World War II Fallen and the Stories Behind the Stars

16 million Americans answered the call to serve their country during World War II and tragically over 400,000 never returned home. To honor them, each family of a fallen hero received a banner with a gold star to hang in their window. Now 80 years later, there’s another way to ensure they are honored and most importantly, not forgotten. Today the nonprofit Stories Behind the Stars focuses on researching and writing the stories of every one of the WWII fallen. In this special Veteran’s Day episode of Elevenses with Lisa, Don Milne, founder of  Stories Behind the Stars joins me to discuss the project, how to access the stories, and how you can help with the research that ensures that every single one of the World War II fallen are remembered.

Watch Live: Thursday, November 11, 2021 at 11:00 am CT 
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Episode 78 Show Notes 

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16 million Americans answered the call to serve their country during World War II and tragically over 400,000 never returned home. To honor them, each family of a fallen hero received a banner with a gold star to hang in their window. Now 80 years later, there’s another way to ensure they are honored and most importantly, not forgotten.

Today the nonprofit Stories Behind the Stars focuses on researching and writing the stories of every one of the 421,000 US World War II fallen. I want to share with you how to find them, and how you can help with the research that ensures that every single one of the World War II fallen are remembered.

The Stories Behind the Stars founder Don Milne joins me in this video episode. He’s a lifelong history buff, and a few years ago he decided to write a daily story about one of the US World War II fallen for his blog called WW2 Fallen 100. His effort totaled more than 1,200 stories and has been read more than 1 ½ million times.

After his banking job was eliminated at the end of 2019, Don decided to devote his full time to create Stories Behind the Stars and find volunteers to write the stories of everyone of the 421,000 US World War II fallen.

The Story of a Fallen Hero of WWII

Lisa: I’d love to start by putting the fallen heroes of World War II front and center. Can you share with us one of the stories that has really touched you?

Don: Yes. It’s harder and harder to do that because so far we’ve already done about 13,000 stories. One of the more recent ones that we’ve done on our Pearl Harbor project was a fellow named Don Whitestone. He was on the USS Arizona, the battleship totally decimated at Pearl Harbor. More than 1000 people were killed on that ship, and he was one of those. If you go to the USS Arizona Memorial, you just see a name on the wall. And that’s basically all you know about him.

USS Arizona

USS Arizona (public domain)

So, for our project that we’re focusing on right now, is to tell the story of all the men lost at Pearl Harbor, all 2335 of them. We’ve already finished the one for Don Boydston.

Just to give you a little bit of information about him. We know he was from Fort Worth, Texas. He was the youngest of six children. Almost every one of his brothers also enrolled in the military during World War Two. His eldest brother survived the war. His second oldest brother, he was actually in Hawaii the same time as his younger brother. Don was there while he was on shore. So, he would have probably been looking for his brother right after the attack, and wouldn’t have found him because he didn’t survive and they never found his body. He ended up continuing in the military and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. And he received the Silver Star for leading his men against the Germans in France in 1944. He died in 1945 while the war was still going on.

Another brother by the name of Robert served as a lieutenant. He was wounded, but he survived the war and lived to be age 90.

Another brother by the name of Ward, he joined the Army Air Forces. He was on a mission to Tripoli in 1943, in his B24 Liberator, and his plane went down.

So, here’s a family of five brothers. Two of them survived the war, and three of them didn’t. One of them died the very first day of the war, Pearl Harbor, and one of them died during the very last year of the war. It must have been devastating to have a family of five sons and lose three of them. But the father of the family, he did something really interesting. He decided that he was going to write stories, to write letters to the servicemen that may not be getting letters, because back then there wasn’t any social media. You couldn’t pick up a cell phone and talk to people. You had to write letters. And that was like, the thing that all of the servicemen looked forward to is they wanted to get letters from home. And so he made it a project in 1942. He was going to write stories to servicemen who didn’t have someone writing to them. He wasn’t going to be able to write to his son Don because he died at Pearl Harbor. But rather than feel sorry for himself and live with that loss, he decided to write the letters for a long period throughout the war.

