Veterans Day - Honoring all who served by remembering one, Pvt. John A. Daum

Pvt. John A. Daum's cross at the American Cemetery in Normandy with Yvan's letter addressed to John attached to it.
  (photo credit: Yvan Leriche). Photo of Pvt. John A. Daum (Daum family archives). 

Today is Armistice Day in France and Veterans Day in the United States. At 9:55 a.m., the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, will lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe as part of the annual memorial service for the 1.4 million French soldiers who lost their lives during the "Great War" (World War I).

In the United States, there will be similar ceremonies honoring all of our veterans. Whether you're doing some early Christmas shopping during the Veterans Day sales or just going about your normal routine, please take a couple of minutes to read the following letter written by Yvan, a Belgian man who wanted to express his condolences and gratitude to the family of Pvt. John A. Daum, an American paratrooper who was killed in Normandy during World War II.

Dear Mr. Stumpner [Pvt. John A Daum's nephew],

...If you would take a moment to read my letter, I would really like to tell you about what led me to you and your family. So here goes my story...

For a long time I wanted to do a photographic report about D-Day in Normandy. I wanted to tell the story of all the "anonymous" soldiers, the men who sacrificed their lives for our liberty.

In september 2007, I searched history books to find the exact locations of the events. I also searched the internet to look for veteran's testimonies that were part of the June 6th events. I read a lot to cover every aspect of the Normandy's landing. In mid-october I found the picture of your uncle on the internet. I was deeply moved by his youth. I remember I didn't sleep very well that night because I was disturbed by the thoughts of his dying.

The following days I tried to find out a little bit more information about him. I found the web site of his regiment and the letters that were addressed to his parents after his death. I also found that he died in the small village of Picauville. My trip was planned for october 31st, but already I wanted to be there on this land of France and close to John.

Three days before my departure, I wrote a letter to your uncle. Yes I had to do it for a thousand reasons. I wanted to remember that the suffering struck thousands of european, canadian and american families. I can tell you that Belgium is grateful about the sacrifice that the american people has made for our liberty....

Mr. Stumpner, we're not from the same family but I can tell you that since november 2007, I consider John a part of my family. I was overwhelmed by his picture, his story and am now very attached to him. I often think of him when I look at my pictures of Normandy. I love this wild land of Normandy, and as it is only a 4 hours drive from my home, I plan to visit John as often as possible, so that he's is not alone even only for a moment. And if one day I can't go there anymore, my son will follow in my footsteps, and visit John in my place. He knows the story and is very attached to him.

I would like give you my sympathy, as I know that your family must have suffered a lot from John's passing. I want you to know that I will take care of his cross for as long as possible, so that his loss continues to be honored and remembered, because we owe him and thousands of others our liberty. In my soul I think it is the most beautiful thing I can do for you and your family, because nothing replaces the loss of a loved one....

All the best to you and your family.
Yvan Leriche

Over the past couple of months, I've had the pleasure of exchanging regular emails with Tom and Yvan and have been deeply touched by the relationship that developed between these two men living on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In 2009, Tom and Yvan met face-to-face for the first time and visited the grave of Pvt. John A. Daum along with Tom's niece, Gayle. Their friendship is an ongoing testimony to all of those who lost their lives.

Please visit Yvan's website to see the photos that he took during his visits to Normandy. They're hauntingly beautiful and serve as a good reminder to honor all who served.

Update: For anyone who is interested in learning more about Pvt. John Daum, Doug Moe's article, "Story of Wisconsin paratrooper killed in Normandy invasion continues to resonate", in the Wisconsin State Journal gives a complete account of Tom Stumpner's quest for answers about his uncle's death.

Yvan Leriche and Tom Stumpner by Pvt. John A. Daum's grave at the American Cemetery in Normandy.
Photo credit: Gayle, Tom's niece.


  1. I love these direct lines to history, so much more alive than just a page in a history book.

    And personally, I think it's a sad commentary that Veterans Day is little more than a sale day. I'll have to take note if flags have been lowered today. And find my own way to remember and pay thanks.

  2. As luck would have it, this is a link from The NYTimes, quite good:

  3. Thanks for posting the link for the NYTImes article, "Lives During Wartime". Reading all of the stories made me realize how much so many people gave and are still giving by serving in the military.

    While I was in Boston, I spoke with a couple of veterans of the Iraq war who are involved in the Occupy Boston movement. They made tremendous sacrifices, like being away from their spouses and children for extended periods of time, and receive little recognition or assistance after they return home.

    I'm ashamed to admit it, but Veterans Day was little more than a shopping day for me before my visit to the American Cemetery.

  4. Just read the following sobering statistics in a PBS article

    This Veterans Day, an estimated 12.1 percent of the 1.98 million Gulf-Era II veterans (those who've served at any time since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) are unemployed -- more than three percent higher than the national average. For younger vets aged 18 to 34, a whopping 16.6 percent are unemployed.

  5. Thank you for a very moving and wonderful post. It's so important to remember all our soldiers who fought and are still fighting for us.
    My son, about 12 at the time, was very interested in WWII aircraft and befriended an American veteran in his 90s who had flown bombers. They corresponded for a while.