James “Jack” Turner Stephens, Jr., was my great uncle, however he was the closest thing to a grandfather to me. He was an unusual man. I would not describe him as estranged, but simply not like anyone else any of us likely would know. He was an unusually dull man. I can remember him visiting during a family and friends occasion and others would laugh at him behind his back, because he was so dull.
I believe my first fascination with him began with my fascination with military history as a child. I recall asking my father if he knew any generals. He said no, but uncle Jack knew Curtis Lemay. The next time Jack came to visit I asked him if he knew Curtis Lemay. He looked at me somewhat in horror and disbelief, didn’t answer me and walked away to ask my parents why I was asking him that question. From then I had been curious and fascinated as to who he was and what he did for a living.
Through the years it seemed as if he gave me clues, such as giving me a model of the RB-36 bomber for Christmas, or the time he came to watch me play Legend of Zelda. He described Legend of Zelda to me as if he knew exactly what the game was. He used basic, but technical terms that made an abundantly clear definition of what the game was. Later I came to find out that the game was made from software that was originally used for tactical intelligence.
Over the years, every time I visited him I would ask him questions about what he did for a living. He would give a minor detail about work he did, or what I thought he did, for AT&T and then quickly change the subject.
After he turned 98 in 2018, when I visited him, he said to me he didn’t like his job as he was always afraid of assassination. I was floored. I had no idea where this was coming from. As a matter of fact, he said he was surprised he had lived so long without being assassinated.
From around this time on, I made more effort to visit him and hear his story. I attempted to visit him about twice a week for close to a year. He had told me that I should record his ramblings during my visits.
After accumulating a large quantity of recorded visits with him, I sat down and organized these recording by cutting them down to just him speaking about pertinent matters and then placed them in chronological order based on the time line of his life.
He began working at AT&T June 23, 1941. This was the day after Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. He then retired from AT&T in 1976. He conducted a wide range of jobs for AT&T, but they were all from the Potomac office. He had said he had the same job the entire time. I would guess that this job he is describing would have been his handling of the Presidents telephone. When the President was in the White House making a simple phone call, then C&P Telephone was responsible for the phone call, he said. Otherwise, if the President traveled then Jack’s crew, called “Stephens Raiders”, were then responsible for conducting and managing the Presidents phone calls. They were also responsible for making complicated phone calls for the President.
He also said that he believes he was the only secret agent working at AT&T during this time.
While this portion of his story begins with him being born in Richmond, VA, it is mostly about his first operation that was created out of an arrangement between British Intelligence and the beginnings of American intelligence. He was selected by older men that worked out of the Manhattan Office in Rockefeller Center. This was the location of the British Intelligence office. Specifically, Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond, and William “Wild Bill” Donovan were working together in that office at that time.
It is clear that this operation was one of the first operations conducted by the American intelligence office which later became known as the Central Intelligence Agency.
After this operation, Jack continued working in intelligence and likely has had one of the most fascinating lives anyone could have dreamed of.
I hope you like the movie. I suspect it will be a continual work in progress