|Sgt. Francis Sommer|
(May 12, 1983 - February 11, 2011)
That’s my son Francis. He loved children. This photo was taken somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan’s Peche River Valley in 2006 or 7.
On February 11, 2011, we lost Francis in a car accident. He’d been out of the Army for over three years. He’d nearly completed culinary school and was working as a chef at one of Kansas City’s premier restaurants.
Francis received treatment at the Kansas City VA Medical Center for a host of medical issues resulting from his years in the service, which included tours in Iraq and Afghanistan with the 10th Mountain Division. He liked the volunteers who greeted him at the door and drove the buses. They were cheerful and helpful. He had to go there often, and he later volunteered himself, distributing clothes to homeless veterans and treating them to his own recipe for chili.
When he passed away, we had to make many quick decisions, and one was to request donations to help these men and women in lieu of flowers. We’d been told that the Voluntary Services Unit at the VA needed money for small expenses, like paying for a homeless vet to get a driver’s license or safety shoes for a new job. We guessed that a few hundred dollars might be added to their fund. Little did we imagine what happened next.
Some weeks after the funeral we were contacted by the Chief of Voluntary Services at the VA and told that donations were running into the thousands. Her department had never seen anything like this. She wept with me on the phone and asked if my wife Heather and I would approve a plan she’d conceived to use the funds in a special tribute to our son. We did, and meanwhile the generosity of donors—many of whom did not know Francis or our family, but had simply read about his passing―continued and the fund grew.