March 24 • 06:27 AM

Hero's story has humble beginning

Imlay City World War II veteran lives life of commitment, honor, love

It’s still ‘love at first sight’ for Walter and Shirley Maczuga of Imlay City.

November 12, 2008
Editor's note: This is the second in a two part series submitted by guest columnist Pamela J. Holihan. Holihan has lived in the Tri-City area and currently resides in Attica with her husband, Rob Holihan. The first installment appeared on page 5-B of the November 6, 2008 edition.

I wanted to tell this story to honor all veterans, thank them for their service to our country, and to introduce Imlay City's Walter Maczuga, a hero in our midst.

Walt is part of the "Greatest Generation," and is truly a great man. Here is the rest of his story.

Walter was born in Hamtramck, Michigan in 1921. He was the youngest of a large Polish family who lived in an immaculate two-bedroom home with an unfinished attic. His mother died when he was 12.

During those times, no one seemed particularly deprived, or felt "poor" because everyone was enduring the same circumstances. No one had much of anything. The young boys in the neighborhood would walk along the railroad tracks picking up coal which fell off the cars to take home for heat. Everyone on the block planted a garden, and all neighbors shared their harvest with the others.

Times were tough. Walter's work ethic was learned early, and his paycheck was given directly to his grandfather (the homeowner) to help meet the expenses of the family living in that modest home. The home housed Grandpa, Aunt and Uncle, their seven children, and Walter.

As a young man, Walt belonged to a men's card club that would meet at various homes. A relative had a friend named Shirley who happened to be in the home one evening during card club. She caught Walter's eye. A short time later, Shirley was again visiting. Walter told the fellows at his card table, "See that little girl over there? I'm going to marry her some day."

That was rather an optimistic statement regarding someone to whom he had not been properly introduced. Some would call it love at first sight, but knowing Walter's spiritual side, I feel it may have been the gift of discernment or knowledge. Nevertheless, three months later, September 26, 1942, Walter and Shirley were united in marriage. His bride's age was 16 and three-quarters. And what a good marriage it has been, 66 years, and counting!

A common bond between them was that he lost his mother at an early age, and she lost her father at an early age. His father stood in for hers, and her mother stood in for his.

They were separated soon after when Walter entered the United States Army in February of 1943. Shirley wanted to visit Walter before he was sent overseas. Over her mother's long and loud objections, she traveled by bus to Little Rock, Arkansas to see the love of her life. She was terrified that she would miss her stop, take the wrong transfer, or end up in the wrong place, but she made it. She visited Little Rock, and nervously returned home with a little souvenir who was born nine months later—a son named Joseph. Regrettably, Walter didn't see his son until he was discharged in November of 1945.

During the time Walter was apart from Shirley, he wrote many letters. Each time he was able to get to a store where he could purchase a pretty hankie he sent it with the letter. Shirley has all of the letters and hankies neatly stored and gets them out to reminisce. Shirley also wrote letters. Remarkably, she produced a record of herself singing to Walter and sent it to him. The record returned home with him.

Walter was wounded in August of 1944 and sent to England to have shrapnel fragments removed from his right arm. The military sent a telegram to Mrs. Walter Maczuga saying that he had been "slightly" wounded (what might that mean?). Shirley was frantic, worried sick, and had no way to get further information. All she could do was pray. It was a month before Walter was able to get information to her that he was well. He placed a telephone call across the "new" Trans-Atlantic cable. He was one of the first ones to use the new cable to call America. He told her that he was well and would be returning to combat.

His homecoming was a joyful time for all of the Maczugas and their large extended family. His discharge allowed them to settle into family life, however their life was somewhat different than yours may have been. Their home was often shared with others.

A second child, Carol was born in 1948. In 1952 they adopted 4-year-old Linda (who was actually a relative in desperate need of a loving home). Then two years later Grandma moved into an apartment that was prepared for her in the basement.

Just as the two-bedroom home in Hamtramck could house many, their modest home is where the Maczugas raised their three children and lived with Grandma and there was quite enough room for all.

Walter painted Disney characters on the walls for his children. He made wooden stoves, and refrigerators. He made sinks that could hold water then drain the water into a receptacle below for disposal.

He made toys for girls and boys of all ages. Toys were set aside for Christmas, when the entire family would deliver boxes of toys to families in need.

In the winter, Walter made a skating rink in the back yard. He also piled the snow in such a fashion that there was a hill for sledding. Their yard was the place to be all winter!

Their family held an active membership in the church now called Hope United Church of Christ in Fraser. Sunday services were not optional for children. Walter was a counselor at Camp Talahi (their church camp) for many years. His daughter Carol followed in his footsteps, and served as a camp dean for even longer.

Often Shirley packed food, and together they lugged their tent and gear for family camping, fishing, and hunting. This was called a "vacation"—be it short or long. The children learned about plants, trees, clouds, stars, flowers, and the Creator.

Their home was filled with love. After the children were raised, Walter and Shirley did the dishes together and then lovingly danced in the kitchen.

Walter was a member of what many call "The Greatest Generation," although I've never heard him speak of himself in those terms. Walter was a member of the Disabled Veterans, however I've heard no complaint of any disability.

When arthritic knees allow, Walter and Shirley still dance in the kitchen after they do the dishes together.

Walter tenderly helps his wife live with the challenges age has dealt, and Shirley frets and stews about how Walter is feeling today. Just two weeks ago, Walter suffered a heart episode, which leaves him in a more vulnerable position, but it failed to dampen his spirit or muddle his memory. As strength returns, he will return to his caregiving position.

Walter and Shirley have truly lived the Love Verses from First Corinthians 13: vs. 4 - 8: "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."

If a loving couple like Walter and Shirley could have raised every child in America, I believe that each generation would be greater and greater.

I salute the World War II Veterans. When they were overseas, some jitterbugged the night away, sang of far away sweethearts, and painted the noses of their bombers with pinups.

They parachuted behind enemy lines, charged onto sandy beaches as bullets whizzed by, and liberated countries from totalitarian grips.

But we are losing them. If you know one, please ask him to tell his story and write it down before it is too late.

Thanks a million to each and every veteran!

And heartfelt gratitude to the "Greatest Generation," the World War II Veterans.

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