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  • Writer's pictureDon Milne

Why Every Utah WWII Fallen Has a Story

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

Beginning in July 2020, 125 volunteers from Utah, and more than a dozen other states, took on the challenge of writing the stories of all 2,100 Utah WWII fallen. Six months later, all of these stories are accounted for. In the near future a smartphone app will allow anyone to visit the graves and memorials of these fallen, scan their names and read their stories.

Why would hundreds of people spend thousands of hours researching and writing about the lives of long lost total strangers?

Here is what our volunteers said...

“The soldiers and their sacrifices have come alive to me. They are no longer just horrible statistics -- they are young men who never had a chance to live their lives so that we could live ours. I also do this to honor my father. He served in WW2, but he was an MP in Australia and never saw combat. It affected him greatly because he had remorse from NOT seeing the combat that so many others saw. We learned that survivor’s remorse is a real thing.”

-- Viki Strong, Utah, who has written 200+ Utah fallen stories

“Working on this project has given me an even deeper appreciation for the sacrifices these men and their families made to save the world from tyranny. It’s very satisfying to know that I’m helping preserve a legacy that would otherwise be lost.”

-- John Schlatter, Utah, who has written 150+ Utah fallen stories

“Participating in Stories Behind the Stars has been a very humbling experience. It has taught me more about the great sacrifices of our countrymen and women during WW2. It has gained me close and personal access to learn more about these heroes and put a story behind each star.”

-- Brianne Ellison, Utah, who has written 150+ Utah fallen stories

“I get to remember and honor these men every day and help others remember them too. Their stories put many things in perspective.”

-- Susan Singleton, Illinois, who has written 130+ Utah fallen stories

“Writing my granddaughter's family history made me realize how important it was to help future generations remember their ancestors and their stories that made our country what it is today. Writing stories about people who made the ultimate sacrifice in WWII allows me to do this on a much grander and worthy scale. I'm also a history buff and I have learned a lot more about WWII.”

-- Randy Hervey, Colorado, who has written 90+ Utah fallen stories

“Participating in the Stories Behind the Stars project turned out to be far more rewarding than I anticipated. Initially I thought it was a way to honor the fallen and give back to my community while spending time home during COVID 19. As I started researching soldiers from my home county in Utah, I found sacrifices and hardships were extraordinary. The research became an emotional experience, often connecting with the family and learning personal details. Battle details, soldier sacrifices, family hardships and the lack of communication has greatly increased my level of honor and respect for the fallen, their families and all veterans.”

-- LuAnn Greenwell, Utah, who has written 70+ Utah fallen stories

“I feel that my genealogical research skills have improved, especially with regard to military research. I have learned alot about WWII.”

-- Lisa McCole, Missouri, who has written 50+ Utah fallen stories.

“I am a family genealogist and pay particular attention to family that served and especially those KIA in any war - I liked Stories Behind the Stars when I first saw it on Facebook and offered to volunteer to tell the stories of World War II KIAs. I do it for the families of the fallen and future generations to know what these veterans gave for our freedoms.”

-- Mike Appleby, Colorado, who has written 40+ Utah fallen stories

“I am a history buff, so researching and learning about these brave men's and women's lives has been interesting and educational.”

-- Al Schutte, Ohio, who has written 40+ Utah fallen stories

“I consider this a privilege and honor to write the stories of these brave men. What they all gave up, their schooling, families, jobs, new marriages , lives, to fight for their country is inspiring. I am in awe of all of them.”

-- Molly Brown, Utah, who has written 30+ Utah fallen stories

“My father served in the Navy at the end of World War II. He came home, but four of his cousins did not. Learning their stories and stories of others like them has made me grateful for all who have served our great country.”

-- Jay Jones, Utah, who has written 30+ Utah fallen stories

“With a love of history, a passion for research, and a love for reading, this project struck a chord on so many levels. My father-in-law was a WWII vet and with such a deep respect for his service, this was a great way to spend my free time.”

-- Elizabeth Shaw, South Carolina, who has written 25 Utah fallen stories

“As a contributor, I have gained a wealth of information about some members of the “Greatest Generation” and the tragedies of the war they fought that resulted in their untimely deaths. The sacrifices they made should never be forgotten and the difficulties we face in our daily lives are trivial in comparison.”

-- John Lannefeld, Utah, who has written 20+ Utah fallen stories

“To give a voice to those lost so long ago and to ensure that the memory of their service and sacrifice can continue to be honored.“

-- Troy Burnett, Utah, who has written 20+ Utah fallen stories

"It has been an honor to write these stories. As someone who loves history and research, it is exciting to rediscover the lives of these men; to see their faces in pictures, to find out about their families and to learn about their military experiences. It is also humbling and sometimes heartbreaking. My husband is a veteran so there is a place in my heart for members of the military. Writing these stories is a way to express my gratitude and to recognize the courage of those who have defended our country, now and in the past. With each story I write, I feel like I am shining a light on the sacrifices made by those who gave their lives during World War II."

