The green Army cap atop a marker stood out from the rows of white crosses mixed with white Stars of David at the
Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial on Memorial Day weekend.
Sandra MacDuffee of Hillcrest and her husband, Donald, brought the cap, which had belonged to MacDuffee's father,
from the couple's Binghamton home to the cemetery that became his final resting place.
It was her first trip to see the grave of the father she never knew. Part of her story is told in the 1999 book The
Greatest Generation Speaks, a collection of letters and recollections from World War II veterans by NBC newscaster Tom Brokaw.
That's one reason Veterans Day has a special meaning for her.
"Most people think Veterans Day is a day for sales at the stores," said MacDuffee, a 58-year-old bookkeeper for the Salzman
and Levy law firm in Binghamton. "It's a way to remember the men and women who have fought and died for our freedoms."
Her father is one. Army Pfc. John Chichilla was 33 when he was hit by German sniper fire Jan. 28, 1945, in Putscheid, Luxembourg.
He died three days before MacDuffee's second birthday. Her mother couldn't bear the pain of a funeral, so he was buried overseas.
MacDuffee, originally from Hillside, N.J., moved to Binghamton when her mother remarried after the war.
MacDuffee's father left behind letters and photos.
"Hello, my little Sandra," starts one letter dated Nov. 27, 1944, and quoted in Brokaw's book. "Sandra, how are you and mother?...
When I come home, I am going to kiss the daylights out of you both."
He sent her a little toy dog and told her he would get her a real dog when he returned.
"Sandra, give mother a big kiss for me -- also tell her that Daddy loves her with all of his heart," he wrote. "So long, my
little daughter. Keep mother happy for me."
In a grainy black-and-white photo, her father squints against the bright sun, green Army cap tilted to one side, his arms
around his daughter.
While MacDuffee has no memory of her father, she felt his loss more as the years passed.
"Even though my stepfather was great, I still felt like part of me was missing," said MacDuffee, Mr. Chichilla's only
child. "I missed not knowing him as a person, to hear him laugh, to hear his voice and to have him hug me."
Today, support groups spring up for military families as soon as servicemen and women are called to war. But that's not
how it worked in World War II.
"You were told to just get over it and get on with your life," MacDuffee said. "We were never allowed to grieve for our dads.
All those feelings were hidden for so many years."
Many of the estimated 183,000 World War II orphans have begun the grieving process through the American World War II Orphans
Network, a support group she joined.
"We are the forgotten casualties of the war," she said. "They're just now beginning to speak of the children of veterans.
It's not for us. We just want to make sure that our dads are not forgotten."
Through AWON, MacDuffee learned of U.S. Friends of Luxembourg, whose goal is to make sure soldiers such as her father are
remembered. Luxembourg residents have never forgotten that Americans twice helped liberate their small European nation from the Germans, she said. That's why they "adopt" graves, open their homes to families of veterans, help them arrange tours and even hold special ceremonies in their honor.
The MacDuffees helped the group place an American flag, a Luxembourg flag and a red rose at all 5,076 graves at the cemetery.
"They cannot thank you enough," she said.
Tears pent up for more than half a century flowed when the Friends group held a memorial Mass in honor of her father.
"It was the funeral for my dad that I was never able to be part of," MacDuffee said.
More tears flowed when the couple and Lucy Flamming, the woman who adopted her father's grave, approached the burial site.
MacDuffee brought some dirt from her mother's grave and later took home the flowers that had been at his grave.
"We took some of home to Dad, and then we brought a little of him back," she said.
The sun glinted off the cross as she touched it and hugged it. Except for a passing plane or train rumbling by, the cemetery was quiet.
"My life was fine. I was OK," she said. "How I wish he had been there for my first day of school, dances. How I wish he could have
walked me down the aisle and been part of my life," and met her three stepchildren and five grandchildren.
MacDuffee said she felt her father's presence when she walked through the woods near where he was shot. And she left with a sense of
peace and a determination to tell his story.
She had already written to Brokaw and was pleased when he included her story in his 1999 book.
"When people read this book, they're going to read about my dad and other veterans," she said. "The only true death is to be
forgotten. And he's never going to be forgotten."