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  • Writer's pictureDon Milne

Meet the writers who are telling the WWII fallen stories of Arlington National Cemetery

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

Nearly 200 volunteers, from more than forty states and France, have researched and written stories for each of the 8,700 WWII fallen buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Here is what some of them have to say about the experience.


I am addicted to writing these stories up and try to complete two a day

"On Memorial Day 2022 I read about Stories Behind the Stars. Don Milne was interviewed and the article ran in the online edition of my local newspaper. I am a librarian and have created and worked on genealogies for over 50 years. This amazing project just sounded like it would be up my alley and since I’m retired now I would have some free time to devote to it. I had eight uncles who served in WWII and came home, we were so fortunate. "Every story is different. I learned about the HMS Rohna, flying the Hump/over the Himalayas, Camp Cabanatuan in the Philippines, and the cemeteries in France, Netherlands, Italy and England where heroes are buried. The Tablets of the Missing around the world for those heroes whose remains were not recovered. The soldiers I have written about vary in age from 18 to 56. "It is now 18 months later and I have compiled 1,080 soldiers stories! I did not realize how much this could mean to me until my internet died and I was bereft until I could get back up and write again. At any rate, I encourage anyone to investigate and take the Boot Camp Training and help us honor these heroes who died for us. "Thanks for starting this! I am addicted to writing these stories up and try to complete two a day." - Norene Allen, Kansas


As a mother of two young men, I write to honor the parents who gave so much

"I am not affiliated with the military at all. I was encouraged to write for Stories Behind the Stars by two family members in upstate New York who were already writing stories. And since my background is in research and writing, I thought I'd be a good fit. What I didn't know was how much this work would mean to me.

"I've learned so much about World War II and how it affected American families. The true meaning of the Gold Star hits home every time I research the parents of the young men and women who lost their lives.

"I write the stories so that the fallen, whose lives were cut short, will not be forgotten. But as a mother of two young men, I also write to honor the parents who gave so much." - Kate Baker, New Jersey


Remembering all their friends who did not come home

"In the midst of the pandemic, I felt alone and isolated. In the spring of 2021, I opened an email from the military records site Fold3. I had been on their email list due to the research I had done on my family tree. Who knew that that one little email would change my life and help give me purpose? It explained what Stories Behind the Stars was and that they needed volunteer writers. This was right up my alley.


"I have always been fascinated by World War II. My grandfather served in the Pacific Theater and was one of the lucky ones to come home. But like many veterans, he was never the same again. Not only did it affect his body but his also his mind. He was haunted by those he lost. Never could he imagine that his oldest son, my father, would go through the very same thing in Vietnam -- losing a part of himself in a jungle on the other side of the world. Both men would die at the age of 54. I never knew my grandfather and was not able to ask him about his war experience. It was evident on every single day in my dad's life, though, so I assume it would be the same for my grandfather.


"I do this project because I know it would make my dad proud and I hope it brings my grandfather closer -- by remembering all their friends who did not come home." - Jodi Block, Michigan


Making sure my uncle's fallen buddies will never be forgotten

"My Uncle was a Tanker during WWII, serving with the 743rd Tank Battalion in the European Theater of Operation. Fortunately he survived the war and returned home. During the last 15 years of his life I became his sole caretaker and spoke with him on several occasions about his service. As most returning veterans were, he was somewhat guarded about discussing specific events he witnessed. When he was 91 I managed to talk him into writing down some of his memories so they wouldn’t get lost. Just before he passed, on the morning of his 100th birthday, he gave me all of his WWII memorabilia.


"A few years later I saw a local newspaper article talking about Don’s project of writing stories of Fallen Soldiers and asking for volunteers to help out. I don’t think I was the first, but I was one of the first. He asked me why I wanted to join up with him. I told him I wanted to make sure my Uncle’s Fallen Buddies would never be forgotten.


"We weren’t sure that we could pull this program off so we started with the “Utah Project” – to see if we could write the stories of the Fallen from the State of Utah - it worked. We then went to the D-Day Project, the Pearl Harbor Project, the Arlington National Cemetery Project, the Women in the Service Project, the Operation Tidal Wave Project. Today, Stories Behind The Stars has people from all walks of life and countries writing the stories of those who Gave All." - Steve Booth, Utah


It puts your own life in perspective

"The day you find out about Stories Behind The Stars, will be life changing. Here you are in your own bubble of your life and things aren't that great. All you are thinking about is yourself. But, you find a story in the news about researching and writing stories of soldiers who did not come home from WW2. You think, oh my gosh, I have to do that. And you start.

