The mingling of joy and sadness in the midst of World War II is startling and heart wrenching. In the cold and dreary winter south of Rome in late December 1943, a young father-to-be was killed while battling the Third Reich. A mere two weeks later, his young wife would give birth to their innocent baby boy.
Born in Moffat County in 1919, Charles Daum was the second oldest of a huge homestead family of 12 children. Living northwest of Craig in the Upper Spring Creek area, days were filled with hard work. In the mid 1930s, the Craig Empire Courier contained various blurbs of teenager Charles, putting up rye hay or working on a ranch.
Daum graduated from Craig High in 1938, and the family moved to Greeley. While doing various farm work, Charles met and started dating Hazel Coon. Soon, events in Europe would redirect their relationship and lives. As a member of Greeley's Company M of the 157th regiment of the National Guard, Charles was inducted into the U.S. Army on Sept. 16, 1940. On this day, all across Colorado, local units of the National Guard were drafted en masse, including Craig's Company A. (see article "Company A", Craig Daily Press, July 16, 2015).
Charles had to train for the future war, but he and Hazel stayed together over time and distance. As training moved Charles around the country, Hazel caught up with him on the east coast. While training for amphibious landings at Fort Devens in Massachusetts, the couple celebrated their nuptials on May 16, 1942 in Lowell.
By June of 1943, Charles had been shipped to North Africa and Hazel was living with her parents waiting patiently and nervously for her husband's safe return. At some point, Charles was transferred to the 180th regiment and promoted to Corporal. In September of 1943, the Allies landed at Salerno and moved north to capture the ancient capital of Rome. In the hills, mountains, and valleys south of Rome, the defending Nazis interlaced the difficult terrain with machine guns and artillery. Through the fall, as the weather turned cold, the Allies slowly inched forward in bitter fighting. The 180th was in combat all that fall, and Charles spent his final Thanksgiving and Christmas on the front lines.
From official war department histories we can get a glimpse into Daum's last day on earth. Through the early morning fog of Dec. 30, the 180th regiment pushed forward to gain the hills near Mount Rotondo and Mount Molino that controlled the Sant' Elia Road. The advance screeched to a halt once the 180th came into the range of German artillery and withering cross fire of machine guns. In the rain, mud, and cold, this is where Charles was killed in action.
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By day's end, the 180th backpedaled to the day's launch point, and on New Year's Eve a wind-swept blizzard moved in. The men were forced to dig their foxholes deeper and collect firewood for the fires to keep from freezing.
The Craig Empire Courier reported Daum's death on Jan. 26. The dreadful information was withheld from Hazel until she gave birth to their son two weeks later, named Charles in honor of his father. Almost simultaneously, a father died fighting dark totalitarianism while across the world a never known infant son entered the world to carry his name and legacy.
In May of 1949, Hazel, 5-year old Charles, and other family members finally welcomed Charles back to Greeley, and she received his bronze star. In 2014 Hazel celebrated her 90th birthday with friends, family, and her son Charles.
Please go visit the World War II Memorial in City Park sponsored by the Museum of NW Colorado and find Daum's name. It is a fitting tribute to the sacrifice of a young father who never knew his son.