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Byline: Lou Ferrara STAFF WRITER
Lou Chaiken rested his violin in its case that December morning, wondering if his talent would be lost on the battlefields of World War II.
"Go on and take it, Lou," his crying younger sister told him as he prepared to leave home for the Army. It was 1942. "What's the worst thing that'll happen? You'll have to send it home."
Chaiken reluctantly took her advice. For the next few years, the violin was his companion and salvation. Later, it was his life's partner.
The son of Russian immigrants who had settled in Philadelphia, Chaiken never saw combat. Instead, he was selected to play in a five-man Army band that performed for severely injured GIs in American military hospitals.
"We always told each other, `If it weren't for the grace of God, that could be us.' "
After the war's end in August 1945, he left the Army and became an orchestra leader for a Philadelphia hotel.
Now retired and living in Sarasota, the 87-year-old recalls wonderful memories of playing at the hotel for every president from FDR, who frequently requested "Home on the Range," to Ronald Reagan, who danced with his wife to Chaiken's music.
Six years ago, Chaiken put his violin away for the last time. The war survivor had lost a different kind of battle - against the carpal tunnel syndrome that afflicted his hands.
He now lives …