Vitauts Take 6: A Little Background

Vitauts Take 6: A Little Background

I have told the story so many times that it has become almost a litany. Dad was born in or around Smiltene, Latvia on November 1, 1927. Almost 88 years ago. I told him that today, and he couldn’t believe he has lived this long. He tried to remember how old his sister was when she died. I assured him that he had already won.

He is virtually indestructible.

Look at that grin.
Look at that grin. Left of center. Crew Cut.

Recently, I found out that he was a rambunctious, naughty child who didn’t mind his teachers or parents. He spent a lot of time in trouble in elementary school. Can you imagine? Pastor Vitauts Grinvalds a hell raiser? He never wanted to be a farmer even though he grew up on a farm. Dad likes to tell the story about how his father’s inheritance was stolen. The Golden Rubles sent to my grandfather’s caretakers was never given to him. They kept that money that my great-grandfather sent from Russia, and so my dad’s family was impoverished, and his father was never able to go to college. So the farm it was.

He spent fourteen years on that farm, doing chores and learning how to raise livestock. His memories of those days are broad strokes of warm fuzzies. The smell of baking bread. The taste of a certain soup. But not very vivid detailed stories; those would come later.

When he turned fifteen, it was 1942, and the war was in full swing. Latvia was in the middle of a skirmish between the Germans and the Russians. Germany had allowed Russia to take over in 1939 with the promise that they wouldn’t retaliate if the Russians invaded the Baltics. And so it was that my dad lived under Soviet rule for four years. This greatly influenced his life.

Then the Germans invaded Latvia and expelled the Soviets.

Finally, in 1944, Russia launched an offensive against the German occupiers. Vitauts was drafted into the Latvian Army at age 15. He walked to the bus station, learned how to fire a gun, and tried to shoot down Russian planes flying over Riga during the Fall of Riga. While at the same time, my mother’s family was getting on a boat for Germany to escape the Russian army.

Vitauts was then drafted into the German army, and they put him on a boat for Germany where he spent the remainder of the war on a train. He says he helped to clean up Dresden after it was bombed. He almost died of fever when he got his toe injured by a train (we’re not sure how). He was captured by French forces, turned over to the Americans, and guarded by Italians. This sixteen-year-old Latvian was hundreds of miles from a home he would never return to. Can you imagine?

Letter sent from POW camp to Vitauts' mother.
Letter sent from POW camp to Vitauts’ mother.
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