Reunited; A Father’s Day Tale

Reunited; A Father’s Day TalePictured are the WWII monuments in the Tioga County Veterans Memorial Park in Owego, N.Y. James M. LaDue, a Barton resident, was killed in action in September 1944. His name is remembered on the monument to the right, and he rests in Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium. (JoAnn R. Walter Photo)

By JoAnn R. Walter —

A bittersweet trip to Belgium and the Netherlands in April brought an eight-decades-old family story closer to full circle for Waverly, N.Y. resident Nancy LaDue Porter.

Nancy’s father, Pfc. James M. LaDue, served in the U.S. Army during World War II with the 746th Tank Battalion. He went overseas in February 1944, and was first stationed in England before being transferred to France. In one letter home, LaDue shared that he had nine stitches in his forehead after being wounded on Sept. 1. He was Killed In Action near the German front on Sept. 29, and just days after he returned to duty.

LaDue was 24 years old, and Nancy was just two. When Nancy’s mother, Betty, entered the Women’s Army Corp (WACS) after her father died, Nancy went to live with an aunt on Broad Street in Waverly.

Reunited; A Father’s Day Tale

Pictured, from left, are Nancy LaDue Porter, of Waverly, N.Y. and Erwin Flohr, of Helmond, the Netherlands, at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium. Nancy recently visited the site where her father, James M. LaDue, is buried. Nancy was just two years old when her father was killed in action during WWII. Provided photo.

LaDue rests alongside nearly 8,000 other soldiers in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Belgium. Above the rows and rows of white crosses is a bronze statue of an archangel. The angel offers a laurel branch to the heroic dead below while it gestures to the skies above.

It was there that Nancy, now 82, saw her father’s grave for the first time. 

Nancy attempted to bring her father’s remains stateside when she turned 18, although was told that she would have to wait until age 21. Nancy persisted, and tried again as soon as she turned 21.  However, she was then told the statute of limitations expired. She walked away disheartened and defeated, and feels that the rules at the time weren’t explained well. Nancy received an apology, but it left her with a crushed heart.

Nancy reflected, “I’ve always missed him, even though I hardly knew him.”

A recording of LaDue’s voice sent to Betty and Nancy, and now a keepsake that Nancy has played multiple times, lovingly expresses, “Give my baby a hug and a kiss from Daddy.”

Fast forward 80 years, and accompanying Nancy to Belgium were her daughter, Jeannean, and grandson, Kyle. Helmond, Netherlands resident and dear friend of Tioga County, Erwin Flohr, welcomed them, and escorted the family to Henri-Chapelle.

Nancy remarked, “It was such a relief to finally find Daddy’s grave,” adding, “It was an unbelievable experience, and I am so very happy that I finally got to visit.  After waiting eighty years, you cannot believe the feeling!”

Reunited; A Father’s Day Tale

Nancy LaDue Porter, of Waverly, N.Y., reflects on the emotional journey that took her to Belgium, and to the grave of her father buried in Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery. Provided photo.

The day they visited Nancy said it rained off and on, and mused, “I know now that Daddy is in Heaven, and it was like it was raining tears from Heaven that day.”

The April trip was Nancy’s first time overseas. Nancy’s husband passed away last August, and she wished he could’ve been there. For Kyle, he and his wife visited Henri-Chapelle several years ago.    

Flohr adopted LaDue’s grave in 2008. Erwin explained that a friend helped him find a relative of Nancy’s via online ancestry research, and which ultimately led him to Nancy. Since then the two have kept in contact.

Nancy shared, “Erwin has been so wonderful, and I can never thank him enough for all that he has done for me, and also the other soldier’s sites that he cares for.”

Erwin remarked, “I am happy, proud and grateful that I can do such a thing,” adding, “Bringing Nancy to her father’s grave made me emotional, too, and I wish time could have stopped at that moment.”

Flohr has adopted six Tioga County, N.Y. soldier’s graves, four at Margraten in the Netherlands, and two at Henri-Chapelle. He has met some of those family members, and keeps in touch with others.

Reunited; A Father’s Day Tale

Nancy LaDue Porter, of Waverly, N.Y., reflects on the emotional journey that took her to Belgium, and to the grave of her father buried in Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery. Provided photo.

Before leaving Henri-Chapelle, Nancy received a description of her father’s military service, and was given the American and Belgian flags that decorated LaDue’s grave.     

Nancy and her family met and had dinner with Erwin’s family in Helmond, and also toured the city’s 700-plus year old castle, viewed Dutch “cube houses” unique to Helmond and Rotterdam, and visited Slot Loevestein, one of the Netherlands most famous castles. They also stopped by the cities of Valkenburg and Kinderdijk, the latter being popular for visitors to learn about the purpose of windmills related to water management. 

It was through a newspaper article in 2008 that Erwin connected with Jim Raftis, Sr., Owego’s Memorial Day Chairman. 

Erwin noted, “The correspondence with Jim Raftis, Sr. means a lot to me. It is so wonderful to see the dedication he has in remembering veterans.”

Raftis arranged a special recognition for Erwin in 2017. Owego residents, John and Carole Schubert visited the Netherlands and hand-delivered proclamations from the N.Y.S. Senate and the Tioga County Legislature, and which thanked Erwin for his efforts and dedication.

Erwin shared, “A lot of times people ask why I adopt graves. If it weren’t for these soldiers I wouldn’t have the life I have now. It is a way to thank them and pay my respect, and I will continue to do so as long as I can.”


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