Although it's been 29 years since their father died, Cynthia Brooks and Nancy Hebert only recently made their first visit to the Forestville school named after him. The Francis T. Evans Elementary School was built in 1969, near the school playground where Evans' F-86 fighter plane crashed in 1953.
Crash experts and witnesses reported that Evans, who was flying to Andrews Air Force Base, waited to eject from the nose-diving plane until he had steered it away from a playground where 200 children were playing.
Evans, who flew 114 missions in World War II, was found dead 50 feet from his burning plane.
Evans' daughters, Brooks, now 33, and Hebert, 29, born three months after her father died, both live in New Hampshire.
"It made me sad to look at his picture," Brooks said. "I wish may son could have known his grandfather." Her 3-year-old son, Thomas Ronald, is named for his grandfather, whose middle name was Thomas.
"The most frustrating part for me was everyone feeling sorry for me," said Hebert. "I always asked my mother about him so I learned about him more as I grew up."
However, both women said they were surprised when their uncle, Douglas Evans, a retired Air Force major, described what actually happened in the last minutes of their father's plane crash.
"He waited too late to eject and when his parachute opened, it just didn't have enough time to open all the way before he hit the ground," said Douglas Evans, who was four years younger than his brother and stationed at Victorville, Calif., at the time of the crash.
"I never knew that: I had been told that his parachute never opened," Brooks said.
Their uncle described how Evans struggled to revive his dying aircraft:
"The hydraulic system failed, so he went through a sequence of three alternate hydraulic systems, but each one failed. Finally the electrical pump failed and, by that time, the plane was nose-diving for the school."
The last words radioed by Evans back to Andrews Air Force Base minutes before the crash were, "have negative hydraulics," his brother said.
Hebert says she regrets not making a career in the Air Force to follow in the footsteps of her father. Her grandfather, Francis T. Evans Jr., also was a pilot in the Marine Corps. All three Evans men were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Fred Spinks, who was president of the Forestville Citizens Association in 1953 at the time of the crash, led the initial campaign to name a new elementary school -- built in 1969 on the site of the crash -- after Evans. It was an easy campaign, he recalled.
Four years before he died, his daughters said, Evans wrote an ironic letter to his godmother on the occasion of his godfather's death. Here are the thoughts of a man who later lost his life in saving 200 younger lives:
"I used to be very frightened of death until I became acquainted with it, and like so many things, I found the truth was not as fearful as I thought. I remember (where I first started flying, and was still frightened most of the time) that I thought it must be horrible seeing the ground come rushing up at you and knowing that you are going to crash and be killed. . . . Then through personal experience I found out differently.
"I found that when physical fear can find no 'out,' when it is seen off as though a switch were thrown and you become a spectator to the thing that is happening and it seems strangely unimportant -- merely a sudden drama in the infinity of time.... And when you find yourself alive due to forces other than your own, you accept the fact and go on from there."