Remembering Uncle Lewis

One of my earliest memories is of dinner at Grandma Rose’s house.  Her towels, furniture, and closets smelled of mothballs; she even stored her silverware in mothballs.  Mostly, though, I recall standing on Grandma’s couch to study the framed collage of black and white photographs on her wall.  I recognized my father, but knew the other boy in the pictures only by name, and by heart.

Uncle Lewis was my father’s only sibling, younger than my dad by ten years.  We never met, and Daddy never spoke of him.  But they were best friends.  In one picture Lewis was laughing, having been surprised on the toilet by my father with his camera.  The brothers teased Grandma too.  Lewis would yell, “Harry, stop hitting me!”  Grandma would rush in, and scold my father for picking on his little brother.  Undaunted, they’d laugh and repeat, until Grandma caught on.

Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Lewis was drafted into the infantry, a shy studious eighteen year old who had never kissed a girl.  My father joined up as an officer.  He pulled a few strings to get Lewis transferred into the 30th ‘Old Hickory’ Division, so the brothers could cross the Atlantic on the same ship.  Lewis wrote letters and post cards home, often addressed to their dog ‘Peanuts.’

“Hey, Peanuts, tell Pa to eat his spinach!”   From the ship he wrote, “Harry and his buddies sneaked me into their cabin.  They gave me chocolate and let me play with their puppy.  Don’t tell anyone, or we’ll all catch it.  They smuggled the pup on board, and officers shouldn’t fraternize with enlisted men…”

While serving in Africa, Italy, England, France, and Germany, Harry was safely behind the front lines.  But Lewis was sent to Normandy two days after the D-Day invasion.  He fought in the hedgerows of France, and in Holland.  “The Dutch ran into the streets and passed out everything from soup to nuts.  As we marched out of there in the middle of the night, you could hear the clink of cognac, whiskey, and wine bottles in the guys’ jackets, amidst all the cursing and the roar of the Jerrys’ planes overhead.”  

To his parents Lewis wrote, “Dear Ma and Pa, today I saw General Eisenhower drive by.”  Or, “Kronk said the war can’t last.  It just can’t.  And he said it with such an angelic look on his face, I believe him!”

But to my father he wrote, “You should see the bruise from where a bullet passed through my shirt, Brub.  It was a close call.”  Or, “They took Julian away.  It’s so lonely here, Brub.  He’s the reason I wouldn’t take that promotion to sergeant.  We dug in together, took care of each other when things got rough.  I don’t know how bad he’s hurt; I just hope he makes it, and escapes this Hell.  Pray for me, Brub. Pray for me.”

On September 20, 1944, the day before his company attacked the Siegfried Line, Staff Sergeant Lewis Baltuck was killed by the blast of a shell.  Twenty years old, he had hardly begun to live.  He was survived by his parents, his dog Peanuts, and his brother Harry.  He never had the time or the opportunity to fall in love and marry.  He left no children to mourn for him—only the Bronze Star and the bronzed baby booties Grandma kept on her bookshelf until the day she died, more than forty years after her son’s death.

Harry married, had seven children, and built his own little house in Detroit.  But for the rest of his life he suffered acutely from the unspeakable burden of depression and Survivor’s Guilt.  When Grandpa Max died, my father became the sole caretaker of his widowed mother.  There was no one to share that burden with, to joke with or jolly her along.  Worst of all, crazed with grief, Grandma Rose blamed Harry for Lewis’s death.

I envied those kids who grew up with cousins to play with, and uncles who cared about them.  Uncle Lewis would’ve been that kind of uncle, and my father would have been a different man, without that black cloud to live under.  When Daddy died in 1965, we lost our connection to my father’s extended family, and our ties to our paternal cultural heritage were nearly lost as well.  But it does no good to dwell on the past or to speculate on what might have been.

Uncle Lewis was right about one thing.  War is Hell.  The price it exacts is impossible to tally, and can never be repaid.  When a soldier is killed, one heart stops beating, but many more are broken.  The wounds inflicted upon whole families are so deep that the scars can still be felt after generations.

I swear my uncle’s little bronze baby booties will never end up on the bargain shelf at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, like so many others I have seen there.  How sad to think that such precious keepsakes might be tossed into the giveaway because no one remembers or cares about the one whose little feet filled them.

