The Stories Behind the Stars project is a wonderful success due to the involvement of hundreds of dedicated volunteers. To reach a successful completion of all 421,000 stories of the US World War II fallen, the project and its volunteers deserves more attention than I have at this time.
Here is the background on why it is time for a new director.
In the fall of 2019 I was nearly three years into my blog project to write the story of one of the WWII fallen each day on the hundredth anniversary of their birthday. The blog was getting as many as 6,000 views every day. The plan was to conclude the project on September 2, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. Bob Fuerst, now the SBTS Alabama State Director, suggested back then that rather than end the blog, we continue on and invite more people to write these stories. I met with management at Fold3 and they agreed to host the stories. Not only that, they generously offered to provide free access to research sites. As chance would have it, the financial literacy manager position I had at Zions Bank in Utah was eliminated at the end of 2019. Because I had been there 29 years, I was given a full year's severance.
I began 2020 with a lot of unanticipated extra time. I decided to create the nonprofit initiative Stories Behind the Stars with a pilot project covering the state of Utah. I soon learned that there was no official list of Utah WWII fallen. With the help of a partial Utah list I got from Roy Hemmat of HonorStates.org, I got started. My brother Blaine was my first volunteer in adding more details to this Utah database to make it complete. With some great Utah news media coverage, I was able to attract more than 100 volunteers to write the stories of 2,100 Utah WWII fallen. By the end of 2020, the Utah pilot was done, proving that it could be possible to recreate the same thing nationwide.
Also, at the end of 2020, my wife and I had relocated to Louisville, Kentucky to be closer to family. I got a surprise donation of $20,000 from MyHeritage, who wanted to support this first effort mission to write the stories of all US WWII fallen. It was very helpful in covering the out-of-pocket costs to set up a website, VPN, and CRM system.
In 2021 about a dozen people stepped forward volunteering to lead state level efforts of remembering the WWII fallen from their states to duplicate what we had done in Utah (this has since grown to 41 states). To get more attention and grow our volunteers, we teamed up with the National D-Day Memorial to write the stories of the 2,502 Americans they identified as having died on D-Day. This was completed during the first half of 2021. During the second half of 2021 we completed all of the 2,341 Pearl Harbor fallen stories. I was no longer receiving a severance in 2021. I did not draw any salary from Stories Behind the Stars. My wife helped us cover our living expenses as a new self-employed therapist. Also, we had access to a small inheritance from my brother Blaine who was a Covid pandemic casualty.
Beginning in 2022 I started working a part-time job to help pay the bills. I split my remaining time between furthering the SBTS mission, as we began working on Arlington National Cemetery, and fundraising to cover some of the cost of working on SBTS. My inexperience as a fundraiser was clear in that despite contacting more than 150 promising entities who should have an interest in supporting this project, I was not able to generate any interest.
Although many families in a self-employed situation are able to fully fund a traditional health insurance plan, that was outside of our budget so we have been making do with Christian Health Ministry coverage. This meant delaying some health care attention. Starting this August I will be working full time for the FDIC which comes with great health care, but results in my limited availability to help with SBTS outside of a full time job, and church and family responsibilities. I still plan to be deeply involved with SBTS as time permits, but this project deserves the leadership of someone who can give this more attention than me. It is better to have a pilot who can be at the controls for more time than I can provide.
I would like to thank all of those who have made the last three and half years a wonderful experience in creating something wonderful that should last long after we are all gone. I look forward to the continued success of this project with the help of current and future volunteers.
July 18, 2023