A Family of Heroes
Frank Louis Jockers
I come from a family of heroes. My maternal great grandfather Adam Jockers joined Company D 20thNew York Volunteer Infantry, and stood ready for action in the Civil War on May 3rd, 1861. We have a large framed document with white ink on black paper listing all his engagements including Chancellorsville and The Mud March. He was “particularly mentioned” by his brigade commander at the Battle of Sharp’s Creek, also known as Antietam. He was wounded in his left arm at the Battle of Salem Church,and mustered out on June 1st, 1863, two years after he enlisted. He returned home to College Point, Long Island, married my great-grandmother Caroline, and together they had thirteen children. My grandfather and namesake Frank Louis Jockers was number eleven.
My grandmother, born Augusta Schroeter in 1885 was the oldest of six children. In order came Dorothy, Carl, Millie, Anne, and Fred. Nicknames; Gussie, Dot, Carl, Millie, Nonnie and Freddie. Their mother Dora, another hero left her home in Germany at 16 when her mother died and her father married a veritable “wicked stepmother” with two “wicked step-sisters” who made her do all the housework. A 10-day journey across a vast ocean to a strange country seemed a better choice. Arriving with no knowledge of the English language but an young and attractive fraulien found a position as an upstairs maid with a powerful soap entrepreneur (John Babbett). She married well and her six children did well, most living long and prosperous lives. Gussie lived to her 97thbirthday , her baby brother Freddie; 102.
Born in 1883, my grandfather started a business with his partner Dan Stack in 1907 when he was 24 years old. They bought and sold properties in New York City, and openedThe Queensboro Garage. My grandfather’s first-born child, a daughter, was born on New Year’s Day 1913, my aunt Virginia. His second child, my aunt Muriel came along 21 months later. When Muriel was a year old, and just learning to walk, she contracted polio which rendered both her legs completely useless. Her father made sure she learned to swim, the standard therapy at the time, and she strengthened her upper body, one that would serve her well throughout her lifetime. Her father Frank also taught her to drive with hand controls he designed for her, and insisted she drive him to work and home every day. My aunt Muriel, “Aunt Meam, or Mimi” to all those who loved her, was my first hero. I never looked at her as disabled, because she never behaved like it. She was one of the kindest and strongest women I have ever known.
My mother Joan came along years later in 1923, the veritable baby of the family. My grandfather doted on her. When he went to West Palm Beach Florida to visit his partner’s winter home, my mother always went with him. Still, his expectations for her were high, and after high school she attended secretarial school in Manhattan for two years. The building, located at 666 Fifth Avenue housed Martha Graham’s Dance Studioon the top floor, the Scutter Business Schoolon the second floor, and an Art Film Theater on the ground floor. The building has been in the news most recently as a boondoggle Jared Kushner bought and lost money on. Jared is the current President’s son-in-law. The top floor now houses a cigar lounge, the Grand Havana Roomfrequented by men of great wealth. My mother, another hero worked for individuals of great wealth including an opera star from the Metropolitan Opera and James Roosevelt a financial advisor a cousin of the President.
On one of those trips down south to West Palm Beach with her father Frank, my mother was encouraged to attend a USO Dance. WW II was raging and soldiers had returned from action, including my own father Glen. He was an officer and a Link-Trainer instructor, an older version of a “flight simulator.” Stationed overseas he helped keep our pilots in the air, familiar with any technical updates and flight circumstances. My mom went to the dance, met my dad, and the rest is history as they say. My dad was an industrious man who was devoted to my mother and his three children. Another hero in his own way.
Next up was my cousin, my one and only cousin William J. Smith. Known as “Billy” to all his loved ones. Billy was 14 older than me, and the only son of my Aunt Virginia. Billy, also known as “Wild Bill” for his exploits behind the wheel of fast boats and faster cars, earned himself a one-way ticket to a Military Academy. While it did was instill in him a respect for authority, it also provided a need to serve his country as he did when he joined the United States Air Force. Another war was raging, this time in Viet Nam, and he worked his way up through the ranks and aircraft until his intelligence, skills and need for speed hooked him up for a variety fighter jets. F 4’s, F- 86’s, 100’s, 104’s, 106’s and 111’s were all wild beasts “Wild Bill” tamed under his capable hands. After tours of duty, combat missions in Viet Nam, he retired to a more sedentary position as a test pilot which gave him the opportunity to put the pedal to the metal at speeds exceeding the speed of sound by factors of 2 and close to 3. That’s Mach 2…Mach 3. In a convoluted “product safety inspection” it was up to Bill to make sure the wings didn’t fall off these little missiles when they were put through their paces. Another link to Adam and Frank Jockers, another genuine hero.
But this story is really a story about my grandfather, one that no one in the family ever heard until just recently. A story of his heroic act almost a hundred years ago in the state we all came from so many years ago. This story is about Frank Louis Jockers. My grandfather, and my cousin Bill’s grandfather.
