On April 12, 1945, the day Franklin Delano Roosevelt died, 9-year-old Betty Cullar helped her mother write a letter about the tragedy to her brother, Sergeant Lewis Cullar.
Lewis was 19, fighting on the Italian front of World War II.
They wrote about how sad they were that Roosevelt was dead and how bad things were back in the states. They hoped he was well in Italy. They hoped he would be home soon.
Betty Culler, now Betty Roberts, still has that letter. It was returned to her family, unopened, along with Lewis Cullar's personal belongings.
Cullar died on April 11, 1945, in a barrage of machine gun fire from German Nazis. He left behind a 21-year-old wife, Evelyn, and a 16-month-old son, Dennis Cullar.
Lewis Cullar grew up in Mount Harris until he was 10 years old, when his family moved to Steamboat Springs. He spent his teenage years in the railroad section foreman's house that once sat across the tracks from what is now the Depot Art Center. He graduated from Steamboat Springs High School and enlisted in the United States Army with his childhood best friend, Jerry Reynolds. Reynolds survived the war and returned to Steamboat where he married Lewis' sister, Judy.
The Reynolds both passed away in the past decade. If Lewis Cullar had lived, he would be 84 years old.
There is no family or friends left in Steamboat to tell Lewis Cullar's story on the 60-year anniversary of his death. There is only a four-paragraph article in the April 26, 1945, issue of the Steamboat Pilot and the memories of the son who never met his father.
When Dennis Cullar, a probation support specialist in Lakewood, read the story of Sherri Lawton, a Hayden resident who lost her husband in Iraq, his heart went out to her two sons.
"I wrote her a letter letting her know that I've gone through what her kids have gone through," Cullar said. "I told her that time helps and support and encouragement.
"I told her that I turned out OK. I managed. I had my moments, but I survived. But even to this day, I think about it."
Although little is known about Lewis Cullar's death, he earned a page in the history books and a Silver Star Medal for his bravery during another battle.
The book "History of The 363d Infantry: One Regiment of the 91st Division in World War II" by Ralph E. Strootman dedicates a page to Cullar's act of heroism.
Strootman writes, "Comp-any E's route of approach was from around a knoll, which offered some cover, across a 200-yard long fire-swept draw, then across 400 yards of plowed field to the houses. The platoon looked on the impending disaster helplessly. There seemed no way to give a warning of the trap which the company was about to enter. From his position in the house, Private Lewis B. Cullar, one of the riflemen in the 1st Platoon, could see the head of the company come around the curve of the knoll ready to enter the draw. Leaving the house, Cullar started running across the 400 yards of mud and furrows of the open field while the enemy's bullets followed him.
"'Get back, goddamnit, get back,' he shouted. Somehow Cullar got across the field without getting hit. The scouts saw him, heard his frantic warnings and halted the company in time. Many men of Company E owe their lives to Cullar's courage."
In a press release from the Army, Cullar said about his feat, "Many times I stopped and turned another way -- you can't help it when bullets hit at your feet. In a ravine, I threw my arms about me and collapsed, tired and scared."
That was Oct. 11, 1944. He would die six months later and be buried in the American Cemetery in Florence, Italy.
"After my dad died, my mom took off," Dennis Cullar said. "I grew up in New Jersey. I would have grown up in Steamboat Springs if my dad had lived, but she had to get away from everybody."
Dennis Cullar, now 61, started asking questions about his father when he was 7 years old.
"It mainly came out because of school," he said. "The other kids had dads, and I didn't." His mom sat down with him and told him that she was proud of her husband, that he was a war hero.
"My mom never remarried," Cullar said. "She devoted her life to me, and I to her. I was 31 when she died."
He learned from his uncle, Jerry Reynolds, that his dad liked to hunt and fish. He was told that his life would have been different if his dad had lived.
"I would have been a Colorado country boy instead of a New Jersey city slicker," he said. With an image of his father in his mind, Dennis Cullar enlisted in the Navy four days out of high school.
"Because of my dad's influence, I always idolized the military," he said. He spent four years in the Navy and 16 years in the Air Force.
After he retired from the military, Cullar went back to school to study history. Even there, at Metro State College, his father continued to influence him.
He wrote two papers about the Italian campaign in World War II.
"Even as old as I was -- I was in my 40s -- I wrote a paper on what I would have done differently if I were the commanding general at that battle."
Sixty years after the death of his father, who was a man he never knew but thought about his entire life, Cullar wants to make sure people here continue to hear the stories of veterans like his father.
"I'm proud of what he did," Cullar said. "It's important to know about the people who sacrificed their lives. He fought so his son wouldn't have to. I think Mark Lawton probably felt the same way."
-- To reach Autumn Phillips call 871-4210 or e-mail email@example.com