This year when I attended Roots Tech, I attended a virtual session by Don Milne who talked about Stories Behind the Stars (SBTS) – a volunteer effort he founded. Don and those who sign up to help him are “telling the stories of 421,000 US World War II fallen.” I was really impressed and interested in the work they were doing so checked into it, listened to the training videos Don has provided, and started contributing. I have been researching other people’s family history for about 20 years now and my own for most of my life so the project fits well with my interests. But I wasn’t prepared for just how much I would learn about the world, my community, and myself by participating even for the short two months I’ve been working with the project.
Many people seem to get involved because they or family members have served in the military. I have regretfully never served, but my father and father-in-law were in the Korean war. And I later found out my birthfather spent much of his life in the military, and I have other family members who have served. Many coworkers are also people who have served and retired from the military. And because the content of each person’s story is supposed to include information about their service and events leading up to their death, I’ve been delving into the details of battles and unit histories. While I have always respected the men and women who serve, all of this has helped me better understand and appreciate their experiences.
My research and story writing has also helped me better understand how wars such as World War II shaped past and current events. I think many people my age took history in school, but for some reason we never seemed to get through the book fast enough to cover World War II. So I knew woefully little about what really went on. My husband, who watched war movies growing up, seems to have a better understanding of it all.
Most important of all, I’ve started by focusing on the fallen from my hometown area – the Illinois Valley including LaSalle, Peru, and Oglesby. And this has made me realize and humanize the sacrifices my community and the families there made during this war. I just had no idea, and this realization has impacted me more personally than I had expected. While I’ve posted my stories on Fold3 and Together We Served as suggested by SBTS, I wanted to add more graphics to illustrate the stories. So I’ve also posted the stories I’ve written on this site – a listing is here: Honor Roll – World War II.
At the end of this post is a map I created showing the residence noted for each fallen member near to the time they entered the service. Sometimes the address is the residence most associated with the Illinois Valley and the fallen member. You can click each star to see the name of the fallen member, their address, the high school each attended, and the place where they worked before entering the service. Some entries in the school category will be blank if this information could not be found, or if the person did not attend high school (many at that time left school after 8th grade), or if they were not yet employed.
Also, because I am focusing on my hometown, I started by looking at all those who lost their lives who were from LaSalle county. This includes almost 300 out of the over 22,000 from Illinois. When I started there was no director or manager of the Illinois database for Stories Behind the Stars. And because I had a start on it with LaSalle county, I offered to help manage the database. So if anyone is interested in working specifically on researching and writing stories for the fallen in Illinois, you can send me an email at pam at storiesbehindthestars.org. Volunteering for Stories Behind the Stars is definitely one of the most rewarding and humbling experiences I’ve participated in.
Finally, if anyone sees a mistake or information in any of the stories which is not correct, please let me know! And thank you to all the fallen and their families for their sacrifice – may we always respect, appreciate, and never forget.