apr. 6 Colhoun (DD-801) (destroyer)
    Apr. 6 Emmons (DMS-22) (high-speed minesweeper)
    Apr. 6 Hobbs Victory (cargo ship)
    Apr. 6 Logan Victory (cargo ship)
    Apr. 7 LST-447 (landing ship, tank) [9]
    Apr. 12 Mannert L. Abele (DD-733) (destroyer)
    Apr. 12 LCS(L)(3)-33 (landing craft, support (large) (Mk. III)) [10]
    Apr. 16 Pringle (DD-477) (destroyer)
    Apr. 22 Swallow (AM-65) (minesweeper)
    Apr. 22 LCS(L)(3)-15 (landing craft, support (large) (Mk. III))
    Apr. 27 Canada Victory (cargo ship)
    May 3 Little (DD-803) (destroyer)
    May 3 LSM(R)-195 (landing ship, medium (rocket))
    May 4 Morrison (DD-560) (destroyer)
    May 4 Luce (DD-522) (destroyer)
    May 4 LSM(R)-190 (landing ship, medium (rocket))
    May 4 LSM(R)-194 (landing ship, medium (rocket))

    This doesn't include ships sunk by other means - and ship that were "only" damaged. Frank must have had an eyeful.

    I'm so glad to see Frank got a ton of letters from home (even if they all came at once!)

  3. Helpful list, Iggy. Thanks! And yes, quite a sobering thought. We owe these people quite a bit of gratitude for their heroic service.


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