December 3, 2012


Yes, we have breached the $15,000 mark and then some. The Kansas City VA’s Volumtary Services Unit received a flurry of generous contributions in Francis’s name following Veterans Day.

As I wrote recently in The Kansas City Star, “General awareness about this crisis has increased. Since last Veterans Day, the number of homeless veterans has declined by nearly 12 percent, to about 67,000 nationwide. Still, according to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, ‘A veteran is 50 percent more likely to be homeless than the average American.’”

We’ve also learned how many children are affected. Some of the most moving letters we’ve received are from veterans, usually women, with children who are benefiting from your generosity

We plan to continue this legacy to Francis as long as the need exists. We can only imagine his amazement.

Thank you to all who have been so generous and thoughtful!

November 11, 2012

Team Francis does the KU Veterans Day Run

It was 38˚ Fahrenheit and pouring rain at race time on Veterans Day in Lawrence, Kan. The conditions soon mattered less than the vicious climb up Mt. Oread on 13th Street to the University of Kansas campus, where the course wove past several memorial sites. Melissa and Bob each finished 2nd in their age divisions, but Bob swears there were only two entries in his (which will go unnamed).

Bob & Heather with Melissa Jacobson
of the Kansas City VA

Melissa, Erin, Aaron, Erin, & Bob

Heather, Alex, Erin, Aaron, Erin, & Bob

Almost there!

September 7, 2012

But there's more work to do...

While the numbers are improving thanks to increased awareness and the availability of programs like the Housing and Urban Development and Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing program (HUD/VASH), a recent HUD estimate still places the number of homeless veterans nationwide at 67,000. This is down from 200,000 as recently as 2007, a remarkable success rate but hardly an acceptable number. And it’s worth remembering that about 1.5 million veterans are at risk of becoming homeless for reasons that range from poverty to substandard housing to a lack of support networks.

As I’ve written elsewhere, Francis was sensitive to this last point. It was one reason he volunteered at the Kansas City VA. He knew how marginal life was for many soldiers he served with in the Army. And he knew he had the good fortune to have a strong safety net at home. This was not something he took for granted. Many soldiers enlist because it’s their last best option for security. Quite simply, they can’t find a job and have nowhere else to go. Francis knew men and women who had no one at home and dim prospects when they left the service. And when they were finally discharged, it was often with the additional burdens of debilitating injuries, PTSD from the trauma of war and battle, and alcohol or drug addictions, which for many may have been a self-medicating solution to a system that wasn’t ready to care for the flood of soldiers returning from our current wars with such a wide range of needs.

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans tend to become homeless at a much faster rate than Vietnam War veterans. One reason is that these service men and women are serving multiple tours in war zones, which increases the emotional and financial disruptions in their lives and creates a continual state of personal instability. During Francis’s 2006-7 tour in Afghanistan he was subject to the “stop-loss” policy when his battalion’s tour was extended. It was a great disappointment to him and to us, and it came with far more jeopardy than we realized at the time – and this was not something we tended to underestimate in the first place. But for others who also faced stop-loss extensions throughout the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq such abrupt extensions only exacerbated family and financial problems that may already have been serious.

Right here in Kansas City about 2,800 veterans sleep on the street on any given night. The story is similar across the country. Fortunately through your generosity and the fine leadership at the Kansas City VA’s Voluntary Services Unit something is being done to provide stability and security to regional veterans. To date, over $14,000 has been raised since we tragically lost Francis last year. And donors have the confidence of knowing that 100 percent of their donations go directly to providing support services and goods for veterans in a structured and well-managed program.

Veterans Day is coming—and then the holidays. Please do remember our needy veterans as you plan for the holidays. For information on how to donate, please see the column at the right.

I’ll have more information soon on upcoming activities, including a Team Francis Holiday 5K , "Flip-Flops for Francis Day," and next year's big event, the “Ride to Francis” -- a cross-country motorcycle ride by Francis’s godfather Dave, who’ll be riding his Harley from New York to Francis’s resting place at Leavenworth National Cemetery to raise funds for homeless veterans.

 Stay tuned—and thank you for all you do!

June 24, 2012

‘He was a cut above excellence’: Tribute to Francis in the Kansas City VA's new HUD/VASH newsletter

 From the newly-issued HUD/VASH newsletter, a tribute by Natasha, one of the veterans in the program:

June 20, 2012

Reading grief: ‘Sam’s Book,’ by David Ray

A chance encounter recently led me to reconnect with poet David Ray after more than twenty years. I’d known him then for a short time, been a guest in his home when his grief for the loss of his own son, Sam, was still new. (It is a misnomer, I now know, to call a parent’s grief fresh; it is always fresh, will always be so.) My children were young then. He and his wife Judy had only lost Sam three years earlier. How little I understood then. How well now.