I attended the 60th reunion of the Old Hickory Division in Nashville in search of someone who knew my uncle.  I met only one man who remembered him…“a quiet man who didn’t say much, but when he did speak, he was always worth listening to.”

I tell my children that story, and many other stories about their Great Uncle Lewis.  I am confident he will be cherished and remembered, not just for his tragic death, but for his joyful life.

copyright 2012 Naomi Baltuck



  1. adinparadise says:

    Such a wonderful post and tribute to your uncle Lewis. I wish that i knew as much about my uncle who went down on a Japanese POW ship. From the few snippets I’ve gleaned from mom, he would have been the perfect uncle for me to hero worship. I missed him even though I never met him. War is such a terrible and pointless exercise.

    1. You are so right. World War II was an unusual war in that most people agree it had to be fought to save the world from domination by a heinous madman with unspeakable evil which he had already demonstrated himself capable of following through on. But I think most war is pointless and our children are viewed as plastic toy soldiers to move around a game board by people who have never been to war or known the horror of it, and who have never sent their children into battle.

      I am so sorry for your family’s loss. It is very real, and every single life lost in that or in any war is a cruel wound in a family’s well-being that will change to course of its family history for generations.

  2. ShimonZ says:

    A very moving story, Naomi… and I know that ache, for loved ones who were let behind, sometimes at the beginning of their adult lives… and sometimes in the middle. You’ve told this so well.

    1. Dear Shimon, thank you. I am so sorry for your loss.

  3. Beautifully told, Naomi. I’m glad you reminded us of the terrible tole on those left behind. The shame is that it’s still happening. 🙂

    1. It’s heartbreaking. I think the best way to honor their sacrifice and support our troops is to be sure they are fighting for a good cause, and right now I worry and feel uncertain about that.

      1. Naomi, I do apologise for a month lapse in replying. This swish new notifications tab on the homepage is working really well now, and all sorts of notes and messages are coming to light, including yours about our current battlefields.

        I’m with you on that concern – in fact I think we’re dealing with it in the wrong way.

      2. Thank you for your visit. I know how that goes! I have a hard time keeping up with my blogs, and sometimes it’s a while before I realize something has slipped between the cracks.

        I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

  4. Missus Tribble says:

    What a tragic yet moving story. I, too, have a great-uncle who I never met, because he died on a beach in France. He was younger than my grandmother, who had a premonition of his death the day before the telegram arrived. I don’t even know his name; Dad can’t remember and my Nan is no longer around to tell me.

    However, I am proud to have a war hero in the family – and my Nan always spoke very highly of her younger brother’s character.

    1. That is so sad. Keep telling the story, Ms. T. There is an African folk tale that says one is never truly dead as long as one is remembered, and a Jewish folk tale that says sometimes names and places are forgotten, but just telling is enough. I thank you so much for sharing your uncle’s story today. I am going to light a candle of remembrance in his honor today, for your uncle who was loved and remembered and who had such a bond with his sister that she felt his loss through time and space and spirit.

  5. scillagrace says:

    Great memorial…wonderful old photos!

  6. interstitial_squirrel says:

    What a beautiful post, Naomi. It brought tears to my eyes. Anyone who fights in a war should be memorialized, whether they come home or not, and it breaks my heart to think that families are ruptured and can’t get through it together.

    1. Thank you, Katie. That is something I feel so strongly about! I did some serious research into my uncle’s experience, and I didn’t need to go talk to the veterans in his division (although I could tell you stories!) to know that no one comes home from war the same person. If they were never wounded in the flesh, it still takes a terrible toll on the spirit, and one that few people ever truly recover from.

  7. beautifully written, thank you for sharing your memories

  8. My heart goes out to you. I’ve seen what lifelong guilt, regret and hopelessness can do to one. there will always be the thoughts which begin their trail with ‘what if…?’ your recollection of Great Uncle Lewis, in bits nevertheless, was wrenching. War can never be the answer.
    Be awesome.

    1. Thank you so much. May there be peace for the world, inwardly and among nations!

  9. Madhu says:

    Such a moving post Naomi! Your beautifully worded tribute to your uncle underlines the tragic waste of war.