He started with 137 different soldiers that he wrote to on a regular basis. So, I think that’s a wonderful thing that I didn’t know about. And all of these men and women who didn’t come home from World War II deserve to be remembered by more than just seeing a name on a memorial or gravesite. So, there’s a lot more Don Boydstuns out there. What we’re trying to do is find volunteers that can help us find those stories.

Lisa: That’s such a fitting story. That father was making sure that the soldiers weren’t being forgotten. You’re in a way, of course, carrying that on today, through your project. And, as you listen to that story, you realize that you think you’re hearing one person’s story. But I’m hearing the story of the parents. I’m thinking about the mom. I just can’t imagine all the sons going to war and losing one. And so really, you’re capturing the stories of many more than the 421,000 fallen.

Read Don Boydstun’s story at Fold 3.

The Mission of Stories Behind the Stars

Lisa: What’s the mission of the Stories Behind the Stars project?

Don: The name of the project kind of tells what we’re doing. It is what they still do today. During World War II when a family lost a serviceman or woman during the conflict, they were given a banner with a gold star on it that they could hang in the window. We want to tell the stories behind those stars.

We have the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. Th Price of Freedom monument carries that same motif. It has more than 4,000 individual stars, each one representing 100 of the fallen.

Stories behind the stars, our mission is pretty ambitious. We want to make sure that all 421,000 servicemen and women Army, Air Force, Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, every single one of them will have a story.

Part of the mission isn’t just to have it on some obscure website somewhere. But we want to have it available so anyone can read it at the memorial. It’s got to be super easy to find on a smartphone. That’s our mission. And the only way we can accomplish this is we need volunteers that are genealogy minded, that want to want to do this and do something more than just bring flowers to remember someone on Memorial Day. We’re looking for folks to create a permanent record that will go forward for decades to remember them.

WWII Fallen Resources

The National Archives hosts the following casualty lists on their website:

Keep in mind that these lists are incomplete.

MyHeritage: Stories Behind the Stars volunteers often use MyHeritage’s photo enhancement and colorization tools on the photos included in the stories, in addition to their genealogy records. Visit MyHeritage.

How to Access the Stories of the WWII Fallen

Visit Fold3

Up until June 2021, all of the stories our volunteers have been writing were saved directly to Fold3. In the case of the Pearl Harbor project, it was decided to first save these stories to the Together We Served platform because it allows for some extra features not part of using Fold3. However, all TWS content is also shared over to Fold3.

Fold3 recently updated its user interface and this change did not include the automatic transfer of the stories from Together We Serve to Fold3. This is scheduled to happen by December 1, 2021. Once the update is complete,  you will also be able to find stories like Don Boydstun’s story on Fold3.

The best place to search for all the completed Stories Behind the Stars stories is at the Stories Behind the Stars page at Fold3 Currently, the search only works for stories saved with the new Fold3 format. As previously mentioned, there are about 10,000 stories saved in the old format and Fold3 is converting those over.

The Pearl Harbor project webpage is still a work-in-progress, and writers are still working on the stories that have been researched. They have about 500 unassigned stories and anticipate a completion date of December 7. Until then, you can find stories at the D-Day page where there is a link that will take you to a page that separates the D-Day fallen by stateYou will then find links showing a list of all D-Day fallen from each state.

Volunteer for Stories Behind the Stars

You can help Stories Behind the Stars reach their goal of completing all the stories by the 80th anniversary of the end of WWII in September 2025 by writing one story a week. Visit Stories Behind the Stars and click the Volunteer button.

They occasionally share sample stories on their blog, as well as their podcast. This will help you get the idea of what these stories are like.

From Don: It does attract a lot of people with a genealogical background, but it’s not totally necessary. We’ve also got people with 40, 50 years of genealogy experience that they’re just wonderful at doing the research and stuff.

