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Henrico man visits WWII graves where his dad and uncle are buried

Posted at 9:23 PM, Jul 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-24 23:36:08-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Time may heal wounds, but it doesn't always answer the questions.

Les Lewis still wonders what may have been. Fading memories and a few personal effects are all he has of William Lewis.

“He had hands the same size as me. The rings fit," Les said. “I guess missing out on a full-time father is what I mainly missed out on.”

When he was four year old, Les' dad left the family farm on the Northern Neck to fight during World War II.

“It was pouring rain. It was night time. I remember him driving up to the gates and leaving," Les said. “To my knowledge that was the last time we saw him.”

William never returned. Private Lewis died of wounds on March 18, 1945.

“He was killed in France. Friendly fire," Les said.

In Virginia, a stranger arrived to deliver the news.

“I saw him get out of the car and tell my mother that he had passed away. I could see her like wilt," Les said. “I remember that distinctly.”

Growing up Les yearned to see his father one more time, but 5,000 separated the pair.

William rests at Sicily Rome American Military Cemetery in Italy. He's joined by 7,859 other American soldiers killed in action. A few years ago the 80-year-old son would finally get the chance to visit his father.

“When you get there and put your hand on that cross it comes together," Les said.

It was a moment nearly seven decades in the making.

“I told my mother I was going she said, 'Please, tell him that I still love him'. And I did," Les said. “It has been a long time but it is still emotional."

Les' journey was doubly painful. Buried right next to William is his younger brother James.

Les' uncle died on the battlefield six months before his brother William.

James was 20.

“I don’t think my grandfather ever got over it. He kind of went into a shell," Les said.

Their parents chose to bury their only children side-by-side.

“Even though they’re both gone, they are in arm's reach. It makes me feel better t know that," he said.

Les' family is not unique.

The Lewis siblings are featured in author Kevin Callahan's new book "Brothers in Arms."

Callahan writes 286 sets of brothers lie together in American military cemeteries across the globe.

“Extraordinary piece of work," Les said. “It is a permanent record for my family that 100 years from now someone could be looking at this book. It is almost like a dream."

Chapter one humbles Lewis. Knowing his father and uncle will always be remembered. Seventy-five years later, the little boy in the grainy photos can finally turn a page.

“It was a relief," Les said. “It really helped. It really did. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”

Les' time with his dad and uncle lasted only three hours. But it was a family reunion well worth the wait.

“Until you get to that cemetery and put yourself by that grave you will not have full closure. And I do.”

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