"After 167 stories, I realize that it has made me a different and a better person. These are boys, men and women, who left their lives to join a war. You will write your first story and enjoy every moment. "I wrote a story about eight WW2 soldiers, a fighter crew, all now buried at Arlington National Cemetery, who were not found until 60 + years later in the mountains of New Guinea. What about those families? Wondering for years and years about their sons or husbands or brothers. Parents and family died without ever knowing what happened. And now you have written their soldier's story, and are proud and humbled to have done so. It puts your own life in perspective. "Arlington National Cemetery is a huge project, and I am honored to be part of it and whatever project comes next. I am hooked!!" - Molly Brown, Utah


Story would be lost over the passage of time

"Growing up I have always been fascinated with the Second World War. Both of my grandfathers, 1st Lt. George Richard Phillip and T/Sgt Kenneth Wilbur Strohbusch survived the war while serving in the USAAF; the former as a fighter pilot and the latter a radio operator on a B-24. It was not until satisfying my curiosity of researching a member of my grandfather’s bomb group, 1st Lt. Thomas James Markham, that gave me the drive to tell the story of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country like 1st Lt. Markham. I was ecstatic to find out that not only were there people like me that wanted to share the stories of the fallen, but the stories of those that are buried and memorialized at the most hallowed burial ground of our nation, Arlington National Cemetery. This project provided me the tools and guidance to research, and in some cases, tell the story of over 200 individuals. Without this project, they would just be 'another name' whose story would be lost over the passage of time. This ANC experience has opened my eyes as to the many ways our Greatest Generation honorably served their country, and for that I am truly honored to be a part of it." - Brad Cychosz, Wisconsin


Generations removed, but not forgotten

"When a friend told me about Stories Behind the Stars, I thought it would be an interesting writing exercise, and imagined that I would do one or two. The first story I wrote was for Staff Sergeant Raymond Adams, a photographer lost during a bombing mission to Germany, hooked me. With each story, I become personally invested in the individual and finding a way to honor him or her and their service.


"After completing the Arlington Project, I chose to focus on the 68 men and 1 woman from my small, rural county that bravely gave their lives for our country during WWII. For those who are buried locally, I visit their grave after I’ve finished the story, clean their headstone, and thank them.


"The most rewarding experience so far has been connecting an individual whose late aunt had boxes full of her husband’s military memorabilia, including his medals, that she received after his plane crashed in France. As they had no children, the individual who had been holding onto his things had always wished she could return them to his family but had been unable to find them. Through my research in writing his story, I located the serviceman’s niece and connected the two. Everything was shipped to the niece and she and her family can now immerse themselves in learning more about him and his heroics.


"Stories Behind the Stars not only helps these brave men and women to be remembered, but it also brings a sense of pride to their families, many who are two generations removed but have not forgotten them. It gives me a feeling of pride to be a part of that. - Sue deBruijn, New York



I write so their sacrifice will be remembered

"As a child, I was surrounded by WWII Veterans. My father, uncles, and older cousins told funny stories about their time in the Service but always seemed to avoid the issue of combat. I read constantly about the war.


"I was very interested in participating when I saw an article online about Stories Behind the Stars. You receive another reality about what went on from 1941-1945. I am not a Veteran, so I came to this with only a history buff's reality. You begin to understand the heartbreak of the loved ones who did not return. I have written on Medal of Honor recipients or a 31-year-old private who survived three weeks on the island only to die on his 22 days of combat—men who fell from the sky, died in prisoner of war camps and ships, or in jeep accidents, or had a massive heart attack.


"People ask me why I write -- because these stories need to be told before they are forgotten forever. These fallen were people like you and me with the same problems and some with even more. This generation is quickly passing.