Basically, what we’re asking people to do is write a short story. We’re not writing a 40,000 word document. We’re basically writing short obituaries. Most obituaries are what 400 to 1000 words, and they just include basic information. And that’s what we’re basically trying to do.

The whole idea is we’re not creating stories that someone’s going to sit down and spend two hours reading. You’re going to go to a grave site, maybe you’re going to Normandy or Arlington, or your closest National Cemetery, where you see flags put out for all those that are in the military. The idea is you’re going to be able to take your smartphone and go up to that grave site and pull up a story and read it right there. Something that you can read in maybe five minutes or so. So pretty much everybody can write an obituary. Unfortunately, all of us probably will have to write an obituary sometime, right. That’s what we’re asking them to do.

We’ve created some training that gives people all the tools they need, so that they’ll feel really comfortable about writing these stories. And if they don’t consider themselves, writers, we have other ways that people can help. They can help with the database. Some people are better at editing than writing. So, we have people helping with that.

Top Tips for Researching WWII Fallen Soldiers and Sailors

When researching the stories of the World War II fallen, Don recommends the following:

  • Search Ancestry and MyHeritage. Look for all types, particularly the application for a headstone, muster rolls
  • Search Fold3 – search by name and dates such as birth and death.
  • Newspapers – Look for casualty lists and other articles. Try Chronicling America which is free. Other excellent newspaper collections can be found at GenealogyBank and Newspapers.

The Stats Behind Stories Behind the Stars

Organizations partnering with Stories Behind the Stars include Ancestry, MyHeritage, FamilySearch, Arlington National Cemetery, Friends of the National World War II Memorial, The National D-Day Memorial, JustServe.org, BillionGraves, and Together We Served. 

From Don Milne:

  • This project now involves more than 1,500 people from all 50 states and more than a dozen countries. Hundreds are people with a background or interest in genealogy.
  • We have completed more than 13,000 stories but we still have 408,000 to go.
  • We completed the stories of all the WWII fallen from one state (Utah).
  • We completed the stories of all the 2,502 Americans who died in Normandy on D-Day.
  • We are on pace to complete the stories of all 2,335 Pearl Harbor fallen by December 7.
  • Arlington National Cemetery gave us their list of WWII fallen buried there. Our plan is to do a story for each of these 7,700 by Memorial Day 2022.
  • By December 1 there will be an accompanying smartphone app people can use to read these stories at any gravesite or memorial.

Resources

Three ways to watch Elevenses with Lisa:

1. Video Player (Live) – Watch live at the appointed time in the video player above.
2. On YouTube (Live) – Click the Watch on YouTube button to watch live at the appointed time at the Genealogy Gems YouTube channel. Log into YouTube with your free Google account to participate in the live chat. 
3. Video Player above (Replay) – Available immediately after the live premiere and chat. 

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Genealogy Gems Podcast Episode 199

The Genealogy Gems Podcast
Episode 199
with Lisa Louise Cooke

Click the player below to listen:

In this episode, Lisa celebrates Canada’s 150th anniversary with Claire Banton from Library and Archives Canada. You’ll also hear how Lisa will be marking another anniversary in 2017: the 10th year of this Genealogy Gems podcast.

More episode highlights:

  • An inspiring follow-up email from Gay, whose YouTube discovery Lisa shared in episode 198, and a great conference tip from Barbara just in time for RootsTech.
  • Genealogy Gems Book Club Guru Sunny Morton announces the new Book Club title.
  • Your DNA Guide Diahan Southard shares thoughts about DNA testing with kids.

JOIN THE CELEBRATION! 10th ANNIVERSARY AND 200th EPISODE

 

You’re invited to send in well-wishes and win a chance at a prize!

Email Lisa by January 31, 2017 at genealogygemspodcast @ gmail.com OR call her voicemail line at 925-272-4021.