    1. Thank you, Madhu. It is tragic on all levels, to individuals, to families, and among nations.

  10. A beautiful, yet sad post.
    How wonderful of you to keep your uncle’s memory alive, and to share it with all of us. It reminds us what Memorial Day weekend is really about.
    Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Maggie.

  11. J. G. Burdette says:

    “will never end up on the bargain shelf at the Salvation Army Thrift Store, like so many others I have seen there.”

    Pity anyone would do that. It’s almost like a part of a person’s heritage.

    1. I have seen that on several occasions, and it is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. Whether soldiers or grandmas, those Someones were loved and treasured. It is heartbreaking to see the symbol of that life, possibly their very existence–their stories, their name–accidentally lost or tossed away as meaningless trash.

      1. dogear6 says:

        I agree with J.G., but I know in my own personal experience, if I hadn’t taken them, that’s what would have happened. I couldn’t believe my sister didn’t want her own bronze shoes. I hope that when my niece gets a bigger place, she’ll want them.

  12. Thank you Naomi. My husband’s Ron’s father, Paul, was killed in the last days of the 2nd World War, when Ron was only 2. We often think how different it would have been had he lived. (For one thing, we are certain Ron would have had younger brothers or sisters to terrorize!) In this weekend of BBQs & cookouts, it is so good to have you speak to the underlying meaning with your personal story that evokes it for us all. And the current generation now undergoing their own experience of it in Iraq & Afghanistan. The cost is too, too high.

    1. Dear Anne, thank you so much for sharing Ron’s story. His is another life that would certainly have played itself out differently had his father lived. But so many people don’t take into account how life-changing, damaging, and haunting war is to a person’s spirit. If I learned one thing from all my army buddies in the 60th, it is that no one who goes to war comes back without scars.

      In many ways it must be worse for the soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. In WWII there was no doubt our help was desperately needed in Europe, and we were welcomed as liberators. The situation in the Middle East is much more cloudy and confusing; their role is not nearly so clearly defined, and their presence is often unwelcome. My heart goes out to them.

  13. These family stories make my heart ache no matter how many times I hear them. You have some pictures I haven’t seen before. Next time we are together maybe we can go through and look at things together. War takes a terrible toll that goes on for generations. The older I get the more completely convinced I am that this is true. Who is not touched in some way?

    1. Dear Lee, that’s so true. I would love to see you, and I hope it won’t be too long before we do, and we can trade stories and perceptions.
      Ours was just one family. 60 million people are known to have died in World War II (although some estimates are as high as 78 million). That’s 3-4% of the entire 1939 world population! Think of the impact that war had on our family, and multiply it by 60 million. How could our world ever be the same?

      And it is still going on today. People think the war in the Middle East is a small war because only 7,500 US soldiers have died there, but I’ve read that as many as 300,000 soldiers have suffered debilitating brain injuries, and that 18 Iraq vets commit suicide each day. It is heartbreaking and discouraging.

  14. very beautiful, dear Naomi. How your father must have suffered. It takes us to age to appreciate what our parents lived through. I didn’t begin your blog at the beginning. what brings you to write about your Uncle Lewis?

    1. Hi Diana,
      I thought it would be an appropriate subject for Memorial Day.

      1. dogear6 says:

        It was! Personal experience always makes it more real for those you share with. Thanks for taking time to write it out.

  15. Your Uncle Lewis is an amazing man. He has a generous heart, pure and sincere. He is a hero. He is also a man with a heart. This words just breathes truthfulness, ” War is Hell. The price it exacts is impossible to tally, and can never be repaid. When a soldier is killed, one heart stops beating, but many more are broken. The wounds inflicted upon whole families are so deep that the scars can still be felt after generations.” I pray for peace. I pray for those who fought and still fighting for our freedom. This day is about them.

    1. Uncle Lewis was a sweet boy. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and kind words.

  16. metan says:

    So sad, wars have so many victims.

    My great Uncle was killed in action in Borneo in 1945 at the age of 23. When I searched through war records I found a photo of a smiling faced young man boarding the troopship with his company. He was hanging over the rail clearly having a joke with those yet to board. I often wonder what sort of person he would have been if he had survived.

