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Jens Leslie Stevenson: Called to Serve

By: Ardis E. Parshall - July 31, 2008

Jens Leslie Stevenson’s life had a touch of the international: Born in Utah in 1890 to an English father and a Danish mother, he accompanied his family on their move to Alberta when he was about 12.

Whatever his ethnic or national heritage, Jens was thoroughly Mormon. Called as a missionary in 1917, he reported to the Eastern States Mission on February 1 and was assigned to work in western Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh was then a center of anti-Mormon sentiment, and on two occasions Jens was jailed briefly for preaching the gospel. That didn’t discourage him, according to elders who knew him. Nor was he intimidated by the frequent calls to “Work or Fight!” – the slogan that seemed to be on everyone’s lips as the United States geared up to join World War I.

The first call for the American military draft in the Great War required all men between the ages of 21 and 31 to fill out registration cards on June 5, 1917. The parents of many Mormon missionaries and out-of-state students of any religion registered their sons in their home towns, where they maintained permanent addresses and where draft boards knew the circumstances of each man. Jens’s family, however, residing in Canada, could not take care of this chore for Jens, so he reported to the Allegheny County, Pennsylvania draft board on June 5, filled out the form and identified himself as an ordained minister of the gospel.

On October 15, Jens was drafted. He applied for 5-A exemption as a minister, but the Pittsburgh draft board was unmoved. His deferment was denied, and Jens was required to report to Virginia’s Camp Lee for military training.

He so reported. But although Private Stevenson was required to lay aside the suit of a missionary for the uniform of a soldier, Elder Stevenson considered himself called still to be a missionary. In one military camp after another, up and down the Atlantic Seaboard, Jens spoke of his religion whenever an opening offered, maintained his standards as a Latter-day Saint, and sent a weekly report of his missionary labors to Elder V.S. Pingree, president of the West Pennsylvania Conference.

To his parents he wrote:

Now that I am in the army for good, I am here to do my best and to show the world that the Latter-day Saints are the light on the hill, not under a bushel. Every ‘Mormon’ boy (at least that is the way I feel) is a wonder to all the men. I do not know what it is to use tea, coffee, tobacco or liquor, or to have a smoke. I do not know what they taste like. When we get hard tack to eat, I am almost tempted to take some tea to soak it in, for not always is water to be had. Then I think ‘He that breaketh the least commandment,’ etc. So I brace up and so far have not yielded.

To President Pingree he wrote:

I had the privilege of speaking to a crowd of soldier boys on Sunday. The next morning a lieutenant asked me if I would talk to the boys if a ‘Song Service’ was held. This is the way an opportunity opened for me. I tried to show them that the Lord would not forget us if we would seek His aid and let Him know that we wanted help from Him. We had a fine little gathering.

I am truly thankful for the Gospel, and nothing gives me more pleasure than to try and explain it to others. It is the ‘pearl of great price.’ Last night two officers came to our tent and I had a very good Gospel conversation with them.

I am more than pleased to receive the [Deseret] News and Liahona[: The Elders’ Journal]. I received a fine letter from President [Walter] Monson [president of the Eastern States Mission] and I hope the Lord will bless me so that I can live up to what he said in the same.

Private Stevenson became Corporal Stevenson, and in early 1918 he and the rest of Co. F, 319th Infantry, 80th Division, U.S. Army, sailed for France. At least his unit’s motto – Vis Montium – “Strength of the Mountains” – had a familiar ring, although it referred to the Blue Mountains rather than the western Rockies. They landed in France on June 8, trained briefly with the British Third Army, then headed for the front lines to take part in the Somme Offensive.

On October 8, the 319th’s position in the Argonne Forest came under heavy fire. Seeing one of his comrades lying wounded in the open, Jens voluntarily left shelter to crawl to the wounded man. While trying to dress the man’s injuries, Jens was killed by machine gun fire.

Almost six months after his death in France, Corporal Jens Leslie Stevenson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for heroism in action, second only to the Medal of Honor as a citation for valor.

Elder Jens Leslie Stevenson has never been released from his mission.



16 Comments »

  1. Another profoundly moving story of an otherwise unknown Latter-day Saint (but one whose story should be known). Thanks for posting this, Ardis.

    My grandfather was the same age, married for about three years, when he too was drafted. His time in the army was spent at Camp Lewis, Washington, as a muleskinner, and he never went overseas. Sadly, whatever stories he had of his experiences as a Mormon in the army died with him.

    Comment by Mark B. — July 31, 2008 @ 8:21 am

  2. Thank you, Mark. When I ran across the germ of this story, I got really excited — JLS is exactly the kind of man I want to remember.

    (You know, this blogging business is really strange. I hadn’t expected the auto park mission story to go anywhere, and it turned out to be a real comment-getter. I thought this story would be popular, but no. Those mistaken expectations, from both directions, happen every day or two. Thank you yet again, Mark.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 31, 2008 @ 12:56 pm

  3. “Elder Jens Leslie Stevenson has never been released from his mission.”

    What a fitting conclusion.