Share your first name and where you live.

Share a memory of listening to this podcast, such as: When did you start listening? What’s one of your favorite things you’ve learned from this show?

Lisa will randomly select one response to receive a free year of Genealogy Gems Premium membership. Thanks for helping all of us here at Genealogy Gems celebrate 10 years of doing something we love!

 

NEWS: ROOTSTECH 2017

RootsTech will be held on February 8-11, 2017 in Salt Lake City, UT: learn more and register.

Genealogy Gems events at RootsTech

Lisa will be live-streaming FREE sessions the marked session via the free Periscope app. Get it in Apple’s App Store or Google Play. Sign up for a free account and follow Lisa Louise Cooke to tune in. Sign up for notifications in Periscope, and your phone will “ping” whenever Lisa starts streaming! Broadcasts stay in the Periscope app for 24 hours. Like and follow the Genealogy Gems Facebook page to hear about more streaming sessions!

Rootstech Booth #1039 Schedule Free Classes

NEWS: FAMICITY KICK-STARTER

Famicity is a free, private website for families to share pictures, videos, memories, family activities and the family tree. The company has been very successful in France where it was launched, and the founder is working to bring the new English platform to the United States. He’s launched a Kickstarter campaign to support their U.S. launch. Click here to support it.

 

BONUS CONTENT FOR GENEALOGY GEMS APP USERS
If you’re listening through the Genealogy Gems app, your bonus content for this episode is a tutorial on Feedly, an easy way to consume just the online content you want. The Genealogy Gems app is FREE in Google Play and is only $2.99 for Windows, iPhone and iPad users

Lisa Louise Cooke uses and recommends RootsMagic family history software. From within RootsMagic, you can search WebHints on FamilySearch.org, Findmypast.com and MyHeritage.com. Soon RootsMagic will also be able to search records and even sync your tree with Ancestry.com, too.

 

 

 

 

Keep your family history research, photos, tree software files, videos and all other computer files safely backed up with Backblaze, the official cloud-based computer backup system for Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems. Learn more at http://www.backblaze.com/Lisa.

 

MAILBOX: YOUTUBE DISCOVERY FOLLOW-UP

Remember the YouTube success story from Genealogy Gems Podcast episode 198? Gay as a young woman attended a dedication ceremony for the saline water treatment in Freeport, Texas?and with Lisa’s tips she found video footage on YouTube.

 

Gay wrote back to send us more about that, including this page from her diary that day and this news clipping. Check out the news clipping to see why that plant was so important, Pres. John F. Kennedy gave the dedication speech. (See what newspapers can tell you?!)

Find your own family history on YouTube. Click here to learn how or read an entire chapter on YouTube in Lisa Louise Cooke’s book, The Genealogist’s Google Toolbox, 2nd revised edition.

Click here to learn how to turn family stories and artifacts like these into videos to share with relatives.

Learn to find articles such as this one that can put your family’s story in context?locally and even nationally. Read How to Find Your Family History in Newspapers by Lisa Louise Cooke.

 

INTERVIEW: CLAIRE BANTON, LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA (LAC)

Claire Banton obtained her Masters of Library and Information Studies degree in 2006. She has worked in Reference Services at LAC for 10 years, where she has enjoyed learning something new every day. She is currently Chief, Orientation Services, where she works with an awesome team who help people search for information. She loves being an information detective and helping people overcome their research challenges.

Claire’s tips for genealogy research with LAC:

LAC is very different from the average library. It is both a national library (search the library catalog here) and a a national archive (search the archival catalog here). You don’t have to have an account to search.

Start with the LAC website (genealogy resources page) whether you are visiting in person or not. There are loads of free databases and some unindexed digitized records. The Topics page will tell you what they do and don’t have.

There was no border control from the US to Canada prior to 1908, so there are no Canadian records of earlier crossings. [Tip: see border crossings to the US, 1895-1956 at FamilySearch.org and Ancestry.com.]

