EDITOR'S NOTE: NCAUSBCA Hall of Famer Walt Steinsiek died June 27, 2010 at his home in Micco, Fla., just hours before traveling to International Bowl Expo in Las Vegas, where the legendary 83-year-old cartoonist/illustrator was to be the surprise recipient of the 2010 John Davis Award, established by The Foundation for contributions to bowling.

A month earlier, Walt fulfilled a longtime promise when he went to the Netherlands with his wife, Jane, to visit the gravesite of his brother, who was killed in World War II. In this Bowling News Network exclusive, he writes about the keeping of this promise in what was to be his final column.

A promise kept — 65 years later

By Walt Steinsiek

It was near midnight on a bitter-cold, snow-covered, moon-lit night in Passaic, New Jersey in January 1944. I remember saying goodbye to my brother, Henry F. “Hank” Steinsiek, who had been drafted into the army seven months earlier at age 18. I was 16, and we both had celebrated his short leave from basic training at Fort Bliss, N.C. I had hugged him, said goodbye, and then lay down on my bed. He promised to see our mother, my sister Terry, and me on a Washington's Birthday leave before shipping out.

I thought for a minute, Damn, this might be the last time I would see him again for a very long time, so I got up and decided to go with him to the railroad station and see him off.

I remember arriving at the smoke-filled train station (it seemed then that everyone smoked). The place was full of GI's and people, just like in a movie; some were waiting for the same train that would take them to New York. I was tired — after all, we were celebrating earlier, and so I put my head on Hank's lap and we both fell asleep.

We were awakened when the train arrived … four hours late. We again hugged and said goodbye, not knowing it would be for the last time. Hank did not get leave on February 22 leave because he got to camp late due to the train's late arrival; instead, they assigned him "KP" (kitchen patrol) duty.

He shipped out February 27, 1944, and in a little over two months, Hank landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and was in the "Battle of the Bulge" at Bastogne. He went on to received five stars, the French Award, and a commendation from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for shooting down the most enemy planes.

Ironically, my brother died instantly on April 8, 1945 after receiving a stray bullet in the head from an American or German airplane that was in a dogfight over Gotha, Germany. He was buried in Eisenach, Germany.

When the war was over, his body was moved to Margraten American Cemetery in Maastricht, the Netherlands. Meanwhile, I was out at sea, serving in the U.S. Merchant Marine and did not learn of his death until late May 1945.

As the years passed, I occasionally promised myself that I would visit his grave. It may have been nearly 65 years later, but thanks to the American War Orphans Network (AWON), which got a donor to pay my way to Margraten, I learned last year that I was at long last going to get my opportunity.

I was getting ready to make the trip this spring and went through a box my Mom had saved with all of Hank's letters, his draft card, and the infamous Western Union telegram informing her of his death. It was then that I discovered two unopened letters she had written to him and were returned, marked “Deceased.” My Mom had never opened them, but I decided right then that I would open and read them at his grave site.

After my wife Jane and I arrived in Maastricht on Saturday, May 29, 2010, we went to our hotel room, unpacked, rested, and got ready for the visit to the cemetery. I could not sleep and kept getting up and looking out the window across the street, where I saw the Maastricht Train Station. It was very quiet, there was no one walking, the trains were parked, as were hundreds of bicycles all over in bunches left their by student owners and others sometimes for years, I learned.

There was a slight breeze that swept a newspaper across the street, and I wondered what it was like for our soldiers that invaded the Nazi forces, what they may have thought: Should we blow up the train station or try to save it?

I finally dozed off.

Jane and I were up and ready at 6 a.m. We ate breakfast, then lined up and were put on a World War II Jeep along with other dignitaries in 14 other vintage army trucks and staff cars with screaming sirens and horns in a parade to the cemetery. The Dutch people who lined the streets waved, and I gave them the famous Winston Churchill “V for Victory” sign, and they responded back in similar fashion.

As we turned into the main gate of the cemetery, hundreds of people lined the sides of the entrance. My heart started to beat faster, and I felt a slight pain in my chest. I suddenly prayed, Oh no, please no heart attack, please God.

When we arrived at the steps of the main entrance, Jane and I were provided with a driver and an electric cart that slowly made its way to Plot A, Row 14, Grave 30 and stopped at a pure white marble cross with the inscription I had only seen in photographs: Henry F. Steinsiek, PFC 489 AAA AW BN New Jersey APR 8 1945.

I broke down and cried like a baby.

I proceeded to open and begin reading the first of two returned letters from Mom. Again, I broke down, but Gerry Morenski, our dedicated AWON director of the tour whose father is buried in Margraten, finished them for me, with Jane at my side along with a small crowd of supporters.

I've always been very proud of Hank's accomplishments during the war but no more so than at this moment. He was indeed a member of the "Greatest Generation."

Looking back now weeks later, I realized I was a long way from Passaic, New Jersey, but I finally got to be with my big brother again.