Together again: Brothers in arms reunite

By STEHANY SCHINGS

Staff writer, Review Times, Fostoria OH

While serving in World War II, Fostoria OH native Bob Walter met one of his life's best friends, fellow soldier Walter Levdansky.

But only months after meeting in basic training, the two were separated when Levdansky was injured.

After the war, the two lived separate lives, always wondering what had happened to the other — until a trip to Washington, D.C., led Levdansky to clues that would help him finally reunite with Walter more than 60 years later.

In 1942, the war in Europe was raging, and Fostorians knew well the sacrifices it entailed. Fostoria sent 13 young men to the 99th Infantry Division that fought in one of the largest American campaigns in the war. Bob Walter, then 22, was one of them. He was drafted to serve as a technical sergeant with the 3rd platoon L Company 3rd Battalion of the 393rd Infantry.

He met Levdansky at Camp Van Dorn in Mississippi in December of 1942 and the two soon became best friends.

"We just hit it off well," Walter said. "I always said he was the best looking guy in the Army."

They would frequently get passes together to go off base, sometimes to meet girls.

"I always said I was going to let (Levdansky) make the decision which (girl) he was going to go with because he was the best looking out of the two of us, and that's the truth!" Walter said.

Levdansky still remembers the trips.

"Of course we went off base together," he said. "We were good pals."

Eventually they ended up in the same platoon.

"They were forming a new unit and we went through all that together," Levdansky said.

"As we progressed and got ready to go overseas, he was in my platoon and I was a squad leader," Walter said.

The two shipped off to Belgium together in November 1944, just-trained officers dropped in the middle of one of the biggest battles of the war.

According to Walter, the division entered Belgium on Nov. 11 and lived in foxholes, deep trenches dug in the ground that filled with the winter snow.

"Then for two hours in the morning of Dec. 16 (the Germans) blasted us high and low," he recalled.

The troops stayed for a month, refurbishing guns and re-supplying their unit. It was during this time that the conditions of the war began to wear on many soldiers, whose feet would freeze in the cold, wet foxholes.

"I think we lost as many with frozen feet as we did in actual combat," Walter recalled. "It's a wonder we didn't all get frozen feet, of course. I figure the way I saved mine was every night after dark I would get out of my foxhole and I'd wash my feet with snow and then I'd rub my feet until they got dry and warm and then I'd put on a new pair of socks."

But the conditions got to Levdansky when his feet froze Dec. 21.

Without getting a chance to say goodbye to Walter, Levdansky was taken to a hospital in England, unable to continue fighting.

More than 60 years would pass before the two friends saw each other again.

In October 2007, Levdansky visited the World War II Memorial. After coming home, Levdansky asked his nephew, who decided to research the war, to look up the name of his friend Bob Walter. His nephew compiled a scrapbook for him that included memorabilia from the trip, photos, and a magazine article published in March 2006 in World War II Magazine.

The article featured Bob Walter.

As soon as Levdansky saw the photos in the magazine story, he recognized Walter, and tracked down the reporter for more information.

Walter was staying at the Independence House with back problems and one day in October he received a call from a familiar voice.

"I got a phone call and I said, 'well, how in the devil did you find me? I've been looking for you'," Walter said of the call. "And he said, 'I've been looking for you ever since the war was over'."

The two arranged a meeting to take place as soon as Walter was out of the nursing home.

"I said, 'well, don't try to come up here when I'm in the nursing home'," Walter said.

After a few holdups due to weather, Levdansky finally made it to Fostoria March 1 with his three sons, David, Robert, and Jim, and David's two sons.

The meeting was a long-awaited one.

The two talked all day, Walter said, and watched a video about the Battle of the Bulge Levdansky had brought along.

Levdansky's son Jim, an American history teacher, said the experience was one he took back to his students as well. "It was amazing to listen to those guys," he said. "One of them would start a story and they would both start to remember it again."

"Most of the family just sat and listened to him and I talk about the war," Walter said. "We had a real nice time together all day."

During the war, Walter hadn't had time to check up on his injured friend. After Levdansky left, he had continued to live in the foxholes for 90 days straight, and the winter was a hard one.

"We went without food for a week because they couldn't get it up to us because the snow was so deep," he said.

But the Allies had gained the upper hand, and the Germans knew it, Walter said. On Jan. 7, 1945, German forces began retreating and the war official ended that spring.

Ironically, after surviving intense combat for months, Walter was injured Feb. 11, 1945, when a jeep he was riding on the front of was hit by another jeep head-on, pinning him between the vehicles.

Walter was sent to a hospital in England until May.

When Walter was sent back to the U.S., he said he accepted that he would lose touch with many of his friends from the war in the process of starting a new life back home.

"Because guys come home strung out," he said. "We were all settling in ourselves, you know . . . eager to get back to normal."

He was released from the hospital Sept. 18 and was only home for a week before he met his future wife, Eileen Smith, at a dance. By 1946, he was married and beginning a life back home in Fostoria.

He joined the Fostoria Police Department for a while and made the rank of captain in 1950, before beginning work at Excello Corp. in 1952. He worked there 31 years before retiring.

Although he expected to start a new life, Walter said he never stopped wondering what happened to Levdansky.

"We were such good friends that I couldn't see just going through the rest of my life without seeing him," he said.

After more than 63 years without seeing Levdansky, Walter said he felt like the two were the same friends they had been during the war.

"I felt like I still knew him, even after all those years," he said.

The two men plan to continue their rekindled friendship. Walter plans to go out to Pennsylvania to visit Levdansky this summer.

"With Walter I just feel like I could go out there and have a ball," he said. "Just like we did when we were in the service."

The rest of the story

Bob Walter sent the story above to the Checkerboard along with a request to get Walter Levdansky signed up as a member of the association.

Levdansky retired from U.S. Steel Mill, Clairton Works carpenter shop, Clairton PA. He and his wife, Irene have five children and five grandchildren.

He and Walter hope to get together again sometime this summer.

His address is 331 Center Avenue, Elizabeth PA 15037.

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