    Comment by Ray — July 31, 2008 @ 2:22 pm

  4. Sometimes the emotional ones leave you speechless. I wouldn’t dream of taking away from what you said by adding something of my own.

    Comment by BruceC — July 31, 2008 @ 3:02 pm

  5. (pouting works, but I shouldn’t sink to it anyway)

    Thanks, Ray and Bruce. Posts like this feel a little like a family reunion to me, and I’m glad we’re all here.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 31, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

  6. Ardis, words aren’t adequate here. What a legacy he has left for us and for his family. Thanks again for these little bits of sunshine every day.

    Comment by kevinf — July 31, 2008 @ 3:18 pm

  7. Ardis, what do you know of his family? How did they react to his death? A very touching story.

    Comment by Maurine — July 31, 2008 @ 4:23 pm

  8. Thanks, kevinf, Maurine.

    Jens (actually, I think he may have gone by Leslie among friends) was the oldest of his parents’ children, the only one who would have been old enough to make any labor contribution at all when the family started over again on new land in Canada (Raymond, or near it). I haven’t yet come across any direct reaction to his death from his family, though. (I do know that Allegheny County, Pa., was suddenly very willing to claim him as one of their own when the DSC was awarded, although they knew nothing about him beyond the facts on his draft registration card — available through ancestry.com, if any of you have access to that.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — July 31, 2008 @ 4:35 pm

  9. Since it is memorial day in the US I decided to make an attempt at finding out if my Uncle Leslie’s service and consequent death in France was ever acknowledged by the country that called him into service regardless of him being an ordained minister for the LDS church and also a Canadian citizen. I was amazed to find this written about him. Thank you for your kind words.

    I remember as a girl growing up in Raymond, Alberta, that every Nov. 11th my mother would go to the Cenetaph to honor him along with others whose names were written there with many others in the town. Later in life I also came to appreciate Jens Leslie Stevenson for the life he gave and continue to feel a close bond to him.

    I wonder if his name appears on any memorial in the United States? Who can help me with this. Most sincerely Deanna Hardy

    Comment by Deanna — May 30, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

  10. Deanna, how wonderful to hear from you today. Your uncle’s faith and continued missionary feeling — his apparent lack of bitterness, especially — despite his conscription makes his story one of my favorites of all the “unknown Saints” whose lives I have been able to learn something about.

    It’s barely possible that his name would appear on a monument in Pittsburgh in a list of men drafted from that city, especially in light of his DSC — I don’t know how to find that out, though, and hope another reader has an idea. There is no national listing of casualties, so I think western Pennsylvania is the only realistic place to look.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 30, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

  11. Love this. The OP was before i found your blog, Ardis, but guess what, Deanna? I’m one county away from Allegheny County. I’ll put out my feelers.

    Comment by Ellen — May 30, 2011 @ 5:59 pm

  12. Deanna, I have found two items that may interest you. I’ll put them into two comments.

    http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=djft3U1LymYC&dat=19190209&printsec=frontpage

    On page 20 of the February 9, 1919 issue of the Pittsburgh Press is the same photograph as above of Corp. J. L. Stevenson. The text reads as follows:

    How Corp. Jens L. Stevenson, Canadian, but recent resident of Pittsburg, was killed in battle is told in a letter from Lieut Theodore L. Cogswell, Co. F, Three Hundred and Nineteenth Infantry to Mrs. S. W. Perry, 128 Charles St., Knoxville. During a counter attack by Germans near Bois de Ogons Oct. 6, Corp Stevenson went to the aid of a wounded soldier between the German and American lines. While binding his wounds a German machine gun bullet killed him. His lieutenant has recommended a distinguished service cross for his family.

    Comment by Ellen — May 31, 2011 @ 1:20 pm

  13. Here is the text of the citation awarded to Corp. Jens L. Stevenson from this page:
    http://www.militarytimes.com/citations-medals-awards/recipient.php?recipientid=14900

    The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross (Posthumously) to Corporal Jens L. Stevenson (ASN: 1826693), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with Company F, 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Division, A.E.F., at Bois-des-Ogons, France, October 6. 1918. Corporal Stevenson voluntarily left shelter and crawled in the open under heavy machine-gun fire to the aid of a wounded soldier. While trying to dress the latter’s injuries, Corporal Stevenson was killed by a machine-gun bullet.

    General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 2 (1926)
    Action Date: 6-Oct-18
    Service: Army
    Rank: Corporal
    Company: Company F
    Regiment: 319th Infantry Regiment
    Division: 80th Division, American Expeditionary Forces

    Comment by Ellen — May 31, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

  14. Oh, my. Thank you, Ellen.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 31, 2011 @ 1:39 pm

  15. Ardis
    looks like Ken Cromar has picked up this story for inclusion in a Saints at War documentary
    Here’s the link

    http://ldsmag.com/ldsmag/articles/061110veteransprint.html

    Comment by Abertawe — December 6, 2012 @ 8:50 am

  16. Thanks for the heads-up. I wonder what his source is, especially given the funky form of the name.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — December 6, 2012 @ 8:52 am

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