B-26 Marauder 320th Bomb Group


My Journey to the Sicliy-Rome American Cemetery
by Jane Ferko; sister-in-law to Theodore F. Balk, Jr - 443rd B.S.


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On 18 May 2006, Jane Balk-Ferko made a long awaited trip to visit the region of the resting place of her brother-in-law, Theodore Balk. Her first husband, Tom, Theodore’s brother, had long wanted to visit the area where Theodore’s plane went down as well as the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery where he is memorialized. Unfortunately, Tom passed away before he could complete this desire. Despite Tom’s passing, Jane made her own pilgrimage joined by her new husband, George Ferko. Below is her touching account of their journey.



Theodore F. Balk, Jr.



Theodore F. Balk, Jr.
320th B.G, 443rd B.S.

Theodore was lost to his family on July 24, 1943 in a B-26 crash off the coast of Italy after a bombing run from his base at Massicault, Tunisia.  He was 23 years old on the 4th of July and had only been in North Africa about a month.  Before he went overseas, Theodore had married his high school sweetheart, Betty.  He was the eldest of five boys, and was the idol of his younger brothers.  He had completed his Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting at the University of Georgia prior to enlisting in the newly formed Army Air Corps.  Everyone had high hopes for Theodore’s future.  He had everything to live for and to come home to – but it wasn’t to be.

The Journey to the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery



Sicily-Rome American Cemetery
 Nettuno, Italy

On May 18th, we hired a car to take us from Rome to Nettuno at Anzio where we headed for the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery.  From the moment we entered the gates we were overwhelmed with the silence; the majesty; the honor and glory that were in that place.  We truly felt that we were on hallowed ground.

While waiting at the office for our appointment, we were gratified to see that the last three U. S. presidents have visited this cemetery for Memorial Day services at least once.
  We were met by the Director of the Cemetery, who introduced us to a gentleman named Silvano Casaldi, who is the Curator of a World War II Museum in Nettuno.  Silvano had volunteered to be our guide that afternoon.  We learned that he often acts as a volunteer at the cemetery.  He provided us with a lot of history about the cemetery and the area.

There are 7,860 graves with white crosses and 3,095 names on the Tablets of the Missing.
  Hearing the numbers while surveying the panorama of markers is almost too much to comprehend.  I thought of the quiet and the silence of the day with the birds chirping sweetly, and then tried to imagine the noise and utter chaos of those times in which these brave souls gave their all for the sake of freedom for people they did not even know, as well as to protect our own country from possible harm.

It was time to do what we primarily came here to do:
  To go into the Memorial Building and find the name of my late brother-in-law, 2nd Lt. Theodore F. Balk, Jr., 443rd BSq, 320th BGp, from Augusta, Georgia, on the Tablets of the Missing and to pay our respects.

I could not believe I was really here – thousands of miles from home, and that I was actually going to see with my own eyes a name among thousands that would mean so much to our family.

We went inside and I was immediately awed by the names.  They were floor to ceiling all the way around the walls of the chapel, in symmetrical columns like seeing thousands of soldiers in formation from ten thousand feet in the air.  This was their final formation, I thought. 

In the first column, I found Theodore’s name.  Balk.  That came first.  I had carried that name myself for 40 years before I re-married, and so it jumped out at me.  It made me feel connected, because this family became my family also. This lost brother, son, and husband would forever be 23 years old in their memory.  I could only stand quietly and pray that his soul was at peace and that his parents and his brother, Tom, had found him

This cemetery and all the other American military cemeteries and monuments all over the world are one of the best uses of our tax dollars I have seen.
  It is fitting and appropriate that we honor these fallen ones in this way.  It is the least we can do.  Every American who goes anywhere in the vicinity of one of these sites should certainly take the opportunity to go and see it for themselves and to pay their respects. 

Looking at all those markers and names, I had the thought that for every story like Theodore’s, there are thousands more just like it.  I hope many more of these stories may be told so we will never, ever forget. (Continued)

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