    So many young men have died in wars, and so many of their stories will never be known. It is lovely that you care enough to remember your Uncle Lewis. I expect that there are many, many stories like his without anybody to be their keeper. Well done for passing his memory on to your children.

    1. Thank you so much. What a clear picture you paint of your great uncle. It is astounding to think of all the young men who lost their lives, and are losing their lives in wars today, each one with a story and people who love them. I think we serve them all when we put a face on the statistic and remind the governments who are sending these kids off to war that they are real flesh and blood human beings. Thanks for sharing your story.

  17. megan hicks says:

    Your Uncle Lewis just touched my heart. Thank you.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by. One for the listening, one for the teller, and one for the one who took it to heart.

      I was so pleased to send you a copy of Apples From Heaven. Thanks so much for your order–I hope you enjoy it!

  18. Lynne Ayers says:

    This is beautiful Naomi. I also had an uncle I never met. I was the first of the family to visit his grave in Norfolk England in 1973, 31 years after he died trying to bring his damaged plane home. He died on his birthday at the age of 24. My daughter once asked, “Is it possible to miss someone you’ve never met?” I think it is.

    1. Dear Lynne, such a sad story. I remember when my mother was ill, helping her clear out her attic, and coming upon a box of my uncle’s letters in the attic. As I read those letters, I felt like I was hearing his voice for the first time–such a sweet funny boy–and I felt pangs for him, his parents and brother, and for all that we had lost. As your daughter said, I found myself missing and grieving for the loss of someone I had never met.

  19. bethsciallo says:

    a beautiful tribute to your uncle and your father. thank you.

    1. I appreciate that–thanks so much.

  20. Deeply touching and profoundly sad.

    War is hell, and senseless madness. Heavy sigh.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. I am sighing in Seattle, too.

  21. Kourtney Heintz says:

    Naomi, you are a truly gifted writer. You made me smile and laugh and cry as I read your post. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss and how they suffered because of the war.

    1. Dear Kourtney,
      I know those very kind words are coming from a very talented writer, and I thank you. It has been such a pleasure to meet you in this miraculous blogosphere!

  22. My Granny’s brother, Roger, an officer in the First World War, was killed at the tender age of 18. He’d only just left school and had won an award for his academic brilliance. Everybody loved him. What a loss. I often think that this was a whole potential branch to the family tree lopped off, before Roger could ever marry, produce children, and generally contribute to the world.

    Thank you for sharing your Uncle Lewis’ story. It’s a grand way of keeping his memory alive.

    1. Dear Sarah, thank you so much for sharing your story. I am so sorry for your loss, and so sorry for young Roger.

  23. Jamie Dedes says:

    So many have such stories as this. Thanks for sharing it here with us … we need to talk of such things. We need always to remember.

    P.S.: I always read, don’t always comment. Enjoy you blog much.

    P.S.S.: Naomi, I would like to post this one to All credits, links, and copyright as appropriate. I will check back here to see if I have your permission.


    1. Dear Jamie, you are most welcome to. Thank you for your kind words.

      1. Hooray! Thank you. It will post on June 26.


    2. Dear Jamie, thanks so much!

  24. 12kilroy says:

    This is beautifully done but very sad.

    1. Thank you. For a long, long time I didn’t tell it, because it was too sad, and there had to be a reason. When we ended up in the Middle East in a pre-emptive war, declared by a man whose Daddy had pulled strings to get him out of Vietnam, and whose children were never in danger of being sent off to war, a man who seemed to be treating other mother’s children like plastic soldiers on a game board, I realized there was actually a point to this story, and a reason to tell it. I so appreciate your thoughtful comments.

  25. Cathy G says:

    Naomi, thank-you so much for sharing such a beautiful tribute. We’ve both recognized the importance of capturing and passing down what we know. Our loved ones may be gone but bringing their stories forward will help keep their memories alive.

    1. Absolutely. So glad I found your blog–I look forward to more of your family history posts. Thanks for stopping by, Cathy.

  26. Roy McCarthy says:

    Powerful and poignant Naomi. How things might have been different for your family. Us bloggers, writers, diarists etc must keep telling these stories to insist that human conflict is no longer an option.

