2,100 Utah WWII Fallen Each Have a Story

For the first time in history, it is possible to find a story about everyone of the WWII fallen from a single state -- Utah.

This is how it happened

Just after the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor in 2016, lifelong history buff Don Milne, began a personal passion project where everyday he wrote a story about one of the US World War II fallen on the 100th anniversary of their birthday. He did this each day on his lunch break and ended up with more than 1,300 stories saved in his WW2Fallen100 blog. These stories had been read more than 1 million times, but he was planning to wrap things up on September 2, 2020. The 75th anniversary of the end of WWII would be a nice date to end this one man tribute to the fallen. His readers wanted him to keep going. However, at one story a day it would take nearly 1,100 years to write a story of everyone of the 400,000+ US WWII fallen. To write more stories, he was going to need help.

 

In the fall of 2019, after a 29 year career at Zions Bank, Milne’s position at the bank was eliminated. He found himself with the choice of finding a new job in the financial services field, or taking a leap of faith to set up a project to finish what he started - actually tell the stories of ALL the 400,000+ US WWII fallen. With the part-time help of his daughter Tatiana Fallon, Milne created the nonprofit initiative Stories Behind the Stars. Its mission was simple - 1) get a story for everyone of the US WWII fallen, and 2) develop a smartphone app so anyone could scan their names from any gravestone or memorial and immediately get a link to read their stories right there on the phone.

 

To make this happen, he was going to need a list of the fallen and get a whole bunch of help from others to write the stories.

 

Readers may be surprised to learn that there is no accurate, official national list of the US WWII fallen names. There isn’t even an accurate official count. Milne decided to start with his then home state of Utah. If he could do all the names from one state, that would prove it could be done for any state.

 

To do all the names from Utah, he had to get the Utah list of fallen, and since no such list existed, he had to create it. Milne was able to get a good start with a list provided by Roy Hemmat of HonorStates.org. HonorStates.org is a project to create a database of US military fallen from World War I through the Vietnam War. He then compared that to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Army and Navy WWII Honor Rolls. Last of all, he added names from the 3 February 1946 issue of the Deseret News that attempted to list all the Utah WWII fallen. In the end, he ended up with a spreadsheet with 2,100 names.

 

Milne then created training documents and videos showing people how easy it was to research and write obituary length stories. By the summer he was ready to find volunteers to help. Local news stories in the Provo Daily Herald, the Ogden Standard Examiner, KSL.com, Utah Public Radio, and the Extreme Genes podcast, reached the help he needed. Eventually he attracted 126 volunteers -- most were from Utah, but they also came from 27 other states and even Canada. These volunteers ranged in age from teens to pushing ninety. Many had family who served in World War II, sometimes not coming home. Many have served in the military themselves. Some had decades of genealogical experience. Others were rookies but quick learners.

 

Lehi, Utah based Ancestry.com pitched in by granting Stories Behind the Stars with institutional status like a library. This provided a way for volunteers to access key research sites for free. Ancestry’s Fold3 division, especially created to honor those who served in the military, stepped up to serve as the common database to hold all these stories in online memorials, free to access by anyone.

 

Some of the 126 volunteers contributed one or two stories and moved on. Others did a dozen stories, or two dozen, or three, or even four dozen. The process of starting with nothing more than a name and then doing the detective work to fill in the details proved to be very addicting. Four volunteers contributed between 51 and 100 stories, another four contributed between 101 and 200, and two did more than 200 each. It would take one person nearly three years of 8 hour workdays to research and write all of these stories. The Utah pilot project volunteers did it in six months.

Read Their Stories

Lt Howard Merrill

7 Dec 1941 - Howard Merrill was born under challenging circumstances. His mother died when he was one month old. Despite this rough start, Howard thrived and was appointed to attend the US Naval Academy. After graduating he was assigned to the battleship USS Arizona. He was killed during the December 7 1941 Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. He was the first Utahn killed in World War II. Read full story here

-- Contributed by Stories Behind the Stars founder Don Milne, Kentucky, wrote 50+ Utah fallen stories

Sgt Ronald Luckey

22 Jul 1942 - Ronald Luckey was captured by Japanese in the Philippines and survived the Bataan Death March only to succumb to malaria a few months later..

