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First she had to learn to speak English. She worked as a nanny for a family in Alabama. In 1972 she began to work for what would become her surrogate family in South Florida. The mother and father were lawyers and she helped raise their sons. When Nicole arrived, the elder son was two and a half; the younger was about two months old. A third son arrived in l976. She worked for the family for 37 years.

 

Over the years, Nicole looked for her father under the name Baachus. She went to the U.S. Army for information, but her mother was not married to her father. “So I had no rights. I was not the next of kin. So with the army they wouldn’t give me any information. It was very difficult.” She went to the Red Cross for help. She looked up the meaning of her name, Aure, a variant of the Latin word aura, meaning: wind. She tried to visit the orphanage where she stayed for less than a day as a baby, but the staff did not want to give her an appointment. She obtained her baptismal certificate , she says, with great difficulty – because she had no surname on it, no parents names – and was successful only because she had help from a friend who was heavily connected in the Catholic Church.  She went to the American Battle Monuments Commission, a U.S. government agency that maintains U. S. memorials and graves of the U.S. Armed Forces overseas, but to no avail. In addition to the misspelling of his name, she was further hindered: “Searching for a father is different with legitimate children. For anything, if you are not a legitimate child you have no access to information, unless it is given under the FOIA.” But she had to continue her search. “To be fatherless is to be incomplete. There are some holes in your life. You don’t belong anywhere. Whatever you do in your life there is something missing.”

 

In 2001, one of the three South Florida boys she had helped raise passed the bar. He hired an investigator, an ex-FBI agent, to help Nicole find out if her father had indeed passed away and if so, if he had any family or if he was alive. The investigator was “very skeptical,” she says. “He really didn’t believe what I was saying.” The investigator hired another investigator in France to ask questions at the hospital where Nicole’s father had worked. Nicole says the investigator saw there was truth to her story.

 

The investigator then asked her to go through the casualty list online at the U.S. National Archives, which is organized by state. First, she tried Kansas, because her mother thought he had been from Kansas. Then, because her father’s friend, Raymond Kellerman, had come from Alabama, she tried Alabama. Nothing. (She doesn’t know why her mother remembered where Kellerman was from and not the hometown of her lover.)

 

Then Nicole remembered one thing her mother had told her: that Stephen’s father had died when he was young and he went to Chicago to get work with his older sister’s husband’s sausage-making business, and that he wanted to go home, that he didn’t like big cities. So she decided to look in Illinois. The casualty list is broken down by counties, not cities and so as she went through the counties she discovered a Steven Buckus in Springfield, Illinois. He lived, she learned later, on Osborn Avenue.

 

Nicole’s investigator contacted the Veteran’s Administration in Illinois and was able to locate two of  Steven Buckus’ older sisters who were surprised as they had known nothing about Nicole. Their brother had died, shot in the back in a small town in Germany, called Breuna, while Josette was still pregnant with Nicole. He was declared killed in action, Nicole says, in May, 1945.  After a meeting,  Nicole says her new aunt, Frances Doyle, signed a notarized paper saying she knew Nicole to be her brother’s daughter. Then all kinds of information became open to her.

 

After half a century of looking, Nicole had prepared herself for the news her father had passed away. But she felt like she had a cookie jar, she said with a sudden smile, when she was able to learn certain details: to learn through the wallet that the army released to her that her father had been in North Africa and Italy before he came to Vallauris; to learn of his Purple Heart and other medals; to learn that her father had blue eyes and dark blonde hair; to learn of his five older sisters. She is proud that her grandmother was Veronica Andruczyk Peleckis, born in Poland on September 29, 1988 and that her grandfather was Joseph Benjamin Buckus born in Lithuania on December 7, l988 and that they had come through Ellis Island. She is so proud of her father's military service that she bought a commemorative brick for the World War II monument in Springfield in his memory.

 

She cried through much of her interview but says if she knew what she would have had to go through, she would have searched for her father all over again. Why? “To find out who I was. It’s as simple as that.” She said the new information “lifted two tons off my shoulder. Oh yes. Because I was complete. I belong somewhere. I think the two points were connected between my mother and my father. I was halfway in between one and the other and when I found out all the information it just clicked and I felt free…I am at peace with myself. At first I thought it will disturb a lot of people. It will feel like it’s not right to be the daughter of someone not married to my mother. But I accepted it. I didn’t judge. I just hope that they [Josette and Steven] were very happy.”

 

“Never give up,” she says. “And don’t lie to your children. Never. Never lie to your kids. Never. It's the worst thing. I would rather be hit than lied to.” She says she thinks people should take classes before having a family, to “learn to avoid many catastrophes.”

 

She never married, never had children of her own, she says, because she has been busy with the grown ones in her surrogate family, and with their children. And though a relative had her father's remains moved to Springfield, she says she intends to visit Breuna, Germany, to see where her father's remains were first laid to rest. 


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