    1. So true, Roy. Thank you for your very kind response.

  27. johncoyote says:

    Thank you for sharing the story. I served for 15 years. I was lucky. The Vietnam Veterans taught me common sense and pride. A lot of them drank to find peace. We need to keep alive the memory of people who survived and were part of our family.

    1. Dear John,
      Thank you for your service. I am so glad you came home. One of my dearest army buddies, who served in my uncle’s 117th K Company, died last March. He said he got over the nightmares, although one night he almost shot a coat at the foot of the bed. But it was clear to me that he drank himself to sleep each night, and he died of kidney failure. It was how he coped. No one who has not been in combat can possibly understand the stress that vets have lived through. We can never give back the lost innocence, but the least we can do is take good care of them after they come home, and if they don’t come home, keep their memory alive, and honor their sacrifice. We need to take better care of our veterans.

      1. johncoyote says:

        I knew many old Veterans who used alcohol to block the memory. My dad was one of them. He was a Korean war vet. He drank a bottle of rum each night for 30 years. We must help the new and old Soldiers. Thank you for the comment.

      2. Thank you for sharing your story. Few people would know better than you the toll war continues to take upon a man, even after his homecoming.

  28. sue says:

    Tragic and heart wrenching- this story and a gazillion others just like it across time and every (imagined) border of our planet. Although your father would not speak of his beloved brother, your commitment to keep him alive in your telling of his story is beautiful. I know the unspeakable tragedy of war. My cousin’s young son and his wife have served several times over the past 15 years (they have both been honorably discharged now) and they cannot stop speaking out against its madness. In another life, grew up seeing a shadow of a man who had returned from Viet Nam who could do nothing all day but slowly ride his bike around town. Vacant stare, his body and soul whittled away to almost nothing. And even today I see a man in my neighborhood who appears to do nothing else but walk all day long- around and around Brier. For hours on end, morning till night. I literally see him ever single day, in different spots on my daily route. I don’t know for sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion that he, like the man I watched as a child, is also walking off his war time demons. Shame on us all- all across this planet that we share together- for allowing war to devastate us all this way. Surely we have gained wisdom along with our increased knowledge? Thank you for doing your part to help us wake up! Your uncle, and daddy are surely proud of you!

    1. Dear Sue,
      Thank you for sharing your stories. The statistics of war casualties have no column for people who come home with broken spirits. We need to take much better care of our veterans.

  29. Wonderful commentary, reflection and photos. Funny how similar the names are in families– my father’s mother was Rose; my husband’s grandfather was Max; my grandfather’s brothers were Max and Lewis; and my grandmother’s brother was Harry. And I’m sure you have a few Irvings tucked away some where too. Different times, different names.
    Good piece- a personal reflection about the impact of war.

    1. That is so interesting about the names. We don’t have any Iivings, although my Dad’s good friends were Irving and Julian. We did have an Uncle David, an Uncle Reuben, and an Uncle Sam

  30. Beautiful post and very apt and you did your uncle proud; I often wonder about the family keepsakes that are discarded along with memories; what a shame that we live in such a disposable world

    1. So well said, Dallas. “Such a disposable world.” Thanks so much for your thoughtful response.

  31. Amazing and wonderful treasures. Thank you for holding on to them and for sharing them.

    1. Dear Charlie,
      I thank you for sharing in them too, by reading and remembering with me.

  32. nutsfortreasure says:

    Such a sad life your Dad and his parents had all because of a damn war.
    Life for you may have been so much more different but you know that. I am so happy you have made a beautiful home filled with love and stories from the past so each one can live on. Happy Memorial Day Honey sending a hug to you from NH.

    1. Dear Eunice,
      We were just one family who lost one boy. I don’t imagine that my family’s pain was any more than the other families’ of the 400, 000 US soldiers who died in that war. (Or the estimated 60 million soldiers and civilians all over the world, who were also killed in WWII).
      But you are right–I am so thankful to have been able to weave together the broken threads to make a beautiful home and family, and we will never forget the sacrifices our fathers made to get us to this place. Thank you so much for your beautiful response, Eunice. I am sending you hugs from Seattle on this Memorial Day.

      1. nutsfortreasure says:

        Yes well I do not read all the other accounts of their family but I for one am glad you are exactly who you are.