"I write so their sacrifice will be remembered." Thomas La Padula, New York


Giving a voice to those who can no longer speak

"What a wonderful honor it is to research and write for Stories Behind the Stars. I’m a registered nurse by trade and an avid genealogist for hobby, so I love documenting and details. Working on my DAR application helped to refine my research skills. I’m most passionate about finding the personal details of those fallen WWII men and women that made them who they are. Not just what happened to them at the end of their lives, although that’s important, but what was their life like before going to war. Did they have dreams about when they left the service? Did they play sports or sing in the glee club? What family members did they leave behind? Giving a voice to those who can no longer speak by re-telling their story is one of the most meaningful and enduring gifts you can give.​​​​​​​" - Debi Lehman, Oklahoma


Heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country

"I recently started writing stories of the WWII fallen at Arlington National Cemetery after having written many stories of those who lost their lives on D-Day for the Stories Behind the Stars project. To date, all of the stories I've written have been about those who served in the Navy. Some joined the service right out of high school, some were drafted, and some were career military leaders having graduated from the U.S.Naval Academy, but they are all heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Some lost their lives battling the enemy and some lost their lives while transporting vital supplies across the Atlantic or Pacific to support fellow servicemen. My hope is that future generations who visit the cemetery will have a greater appreciation of the sacrifice of the fallen when they are able to read or hear their personal stories, whether about an ancestor, a serviceman from their hometown, or perhaps someone who's story just touches their heart." - Pat Nauseda, Ohio


I write their stories so generations that follow will know why are flag waves freely

"My grandfather, George was a WWII veteran who returned home to Maryland. The war was an experience he would’t talk about. I remember seeing his eyes tear up one night as he was watching the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! He was a proud Irish American.


"During the pandemic, I began delving into genealogy. After signing up for Family Search’s online conference, Don Milne’s presentation caught my attention. Anxious to become involved in his worthy mission I didn’t even wait for his presentation but went straight to the Stories Behind the Stars website to join.


"The lines of white headstones in Arlington National Cemetery are a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by our fallen heroes. I write their stories so generations that follow will know why are flag waves freely." - Doria Owen, Maryland


Assuring every WWII fallen has as rich a story as possible

My uncle, Floyd J. Pell, was killed in the Battle of Darwin in 1942. Details of his service and death were scant in our family, as all the senior members spoke little of it when alive and now have passed. I started an Ancestry journey to learn more, as I was working for the Department of Defense and felt his service tied, in part, to my work there. In my research, I found Stories behind the Stars. My uncle’s story was full of details I did not know.


This led me to join the team and assure that every WWII fallen has as rich a story as possible from the documents we can find on various sites. For the families, this makes a huge difference, as I know it did for me. Since I retired to North Carolina, I have asked for and written mostly about men from this state. I have learned about these valiant men and the communities where they grew up. I have studied the various military campaigns and learned about the heroics that helped us win the war. It is my honor and privilege to write these stories. - Karen Pell, North Carolina


I help to write these stories so their bravery won't be forgotten

"I come from a long line of veterans. I have always been interested in history, and got me into tracing my family's past for the past 45 years. So I could combine all my interests, and help write about these men.

"After we retired and were full time RVers, I came across an article about Stories Behind the Stars. I thought I would write a couple stories, but I got addicted to the cause. So they wouldn't be forgotten .

"I was was researching one young man and found out that two more of his brothers didn't make it back either. So I completed their Stories also. I couldn't imagine what their parents went through. Sometimes it took a few days to complete the research due to lack of internet where we were, but I'm glad I could help with the Arlington Project. Hoping to work on another project.


"I help to write these stories so their bravery won't be forgotten." - LaDawna Roberts, Indiana


Writing about the sacrifices made by the men and women of America’s armed forces

I first read about Stories Behind the Stars in the Washington Post on Memorial Day 2022. I knew right away I wanted to participate. My father served in World War II, and I served in Vietnam. As a producer for NBC News in Washington, D.C., I used to cover the burials at Arlington National Cemetery of the service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I even wrote a weekly column, “Fallen but not forgotten,” for the NBC Nightly News website.


Writing stories for SBTS is much like what I had been doing years ago at NBC. It gives me the opportunity to continue writing about the sacrifices made by the men and women of America’s armed forces. I just hope we can do the same one day for all Americans killed in all of America’s wars. - John Rutherford, Virginia


We invite other Arlington volunteers to add their thoughts here. Email your photos and up to 200 words to don@storiesbehindthestars.org

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