He’s 70 years gone, killed fighting the Germans at the tender age of 22 in the waning months of World War II. But on this Christmas morning, Pfc. Linton Lowell of Portland is by no means forgotten.

“You have no idea what your effort means to us,” Jos and Monique Krick wrote in an email to me from the Netherlands this week. “This is a great Christmas present for us.”

That present is Wayne Smith, 52, of Yarmouth. He’s Lowell’s nephew, and until this week he had no idea that there’s a couple who devoutly tend to his Uncle Linton’s faraway gravesite just outside Margraten, the Netherlands. Nor did he know they’ve spent months trying to connect with any of the fallen soldier’s surviving relatives in Maine.

“That’s so hard to imagine,” Smith said upon first hearing about the Kricks this week. “It gives me goose bumps just to think about it.”

Wayne Smith of Yarmouth applauds the efforts of a Dutch couple who have been tending the grave of his uncle, Pfc. Linton Lowell. “I’m just overwhelmed,” Smith said. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Wayne Smith of Yarmouth applauds the efforts of a Dutch couple who have been tending the grave of his uncle, Pfc. Linton Lowell. “I’m just overwhelmed,” Smith said. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

That they were all born years after Lowell perished on the battlefield is of little consequence to Smith or the Kricks. Decades after he died and was lowered with little fanfare into a grave far from Maine, the young soldier still connects them all with their past, and now, as luck would have it, with one another.

• • • • •

Lowell was 20, the oldest of Wesley and Mary Lowell’s five children, when he enlisted in the Army in December 1942. According to the slivers of Army records scattered across the Internet, he’d worked in the papermaking trade in Maine before being assigned to Charlie Company, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, for what would undoubtedly be the longest two-plus years of his short life.

He fought in the invasion of Sicily and survived.

For the first time in 70 years, a likeness of Private First Class Linton Lowell of Portland sits by his grave at The Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands. A Christmas Day column in the Press Herald by Bill Nemitz connected  Jos and Monique Krick, who volunteer as caretakers for the grave, with Wayne Smith of Yarmouth, Lowell’s nephew. Smith was the proud keeper of a portrait of his uncle, who died fighting the German in World War II, and emailed the Kricks a copy over the weekend.

For the first time in 70 years, a likeness of Private First Class Linton Lowell of Portland sits by his grave at The Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, the Netherlands. A Christmas Day column in the Press Herald by Bill Nemitz connected Jos and Monique Krick, who volunteer as caretakers for the grave, with Wayne Smith of Yarmouth, Lowell’s nephew. Smith was the proud keeper of a portrait of his uncle, who died fighting the German in World War II, and emailed the Kricks a copy over the weekend.

He stormed Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy and survived.

He earned a Bronze Star in Belgium for “heroic achievement,” according to a blurb in the Portland Evening Express. Exactly what that achievement entailed, alas, is lost to the passage of time.

Somewhere along the way, he was wounded and earned a Purple Heart. Again, the details are unknown.

Then, on March 30, 1945, as the 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed “The Big Red One,” battled its way through the infamous Siegfried Line into Germany, Lowell was killed in action. Overwhelmed with dead soldiers and no place to bury them, the Army settled on a site just over the nearby border in Margraten, a small town on the southern tip of the Netherlands.

By the time the war ended, 17,740 American servicemen and women would be laid to rest in what immediately became sacred ground to the Dutch people. Newly liberated from the Nazis by Allied forces, they gratefully opened their homes to the war-weary Americans, even pitched in to help bury the dead soldiers who at one point arrived at a rate of 500 per day.

More than half the solders’ remains eventually were returned home to the United States at the request of the families, but 8,301, including Pfc. Lowell, stayed behind. In 1951, Congress passed an act making the Netherlands American Cemetery at Margraten their permanent resting place.

The Lowell family held a memorial service for Linton on April 29, 1945, at the Hephzibah Pentecostal Church in Portland. After that, nary a word would be spoken of their devastating loss.

“I think my grandfather probably had close to a nervous breakdown when he got the news of Linton’s passing,” said Wayne, who was born 18 years after his uncle’s death but learned at an early age not to ask for details. “You never spoke about it because my grandfather really never got over it. (Linton) was his eldest son and very clearly his favorite, his cherished, just the light of my grandfather’s eye.”

One exception to the rule of silence came in 1960, when Linton’s younger brother Don, also a World War II veteran, traveled to Europe with his wife and visited his older brother’s grave. From that came the inspiration to commission a portrait of Linton, based on a service photo, to be hung with quiet reverence in the family’s front room – a silent reminder that for some, the war never ended.