        Hugs coming back!

        Time for summer in New England I hope you enjoy yours on the other coast 🙂

  33. Every single time, this story breaks my heart and makes me cry. All these years later and I still wish it could have a different ending. For Lewis, for Rose, for our father and for all of us. I am categorically against war. Thanks for telling the story again. Love from your big sis.

    1. Dear Lee,
      Thank goodness we have each other! And our wonderful children, who will remember for us when we are gone.
      from your little sis.

  34. pattisj says:

    Thank you for keeping your uncle’s memory alive for your family. Your comment about the bronze shoes touched my heart. How hard life must have been for your father, guilt from all sides.

    1. Dear Patti,
      The war broke my dad beyond repair. All we do is remember his service and his suffering, and love and remember him.
      It breaks my heart every time I see a pair of bronzed shoes at a thrift store, because you know that a family thread has been broken, probably forever. Sometimes I’ll see a frame with an old photograph that has found its way from the giveaway pile to the thrift store, and some stranger will buy it for the frame and toss the memory of another life into the trash bin. At least for another generation, that will not happen in our family. By sharing and preserving our stories, they will find a place not only in family history, but in world history. Maybe they will help others to remember and tell their stories too.

  35. This is not a great day for many of us. I did not lose anyone in WWII but reading all the stories today has left me feeling guilty and looking like I’m the loser in a boxing match.
    You have written this beautifully, with passion and heart. What a deserving tribute to your uncle.

    1. Dear Tess,
      I’m sure your folks knew people with blue and gold stars in their windows, and they felt the pain and were aware of the price of war.
      Thanks so much for your very kind response, and taking the time to comment.

  36. ledrakenoir says:

    Beautiful made post… 🙂

  37. Laura Bloomsbury says:

    ahh Naomi – thank you for this moving post with all its family history woven in to make such a human story p.s. hesitate to call wars pointless – sometimes we just have to stand and fight . Better option than being lined up for genocide as so many of my husband’s relatives who had no choice

  38. Dear Laura,
    Thank you for your kind response.
    I so think many wars are avoidable and unnecessary, fought (often under false pretenses, ie. hidden weapons of mass destruction) to defend the economic interests of rich corporations.
    But there is no doubt in my mind that WWII had to be fought to save the world. Hitler was steamrolling his way across the globe, and had to be stopped. My dad’s parents came to America during the pogroms in the Ukraine at the turn of the century, but like your husband’s family, all the rest of his extended family was killed in the Holocaust.

  39. Mona says:

    “…one heart stops beating, but many more are broken”- this line will stay with me for a very long time, Naomi.
    Your writing always seems to come from your heart; not everybody is gifted enough to express the depth of their feelings in words.
    Not just wars, but any kind of violence, fight, or fall-out can never be justified; there is nothing that dialogue and mutual understanding cannot solve. While we keep ranting to our younger ones about learning from experience, we ourselves have learned little, from ours or others’ history. It’s pathetic to see us squander away the most precious gift of evolution of our species over others, namely, our humanity.
    Today, our tolerance and perseverance is weaker than that I see in my mom’s or grandmom’s generation.
    We just give up too easily, and move on too fast.

    1. Truer words were never spoken, Mona.

  40. Mona says:

    Reblogged this on Tails from a Monkey's Hippocampus and commented:
    It’s never worth losing our loved ones in wars and over fights. It not worth losing the chance to share our lives and its little joys and sorrows with them.

    A heartfelt post by Naomi, below; it’s time we all try to learn a little from this piece.

    1. Dear Mona,
      Thanks so much for the re-blog. I appreciate your visit, and your very kind response.

  41. This is beautifully written and so touching. I can’t imagine the pain your father and grandmother endured after losing Lewis. And though you never met him, isn’t it wonderful that you got a clue into his psyche and personality through his letters?

    I feel the same way about the grandfather I never met. He fought in the Pacific and died about 10 years before I was born. I’ve only seen a couple of pictures of him, and never hear stories about him. But one day, I ws going through my grandmother’s old letters and found some he sent to her during the war. There were several words cut out, but most of the letter had little to do with the war. They were all about missing her, and what he wanted to do with his bride once he got home. It humanized him in the most incredible way for me. I got to see that he was a young man, full of life and passion and that he loved his wife and missed her and couldn’t wait to get home to be with his family again. That letter is all I know of him, but it’s enough. I think I would have loved having him as a grandfather. I’m sorry I never got to.