I never got to know my grandfather. He died in 1951 at 68 after a stroke when I was still a toddler. While I insist that my first memory involved my grandfather tossing me up in the air, my mother insists that never happened. “Not only were you too young when your grandfather died, but that was not like him….to play with children, even his grandson. ”He was a family man, a businessman, and even an entrepreneur, buying and selling real estate in New York City at the turn of the century. A newspaper clipping from the era reads,“The Queensboro Garage and salesroom at 66-68 Broadway, Flushing, has been sold by the owners, Frank Jockers and Daniel Stack…” “Jockers and Stack started the business in 1907, after they had purchased the buildings from the Jackson estate. It is their intention to devote their time to real estate interests in various sections of Queens, being the owners of several large tracts of land in the borough.” As it turned out, his new garage located on Northern Boulevard, Queens, where automobiles were sold and repaired turned out to be their most lucrative endeavor, in fact “Jockers and Stack Auto Parts” continued as a business thirty years after his death in 1951 and was still an Auto Parts Store as late as 2016, six decades after it was sold.
The act for which he is acknowledged to be a full fledge hero however, took place in 1926, and had little to do with his love of automobiles, although it certainly worked in his favor when it came to his vast knowledge of them. Though my mother was only three years old at the time, her two older sisters Muriel and Virginia were both teenagers at the time, plenty old enough to have heard the story and reported it, even bragged about it over the years. They never said a word. Not to me, not to my cousin Bill, Virginia’s son, not to my two sisters, not a word to my mom or her cousin Jean. I know this because when I told them the story, they were incredulous. My mom may be 95, but she is as sharp as she ever was, lives in Florida with my “baby” sister, and insists she never heard the story from my grandmother or anyone for that matter.
Jean Montville, my grandmother Gussie’s niece, and my mom’s cousin, another sharp woman at 92 also never heard the story. Her mother was Aunt Dot. I could envision her furrowed brow when I shared the story with her as she reflected and told me, “That is so uncharacteristic of Uncle Frank, he was a very quiet serious man who read the New York Timescover to cover, that’s just so unlike him.” Just maybe, that characteristic, his quiet, serious…humble side, may have brought him to ask those present at the time, not to discuss the event. He might very well have shunned the attention, the well-deserved praise, the recognition as a hero. The respect he commanded would have kept the story amongst the four of them; my grandfather, his beloved wife, and my grandmother, his partner Dan Stack, and his wife Angie. But for the local newspaper report no one would have known about his singular act of heroism. My guess is that his more gregarious partner Dan was the source for the newspaper story.
My mother’s cousin Jean described by grandfather as quiet and serious, and Jean would know. Thanks to cousin Jean, I was able to assemble audios of my grandmother, her “baby brother” Uncle Fred, and other family members from almost 50 years ago. Cousin Jean used to bring a cassette recorder with her to birthday parties, holiday gatherings and other occasions, set it on a table near my grandmother who was born in 1885, and ask her questions about growing up in New York City. I had hours of cassette tapes catalogued and converted to MP-3’s and then had transcripts made that allowed family to gather round and listen to voices long gone telling wild tales of horses, and pigs and outhouses and hanging brother Carl on the clothesline. My grandmother’s baby brother Fred, who lived to be 102 told his story about stowing away on a merchant ship when he was 17, forced to work in the bowels of the ship shoveling coal into the boilers. He regaled us with stories about his visit to Nazi Germany in 1934 to visit aunts, uncles, and cousins, but not a word about the event involving his sister and my grandmother. In all the hours, of all the tales of my mother’s family, not a word, not a rumor about the story about the day my grandfather, “Prevented a major conflagration” in a Manhattan garage in 1926. Here is what happened.
My grandfather Frank, his wife, my grandmother Augusta “Gussie”, and his partner Dan Stack and his wife Angie left Flushing to attend a benefit theater party for Flushing Hospital in Manhattan. Back in those days parking garages lacked ramps and relied on large elevators to lift vehicles from ground level to parking spots on upper floors. On this occasion, my grandfather’s Studebaker was on the fifth floor. He told his wife and partner and his wife to wait while he walked up the five flights to retrieve the vehicle for the ride home. He was second in line behind a chauffeur driven automobile of the same make as his own. Without warning, the car ahead of him lurched forward and plunged five stories down the elevator shaft crashing through the roof of the elevator car and onto the vehicle inside it.
In all the commotion no one considered the dangers inherent in the still-running vehicle expect my grandfather who ran down five flights of stairs, clambered up the wreckage and turning off the motor, not before receiving, “…a sharp electric shock,” most likely from the exposed wires in the damaged shaft. When the car crashed down the shaft it was recognized as the same kind of car as my grandfather drove, my grandmother became hysterical thinking it was her husband who had crashed down the shaft. Her fears were quickly alleviated when my grandfather ran to her and calmed her down reassuring her that he was okay and it was not his car that had crashed down the shaft. The article closed on, “It was evident that but for Mr. Jocker’s timely action fire must have broken out in the wreckage, endangering the whole structure through the presence of gasoline and other combustibles. “ The article was headlined with, “COLLEGE POINTER’S ACT AVERTED A MORE SERIOUS CALAMITY.”
My grandfather’s quick thinking and rapid response saved the lives of the chauffeur, his passenger, the gentleman in the car below and any number of other innocent bystanders. Humble from beginning to end, he never spoke of the incident and his part in it, and no doubt strongly encouraged the others present to refrain from speaking of it as well, for over the next 25 years, until the day he died, no one spoke of the day, my grandfather and namesake at the risk of his safety and even his own life took an action to save others. The definition of a true hero. Frank L. Miller April 14, 2019