Call LAC directly for quick answers. Schedule a Skype call with a genealogy expert to get more in-depth answers: provide background information ahead of time.

Click here to explore (and join) Canada’s 150th birthday celebration.

 

GENEALOGY GEMS BOOK CLUB

The Truth According to Us by internationally best-selling author Annie Barrows (co-author, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and author, Ivy and Bean, children’s book series)

It’s the summer of 1938, and wealthy young socialite Miss Layla Beck is now on the dole as a WPA worker, assigned to write a history of the small town of Macedonia, West Virginia. As she starts asking questions about the town’s past, she is drawn into the secrets of the family she’s staying with?and drawn to a certain handsome member of that family. She and two of those family members take turns narrating the story from different points of view, exploring the theme that historical truth, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder.

Click here to read an introduction to using WPA records for genealogy.

Click here to see more Genealogy Gems Book Club selections and how you can listen to Lisa’s upcoming exclusive conversation with author Annie Barrows about The Truth According to Us.

 

DNA WITH DIAHAN: DNA TESTING FOR KIDS?!

I was talking with a fellow mom the other day about all the demands that are placed on kids’ time today. They have school and homework, many have after school sports and clubs, religious meetings, some have jobs or at least chores at home, not to mention all the time required to text, check social media, and hang out with friends. As parents and grandparents, we want our children to spend time on things that matter, things that will prepare them for their future lives and mold them into their future selves.

According to a 2010 study out of Emory University, if we want to encourage kids toward an activity that will positively impact them, we should steer them toward family history. The researchers reported that “children who know stories about relatives who came before them show higher levels of emotional well-being.”

Now, I know I don’t need to convince you of this. You are already sold on genealogy. But I share this in the hope that it will push you over the edge and this will erase any hesitancy you have about sharing this love with your children and grandchildren.

Now, since you know this is me, the genetic genealogist talking, you can probably guess what I’ll suggest for getting kids interested in family history. DNA testing is a great way to personally and physically involve them. First of all, there is the tangible process of taking the sample at home, and the marvel at how such a simple act can produce the amazing display of our ethnicity results.

Since each of us is unique, it will be fun for them to compare with you and other relatives to see who got what bit of where. This will naturally lead to questions about which ancestor provided that bit of Italian or Irish, and wham! You’ll be right there to tell them about how their 5th great grandfather crossed the ocean with only the clothes on his back, determined to make a new start in a new land.

If there are parts of the ethnicity report that you can’t explain, use that as a hook to encourage them to start digging and to find out why you have that smattering of eastern European or south east Asian. Taking them for a tour of the DNA match page you can show them how they share 50% of their DNA with their sister (whether they like it or not!) and how they share 25% with you, their grandparent!

DNA test results give kids a totally unique look at their personal identity with technology that is cutting edge. Looking at their DNA test results can turn into a math lesson, a science lesson, a geography lesson, a lesson on heredity or biology, a discussion on identity?wherever you want to go with it! DNA is the perfect introduction to the wonders that genealogy can hold, especially for children who are so good at wondering.

Click here to learn more about Diahan’s series of how-to videos, available to Gems fans for a special price. Or start your DNA journey with the guide that will help you get started with kids’ genetic genealogy:

Autosomal DNA for the Genealogist

 

PROFILE AMERICA: ELLIS ISLAND

Click here to watch the official, award-winning documentary shown at Ellis Island free online at YouTube.

 

PRODUCTION CREDITSGenealogy Gems Newsletter Sign Up

Lisa Louise Cooke, Host and Producer

Sunny Morton, Editor

Amie Tennant, Content Contributor

Diahan Southard, Your DNA Guide, Content Contributor

Lacey Cooke, Service Manager

Vienna Thomas, Associate Producer


Check out this new episode!

Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links and Genealogy Gems will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on these links (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for supporting Genealogy Gems!

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