Lewis was the boss of the mail room, who doled out—sometimes with a growl—the office supplies and—if you were nice—would let you use the copy machine. Who would have thought the grumpiest old guy in the building would for years be the telephone santa? Ho-ho-ho. Under that gruff veneer was a sweetheart.


Lewis Van Leuven - by Tom Camp

For those of you who knew him, I want to tell a story about Lewis Van Leuven. Several years he accompanied me, Bill Cook, Floyd Grass, Ed Wade, Virgil Torrence and Bryan Yandle on an annual trip to the wilds of northern Maine to camp in the snow and hunt deer, bear and grouse (of course what we saw most was moose, which we could not shoot). Many times I tried to get Van to tell me about how he lost his legs in World War Two. Finally on one trip, in the middle of the night I was driving and Van was awake riding shotgun and he told me.

Lewis Van Leuven in 1957Van was a paratrooper who dropped behind the German lines on D-Day. He was in his early 20’s and stood 6 feet four inches. He was from Utah and loved to hunt and ride horses. On the sixth day after the Normandy invasion his unit was engaged in a firefight with German soldiers when a German hand grenade landed near him. Before he had time to do anything it exploded. He was knocked unconscious. When he awoke he saw that both his legs were badly mangled, and he was in great pain. The Germans were overrunning their position. Van said he saw a young German soldier approach and stand over him. Then the German soldier fixed his bayonet on the end of his rifle and aimed it right at Van’s heart. But when the soldier made his thrust he (the soldier) turned his head and only stuck Lewis in the shoulder. The German ran off without looking at Van again.

Van said he knew the German soldier saw the condition of his legs and just wanted to put him out of his misery. But he could not stand to watch as he finished off the killing job. Van passed out again and when he awoke he was in a field hospital. Both his legs had been amputated above his knees, but Van said the really strange thing was he could still feel his toes itching. But he had no toes.

Van was eventually flown back to the States and was fitted with artificial legs and feet. But ever so often the scar tissue would build up on his “stumps”, then begin cracking and bleeding and he would have to go to a Veteran’s hospital to have that scar tissue cut away. With each visit he got a little shorter. As he told it that night, “Once I was six feet four. Now I am about five-ten.”

One night in Maine we were gathered under the fire cover, hugging some heat because it was about 10 degrees. A trapper drove into camp and wanted to know if we had seen any beaver ponds, or lynx, or fisher where he could set his traps. There was a big snow on the ground.

Van’s artificial legs had a pair of ordinary black slippers built onto them at the feet. After the trapper had been there a while, and most if not all of us had noticed him looking at Van’s feet, Van left and went into the cook tent. When Van had gone the trapper said, “Now guys it ain’t any of my business, but I think you all should take up a collection and buy that guy a pair of decent, warm boots.”

Just for the record, we called Van “Twinkle Toes.” And he loved it.

Thank God for men like him. Otherwise we would all be speaking German today and seriously or not declaring Adolph Hitler a hero.

Sleep in peace, Twinkle Toes. You left the world a better place

The U.S. Postal Service issued this "TV Entertains America" commemorative on February 18, 1999.