    1. Dear Juliann,
      I found your story very moving. Thank you for sharing it. Now is the time to ask questions and fill up your story banks. All too soon you find that there is no one even left to ask. I’m so glad you have his letters. What a gift–to hear his voice as you read his words.
      It pains me greatly that my mother-in-law burned any letters that would have given us a clue as to the real thoughts and emotions of her husband. I respect her right to privacy, but what a terrible waste.

  42. I felt this deeply–my father was killed in WWII–a B-24 bomber. He was the pilot and was shot through the head. I never knew him. Poignant account.

    1. Oh, Victoria, I am so sorry for your loss. I have a 70 year old friend who has only the teddy bear that his father gave him before going off to war and never coming back. AWON, American World War II Network ( is an organization of grown up World War II orphans or family members who have all been profoundly affected by the loss of their fathers in this tragic manner. I joined and was a member for several years, and it was helpful to hear the stories of others. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Warm wishes, Naomi

  43. Amy says:

    That is heartbreaking story of your uncle, beautifully told…

    1. Thank you so much, Amy, for taking the time to visit.

  44. tchistorygal says:

    Such a great tribute to your Uncle. Even if one life is lost in war, the cost is greater by far than one loss. It reminds me of the silver linings. Even though good things may come of the tragedy, it doesn’t take away the tragedy. No amount of personal growth or time can heal your father’s or your grandmother’s broken hearts, and loneliness for your uncle. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.

    1. Dear Marsha,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate your visit, and your very kind response.

  45. reocochran says:

    This post leaves me with such powerful words spoken in their simplicity and meaning behind your Uncle Lewis’ story. You have told us one that we could substitute our own family servicemen stories. Every person who serves whether they live or die, have purpose and had a life beforehand. I liked the humor, fun in the memories, letters home quoted, the photographs and your well chosen words. In the 70’s, my parents had Vietnam on our daily t.v. during dinner, not because they liked the war, quite the opposite. Again, we have the same senseless actions going on, but it is less visible. Still there. So sad.

    1. The best stories are the ones that trigger memories in other people. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and your own story. The bottom line never changes; war is hell.

  46. frizztext says:

    you made my eyes fill with tears… “On September 20, 1944, the day before his company attacked the Siegfried Line, Staff Sergeant Lewis Baltuck was killed by the blast of a shell. Twenty years old, he had hardly begun to live…” – because as German we all feel guilty (though I was born 1945, starting my life in an orphanage)

  47. Dear friend,
    You have no reason to feel guilt. You were another innocent victim of that war, a war that was started and fought by other people. Thank you so much for your kind thoughts for my uncle.

  48. restlessjo says:

    Echoing Frizz, 18 years and never kissed a girl. Doesn’t it make you want to howl, Naomi? The waste and the damage to so many lives. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    1. Dear Jo,
      It is extremely tragic, and brings to mind the poet Rupert Brooke who also, ironically and tragically died in WW1, wrote…
      “Blow out, you bugles, over the rich Dead!
      There’s none of these so lonely and poor of old,
      But, dying, has made us rarer gifts than gold
      These laid the world away; poured out the red
      Sweet wine of youth; gave up the years to be
      Of work and joy, and that unhoped serene,
      That men call age; and those who would have been,
      Their sons, they gave, their immortality…”

  49. diannegray says:

    This is an amazing story, Naomi and made me a little teary. How awful it must have been losing so many lives and each of those lives carried their own unique story. I have a beautiful picture of a little boy on my wall – my great Uncle Robert, who died as a POW in Changi during the second world war. Even though I never met him he lives on in my life, just as your uncle Lewis does xxx

  50. Ruth says:

    This story and your promise to not let the bronzed baby booties end up on a Salvation Army shelf touch a universal yet particular poignant experience. Uncle Lewis lives on in your retelling and in this excellent post, Naomi.

    1. Dear Ruth, Thank you so much for reading, and for caring.

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