• • • • •

After the war, the Dutch people persuaded the American Battle Monuments Commission, which oversees 25 war cemeteries around the globe, to allow them to “adopt” individual graves at Margraten. To this day, they place flowers several times a year by the white-cross headstones, research their soldier’s history and, at least in spirit, consider the fallen warrior a member of their own family.

Every last grave has long been spoken for. The waiting list often numbers over 100 Dutch families, school classes and other groups wishing to show their undying gratitude, so many decades later, for their freedom.

Two years ago, along came the Kricks.

Jos, 58, is a business manager for a heating firm. Monique, 48, works in human resources for a nutrition company. They live 155 miles from Margraten but often travel to the region and, with each trip, have felt the cemetery’s all-too-familiar tug on their heartstrings.

“My grandfather was a harbormaster during WWII and was in the resistance. He had interesting stories about the war during his life,” Jos explained. “For some reason WWII always had our interest.”

Upon hearing in late 2013 that the waiting list was down to six months, the Kricks applied for a gravesite. Then, in May of 2014, word came that Pfc. Linton Lowell’s gravesite – Plot A, Row 1, Grave 14 – had become available and was all theirs.

But who was he? What did he look like? Did he still have family back home in Maine? What little they found via Google didn’t begin to tell the whole story.

“We have been looking for more information about this soldier and his family, but unfortunately the track runs dead. Is it possible to get more information about this soldier through the Portland Press Herald?” the Kricks wrote in their first email several months ago. “We hope you can be of service to us.”

And so it began.

• • • • •

Mary Lowell, Linton’s mother, died in 1982. Wesley, his father, died in 1985. Neither obituary mentions Linton.

Marjorie, Linton’s sister, passed away in 1984. Her twin sister, Marion (Wayne’s mother), died in 2008.

Younger brother Donald died just last year. His twin sister, Dorothy, 90, survives and now lives in Rockland, but her stepson said this week that she remembers little about her brother Linton and politely declined a request for an interview.

But Dorothy did remember one thing: Her nephew, Wayne Smith, showed an interest in his Uncle Linton at one point, maybe even did some research on him. He’d be the one to talk to about Linton.

Wayne Smith, of Yarmouth, has been researching the life of his late uncle, PFC Linton Lowell who was killed during the liberation of  the Netherlands during WWII. A painting of Lowell is the only known likeness.  John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Wayne Smith, of Yarmouth, has been researching the life of his late uncle, PFC Linton Lowell who was killed during the liberation of the Netherlands during WWII. A painting of Lowell is the only known likeness. John Ewing/Staff Photographer

“That would be me,” said Smith, who works for SDIX, a biotechnology firm in Windham, and is the proud keeper of the last two remaining vestiges of his uncle – the portrait that was passed around from one family member to another before it ended up with Smith, and a sturdy bookcase built by Linton just before he joined the Army.

Standing in his kitchen Wednesday evening, the portrait cradled in his hands and the bookcase a few feet away, Smith said he began digging into Uncle Linton’s story a few years ago after he and his wife, Stacey Chase, took her father, also a World War II veteran, on an Honor Flight from Philadelphia to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

But like the Kricks, Smith’s Internet search produced little beyond Lowell’s name, rank and serial number, and a general idea of where he fought and where he died.

Nowhere did Smith learn that even now, an ocean away, a couple was as tethered as he was to this single soldier among thousands. So fixated were the Kricks that whenever they watched a World War II documentary, they’d look hard at the faces of U.S. soldiers and wonder, “Could that be Linton? Or how about that one? Or maybe over there … ?”

Now they’ll know.

Better yet, when framed photos of other soldiers are placed in front of their grave markers on May 4 (The Netherlands’ Memorial Day), the Kricks will no longer be left with just a fresh bouquet of flowers to honor Lowell. At long last – thanks to the modern-day wonder of an instantaneous email with a photo of a painting attached – a face will go with his name.

“We are very curious what Linton looks like,” Jos and Monique wrote upon hearing that a likeness still exists.

“This is an amazing gift,” Smith said of the Kricks’ dedication. “I’m just overwhelmed.”

Today, Christmas Day, there will be introductions via email and top-to-bottom comparisons of who knows what about a soldier who died far too young and much too far from home. Who knows, there may even be a Skype chat.

And while all of that’s going on, all of Maine would do well to pause and raise a glass in memory of Pfc. Linton Lowell, a young man from Portland who fought and died for his country but never quite got the recognition he so richly deserved.

Better late than never.