America saved them. America gave them a new life. They had been driven out of Lithuania, traumatized by the Nazis and terrorized by Russian troops. For nearly five years after World War II, they lived the bitter life of refugees, waiting and praying for passage to the great country that saved Europe.
"I say God bless America," Vladas Pilius said. "I say God bless America."
"We were displaced after the war," said his wife, Anele. "The international refugee organization help us."
"It was you people that help us," Mr. Pilius said. "It was America that help us. That's why I say God bless America. But . . . "
And he sighed heavily.
"But, but, but, but. . . ."
But after all the goodness that flowed into his life -- after coming to the United States, finding work, getting married, after buying a home and having children, after watching his family prosper and grandchildren run to his knee -- after all that, Vladas Pilius watched the dream become a nightmare. His first son, Vitalis, whom everyone called Vito, was murdered 10 days ago after being kidnapped from a Baltimore parking garage. He was buried Tuesday.
Now Vladas Pilius sat by his wife on a couch in their home in Arbutus. He read from notes -- "Something I want to tell the public" -- on a scrap of paper.
"Myself and my wife lived through two unforgettable totalitarian regimes in Lithuania, where I have suffered untold cruel abuse . . . ."
Sponsored by a family in New Jersey, Mr. Pilius arrived in the United States in 1949. He took a textile job in Paterson, N.J. He saved his money and traveled to Baltimore, to the famous Lithuanian Hall on Hollins Street, to meet others from his homeland, to dance and to sing. His wife had come to Maryland with her refugee family; they were sponsored by an Eastern Shore farmer. The young Anele made her way to Baltimore, too. She met Vladas at the Lithuanian Hall.
"Forty-two years have gone since I come to this free and blessed U.S.A.," Mr. Pilius continued. "I get married in 1952. We rise three children, one of them Vito. I have worked for different companies until my retirement. . . ."
He made donuts in a bakery. He washed barrels at a brewery. He worked in a meat-packing house. He and Anele bought their first house on Mount Street with 3,000 hard-earned dollars. He worked for nearly 20 years for an electronic components manufacturer.
"Through all this time," Mr. Pilius said, "there has been extended to me a warm and pleasant welcome feelings by my fellow workers and my superiors. I thank God for such sympathetic human beings in this wonderful God-blessed America. But America changed. Why?"
Why is the great country that saved him so brutal and cruel?
Vito Pilius, a 37-year-old husband and father of four small boys, was abducted, robbed then brutally murdered. Later the day of the murder, police say, one of the suspects, a teen-ager, was held briefly by State Police after he tried to rent a car using Vito Pilius's credit card. To back it up, he used Pilius's driver's license. Police believe the teen mutilated the license and took it to the Motor Vehicle Administration, where it was duplicated, with the teen's photograph affixed.
Now Vladas Pilius held up a passport.
"A friend with one of these, U.S. passport, could not replace his driver's license that had been lost," he said. "And this was months and months ago at MVA. How can [the murder suspect] get new license with nothing, nothing? And then he tried to rent car with my son's card, and the police let him go. Why?"
Not that any of this would have saved his son.
"Why is it," Mr. Pilius asked, "that people in authority continuously talk about how they are going to stop crime and yet nothing ever seems to be done?"
"America has done so much for the world. . . ," said Mrs. Pilius.
"I say God bless America," her husband answered.
"But now we should start to think about ourselves, to clean up our own house. We should take our streets, our homes back into our hands."
"I escape the Russian quack doctors and their treachery," Mr. Pilius said. "I escape Nazi terror. But my son, who was born in America, cannot escape from the U.S.A. criminals. Impossible. . . . Impossible. . . . Impossible."