David’s amazing elegy for his son, Sam’s Book  (Wesleyan University Press, 1987), has been a great comfort to me and to Heather. The collection includes poems from across a range of styles and periods, from Sam’s infancy through the terrible years immediately following his death. Here David gives voice to experiences and musings that for many who grieve may remain unspoken, unrealized, unformulated in words or images, or may only be shared in desultory conversation or the privacy of unartful journal entries.

He describes the stark realization that new snow has fallen on the distant grave:
                                      … Much farther south we know
              your grave is covered now, who were the song
              and dance of my life.

And the intense sorrow of holidays:

              This year there will be no turkey
              nor will you and your sisters sing that song
              of grace around our table, grace abounding—

We lost Francis at about the same time as the tsunami swept through Japan and the Arab Spring uprisings occurred in Egypt and Turkey. While we had the fortune to mourn with family and friends, and to take time for their visits and to share the gifts they brought, we recognized in the shadow of these events that even such mourning was itself a rare gift. David voiced this recognition in “Bhopal,” which occurred at the time of his loss:

 One thing that’s certain through is this: Third World
 or one beyond, they’re all our children now,
 though borne by millions in brown arms and black,
 and not much mourned by those who think their own
     are wonders, others somehow less.

His “Haiku” series is at once a sprinkling of glass shards and of fine dandelion puffs, giving form and shape to the chaotic experience of grief within the challenging confines of the haiku form. The deceptive simplicity of these poems and their gallery-like grouping ask the reader to linger, as one recognizes how much more is there than the time needed for a first reading suggests.

I must share two:

              When wind blew my hair,
               I felt like my son, smiling
               and happy at last.

   My kiss on his brow—
   Some men would not hug ther sons,
   much less this embrace.

This last struck very close to home for me.

I’ll stop here. There’s much more to say of these poems, which I’ll do in another venue. But for anyone suffering such grief—or for anyone who knows a parent in its throes—Sam’s Book offers comfort, recognition, and community, which will never fill the loss, nothing can, but may give voice to some of the chaos within the hearts of those who grieve.

May 26, 2012

In Memoriam

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
                                                                      —John McCrae

May 16, 2012

‘Flip-Flops for Francis Day’ at Ray Marsh Elementary School a huge success!

Some of the great students at
Ray Marsh Elementary who
made 'Flip-Flops for Francis Day'
a success
A big shout-out to Ray Marsh Elementary School in Shawnee, Kansas!

The school's hallways echoed with students, teachers, and staff members flip-flopping their way to and from classes in support of the Kansas City VA.

The Ray March Student Council sponsored "Flip-Flops for Francis Day" on Friday, May 4, which raised $192 in Francis’s memory to help veterans in the Kansas City area who have fallen on hard times.

Thank you, Ray Marsh Elementary, for all you do for our veterans and to continue Francis’s legacy!

May 3, 2012

Flip-Flops for Francis Day!

Friday, May 4th, is "Flip-Flops for Francis Day" at Ray Marsh Elementary School in Shawnee, Kansas. Students, teachers, and staff are encouraged to wear flip-flops to school and support the Kansas City VA in Francis’s memory.

What a great way to remember Francis—and support a great cause!

April 15, 2012

A brief update

May is nearly upon us. Francis would have turned twenty-nine on May 12th. It's difficult to believe that this will be his second birthday since we lost him.

May is also the month of Memorial Day, a fitting time to offer an update.

Generous donors from all over the country have contributed over $12,000 to the Francis D. Sommer Memorial Fund for Homeless Veterans during the past year. Simply an amazing amount--far beyond anything we could have imagined.

This website has now been updated with new links, more photos, and links to information about the crisis of homelessness among America's veterans.

My fondest hope is that visitors to the website will pass the link on to others and add it to their Facebook pages and social network sites. 

Please visit first the link in the right sidebar, Remembering Francis and Caring for Homeless Veterans, which describes the mission of this fund.

I've also posted an email address. If you have a story to share about Francis or about the Memorial Fund, please do write.

Thank you for visiting and for caring.


March 2, 2012

A work-in-progress

As of this writing, over $12,300 has been donated to the Kansas City VA in memory of Francis D. Sommer to help homeless and needy veterans. Contributions have come from all over the country, from Maine to California.

This website is a work-in-progress, recently begun to provide a permanent home for updates, excerpts from letters sent by veterans and contributors, upcoming events and activities, important links, and more about Francis's life and the meaning of this legacy.

Please do click the links on the side bars to learn more and become part of this important effort.

Thank you for visiting.

(Post updated March 14, 2012.)