Private First Class Donald Hofman had been labeled Missing in Action since the day he was believed to be killed during World War II. More than 72 years after his death, his brother Rev. Leonard Hofman, retired General Secretary of the Christian Reformed Church, received a Purple Heart and other awards in honor of his late brother. Hofman is a member of Shawnee Park CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Donald served the U.S. Army in the 45th Infantry Division, 157th Infantry Regiment, the same regiment that liberated the Dachau concentration camp three months after his death. He was killed in battle at the age of 19 in Reipertswiller, France, on January 21, 1945.
The family was notified at the time of his death but heard no news of the details surrounding it. “In 1951 there was a letter addressed to my parents that [the U.S. Army] had conducted investigations, but no trace of his remains was found,” Leonard said.
In 1995, a couple from Leonard’s church came to him with some surprising news. They had just led a tour through Europe, and Leonard’s cousin was part of the tour group. They stopped at Epinal American Cemetery and Memorial, a U.S. military cemetery near Dinozé, France, where they found a memorial wall inscribed with about 400 names, one of which was Donald Hofman. “It threw me for a loop,” Leonard said. “I couldn’t believe it because we never knew that it existed.”
Leonard and his wife, Elaine, took a trip to Europe the following year and saw his brother’s name inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing. “I squatted there with his picture and cried,” Leonard recalled. “It was amazing to be there at that spot; just to know that the guy that I grew up with didn’t just die and be MIA and forgotten about.”
Correspondence with the U.S. Army started up again, spearheaded by Leonard’s niece, Donna Woltjer. As a result, on February 8, Major David Sykes drove from the Detroit area to Leonard’s home in Grand Rapids to present him with the Purple Heart for wounds Donald received in action resulting in death; the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement in active ground combat on September 1, 1944; the American Campaign medal;
European—African—Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; World War II Victory medal; and a Combat Infantryman Badge.
Leonard is the last living member of his family of origin, but was joined by two of his daughters, Laurie and Kathy, to receive the awards. “It brings closure to me. He served well and he’s been honored for it and we thank the Lord for that,” Leonard said. “I’m proud of my brother for serving and for receiving these awards.”
About the Author
Lori Dykstra is a freelance writer.