In 1937, Jake’s father passed away. Myrtle and Jake moved to Manhattan, renting a home a few blocks south of the agricultural college. He went to work for a magazine company.
While Charley finished high school, Jake stayed on the farm and helped his older brother James. Charley then moved to Manhattan as well and enrolled at the college. Jake, however, opted to join the Marines. In a letter to his mother dated Nov. 24, 1941, he wrote:
“Tomorrow, we are going out to the rifle range and fire our rifles . . . it looks like we will be using them before long. This seems to be about all. Thanks for the lighter. Love, Jake.”
His comment about “using them before long” was no doubt a reference to the fact that war was on the horizon. Less than two weeks later he stood watch on the battleship that had taken him to Hawaii while other ships patrolled the harbor entrance, scouting for submarines.
But no one on board knew how close war really was. Early in the morning on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Jake was posted on the mighty battleship USS Arizona. When formations of Japanese planes suddenly began to darken the sky it took everyone by surprise. Only minutes into the attack, a bomb from a Japanese torpedo bomber penetrated the decks of the Arizona and detonated the ship’s ammunition stores. The resulting explosion tore the ship in half and caused the deaths of approximately 1,177 of the Arizona’s 1,512 crewman. Tragically, Jake was among those killed.
Marine Private First Class Frank Jake Stevenson was one of the very first U.S. casualties of World War II. His mother Myrtle, who continued to live in Manhattan for many years, was one of the first “Gold Star” mothers of the war — a designation for mothers who had lost children in service of their country. Jake’s body was recovered and buried in Hawaii, though he has a memorial in Riverside Cemetery in Waterville, Kansas.
Jake’s brother Charley left the agricultural college in Manhattan after Jake’s death and joined the Marines himself. He served his country from 1943 to 1946 and made it home again. We honor both of their service.