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New book details stories of WWII

March 27, 2011

By STEVEN NALLEY
citybeat@bellsouth.net

Jimmy Stevens isn’t selling his memoir in stores.
It must be bought for $10 at Stevens’ residence, 411 Sycamore St. in Starkville. At only 28 pages, it isn’t a long book, but Stevens said he gave his all to make the book worth 100 times its price.
“I want it to be worth that much to you,” he said. “If it ain’t, I’ll give you the $10 back.”
At 93 years old, Jimmy Stevens tells stories about family, friends and his combat experience in World War II in his memoir, “First.”
As a soldier in the U.S. Navy, Stevens served aboard the U.S.S. Hornet, from which the Air Force launched the Doolittle Raid, America’s first air assault on Tokyo in World War II.
“I was first on the Hornet, too,” Stevens said. “I put it in commission, and I sailed on it until it got sunk.”
However, Stevens said the book’s title comes not from the U.S.S. Hornet, but from another, lighter story in its first chapter that taught him the importance of being first. One morning, when his children were young, his son got angry because his sister had been served eggs before him. Stevens said the family’s maid, Melrose, instantly solved the problem by serving him poached eggs and telling him he was the first in the house to have his eggs poached.
“I wrote this book for my boy,” Stevens said. “Most of the book is right there in that first chapter.”
It took six months to write the book, Stevens said, but it took longer to get started. Even at his age, he said, he had no problem remembering the stories he wanted to tell. He said the problem was condensing them into a book.
“It took a long time to decide to write the book, because I never could get it all down,” Stevens said. “I just was not a writer. I finally cut the stories down mentally until I could tell them in short spurts. Dr. T.K. Martin once told me, ‘If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you can spend hours talking about it. If you do, you can spend seven or eight minutes.’ That’s the reason I’ve got such a short book.”
Stevens said “First” does not focus on the tragedies of war Stevens lived through, but it does include some of them. One, he said, was an attack on the U.S.S. Wasp, another ship he served aboard.
“I tell one thing in there about one of my friends getting killed, a cook,” Stevens said. “I had eaten soup with him the night before, and the next day, the Wasp was hit.”
Watermark Printers, LLC in Starkville published 500 copies for Stevens to sell, but he said it would be a miracle if he sold them all.
“If I sell 500, I’ll probably be dead by then, anyhow,” Stevens said.
One member of Watermark, Helen Philley, handled the typesetting, layout and photographs for “First,” and she said she had enjoyed working on and reading the book immensely.
“I’m not a big history buff, but I could see the stories he put in there had meant a lot to him,” Philley said. “I was very impressed with his recall as far as memories of his. I’m sure these events must have made a very great impression on him for him to recall so many details after all these years. He came in several times discussing what he wanted to put in the book.”
It’s not every day Watermark gets customers coming in asking to print memoirs, Philley said. The closest they normally come, she said, is printing small cookbooks for churches to sell for charity. However, she said she would welcome the chance to work on a memoir again.
“We’re more an everyday type of publisher, printing business cards, letterheads, forms and things like that, but we have done a few little books like this,” Philley said.
Stevens’ daughter, Karen Lasik, said she had wanted to edit “First” before it went to print, but when she traveled from her home in Ellensburg, Wash. to Starkville for Christmas, Stevens had already sent it to Watermark to print. Nevertheless, she said, the book turned out just fine.
“I am glad that he actually wrote the stories down,” Lasik said. “I have been hearing that a lot of the World War II veterans will not talk about their experiences.”
By contrast, Lasik said, Stevens never remained silent. She said she had grown up with the stories told in “First,” and so had her own children.
“My kids, his grandkids, always ask, ‘Do you think these stories are true?’” Lasik said. “He embellished a little bit sometimes, but the stories in the book, they are all true. He’s a character, and everybody loves him.”

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