-- Jenna Rabtzow, Colorado, who has written 20+ Utah fallen stories

“I do not have any close relatives who served in WWII, but I feel a debt of gratitude for people who serve in the military. I have done enough genealogy research where I know that if something isn't written, it is gone in a few generations. I think these people need to be remembered so I volunteered and learned about the war itself and the many who fought and died.”

-- Valerie Wood, Utah, who wrote 12 Utah fallen stories

“As a military member it’s an honor to learn the history of those who went before us. Every individual has a story and these military members have exceptional experiences and stories to tell, none should be forgotten, they made the ultimate sacrifice.”

-- Steve McGee, Texas, who wrote 11 Utah fallen stories

“It was poignant to witness each service member’s willingness to serve despite their own personal challenges before joining the military. Regardless of their own challenges, each service member and in many cases their families, contributed in their own way to the war effort.”

-- Preston Freitas, Utah, who wrote 10 Utah fallen stories

“With how divided our nation is right now, we need reminders of the things that unite us. Learning and preserving the stories of the heroes who gave their lives protecting our freedom has touched my heart, and I hope it can do the same for those who read their stories.”

-- Esther Carter, Utah, who wrote 5 Utah fallen stories

“I have completed approximately 50 stories including 5 soldiers from the State of Utah

Having acted as the sole support for my Uncle, Gilchrist C. Booth, during the last years of his life I learned a great deal about his service during WWII though many discussions with him and came to realize the bravery and sacrifice he and others made to protect and serve his country. I encouraged him to, not only talk to me about his experiences but, write his memories down on paper. I now have a wonderful dissertation of WWII through his eyes. And finally, shortly before he passed away on the morning of his 100th Birthday, he gave me all of his memorabilia, including his Silver Star and the pictures he had. I realized then that there were too many from that campaign that “Didn’t want to talk about it”, couldn’t find anyone who cared to listen, or were gone too soon. I decided I wasn’t going to let that happen if I could help.”

-- Steve Booth, Utah, who wrote 5 Utah fallen stories

"Writing these stories has made me feel like I am making a difference. These heroes gave their lives for what was right, and their stories deserve to be heard."

-- Melissa Barocio, Utah, who wrote 5 Utah fallen stories

“There is a feeling of accomplishment and pride when I post each soldier's story. It is an honor to meet these heros as I research their lives and military service. We want to call out the names of those who didn't return home so every citizen remembers and appreciates their place in US history.”

-- Karen Marie NcNichols, Illinois, wrote 4 Utah fallen stories

“Both of my grandfathers fought valiantly in the Second World War and much more of my family was greatly affected by it. One of my grandmothers grew up in an Anti-Nazi family in a city near Wurzburg, Germany, about a mile or two away from a secret Nazi airbase and lived through daily bomb raids in our family home's little wine cellar. But for me, writing for Stories Behind the Stars gives me a chance to express the gratitude and affinity I feel towards the brave men who lost their lives during the war, which means more to me than I can express.”

-- Sophia Shapiro, Utah, who wrote 4 Utah fallen stories.

“It was my way of honoring the memory of people who made the ultimate sacrifice and a gift to their family. Their story deserves to be told.”

-- Tracy Cook, California, who wrote 3 Utah fallen stories

“Being a retired Army officer, I believe it's very important to not forget our fallen American heroes from WWII and other wars. The majority of the children of these heroes (if they had any) and cousins, nephews, nieces and other relatives have passed. Even distant relatives are aging and probably know very little if anything about their ancestors who gave their lives in WWII. Stories Behind the Stars will go a long way to capture these stories for future generations.”

-- Gary Smith, Colorado, who wrote 2 Utah fallen stories

“As a retired Marine, my initial interest was to discover more about the Marines lost in the Pacific theater. My focus has recently shifted to other services and the European theater. I have gained an enormous appreciation of the sacrifices of the other services, particularly those in the Army Air Forces and the forces taking part in the Normandy invasion on 6 June 1944. It is hard to comprehend what the sons of immigrants who were coming off the depression, with only a grammar school education volunteered to do for our great Country. These stories serve to personalize history and provide an understanding of what so many have done to preserve our heritage. Researching and writing the stories has become a part of my patriotic duty.”

-- Mac Kolar, North Carolina, who wrote 2 Utah fallen stories

“I greatly respect everyone who served in the military, especially during war. I love history and genealogy, which makes these stories perfect to research. I hope that relatives of these soldiers will have the opportunity to see these stories and know that others care.”

-- Marilyn Clark, Utah, who wrote 1 Utah fallen story

Whether someone adds one story or one thousand stories, each one gets us closer to the goal of writing the stories of all 400,000+ US WWII fallen by September 2, 2025, the 80th anniversary of the end of World War II. All it will take is a couple of thousand people writing an average of one story a week to get this done.

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