Read full story here

-- Contributed by Steve McGee, Texas, wrote 11 Utah fallen stories

Fireman 1/c Orluff Oram

13 Nov 1942 - When he was 16 years old Orluff Oram lost a brother and his mother in a two month period. He joined the Navy and served on the destroyer USS Monssen, taking part in the Doolittle Raid, the Battle of Coral Sea, the Battle of Midway, and was killed when Monssen was sunk in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

Read full story here

-- Contributed by Preston Freitas, Utah, wrote 10 Utah fallen stories

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Pvt William Brandon

27 Nov 1943 - At age 38, William Brandon was much older than the usual draftee and after a year of training he had the bad luck of being on the British transport ship HMT Rohna which was hit by a German guided missile and sank, killing more troops than were killed on the USS Arizona. 

Read full story here.

-- Contributed by Valerie Wood, Utah, wrote 12 Utah fallen stories

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1st Lt Edmund Duckworth

6 Jun 1944 - Silver Star hero Edmund Duckworth fought in North Africa and Sicily, only to die on D-Day, 5 days after he was married. 

Read full story here.

-- Contributed by Susan Singleton, Illinois, wrote 130+ Utah fallen stories

Pvt Joseph Fitt

13 Jun 1944 - Silver Star hero Joseph Fitt, parachuted into Normandy on D-Day and helped liberate the first town in France when he charged a tank and dropped a grenade down its hatch. He was killed by a sniper one week later.

Read full story here.

-- Contributed by Jenna Rabtzow, Colorado, wrote 20+ Utah fallen stories

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PFC Clay Rosenvall

7 Sep 1944 - Clay Rosenvall became a prisoner of war after the fall of the Philippines in the spring of 1942. He survived two years of brutal captivity only to be killed when the unmarked ship he was being transported on was sunk by an American submarine.

Read full story here.

-- Contributed by LuAnn Greenwell, Utah, wrote 70+ Utah fallen stories.

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PFC Fred Yamamoto

28 Oct 1944 - Despite being relocated to an internment camp with his family, Fred Yamamoto still volunteered to serve his country and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star after fighting to rescue American troops cut off by the Germans.

Read full story here.

-- Contributed by Randy Hervey, Colorado, wrote 90+ Utah fallen stories.

Ensign Robert Landes

11 Dec 1944 - Robert Landes was an ensign on the destroyer USS Reid when it was attacked by a dozen kamikazes. After the order was given to abandon ship, Landes stayed behind to get as many men off as possible.

Read full story here.

-- Contributed by Molly Brown, Utah, wrote 30+ Utah fallen stories

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PFC Tyndale Lloyd

20 Feb 1945 - Marine Tyndale Lloyd was a Salt Lake Tribune sports reporter before the war. As a Marine he earned the Bronze Star and fought at Kwajalein, Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima where he died on the second day of the battle.

Read full story here.

-- Contributed by Mac Kolar, North Carolina, wrote 2 Utah fallen stories

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Seaman William Thiessen

17 May 1945 - William Thiessen was killed when a kamikaze plane hit the destroyer USS Douglas H. Fox. His widowed high school sweetheart never remarried and they are buried side by side.

Read full story here.

-- Contributed by John Schlatter, Utah, wrote 150+ Utah fallen stories

PFC Jack Fuller

3 Aug 1945 - Jack Fuller was perhaps the last Utahn killed in battle by the Japanese, just three days before the first atomic bomb dropped. He left behind his widowed high school sweetheart.

Read full story here.

-- Contributed by Troy Burnett, Utah, who wrote 20+ Utah fallen stories

Find more Utah fallen stories here

Thank You

Stories Behind the Stars would like to publicly thank all the volunteers who contributed to the success of this project.

Read why they did it here.

Contributing 201+ stories:

Kim Dixon, Utah

Viki Strong, Utah

 

Contributing 101-200 stories:

Brianne Ellison, Utah

Randy Hervey, Colorado

John Schlatter, Utah

Susan Singleton, Illinois

 

Contributing 51-100 stories:

Mike Appleby, Colorado

Pam Baker, Alabama

Teri Fronk, Utah

LuAnn Greenwell, Utah

 

Contributing 11-50 stories:

JoDene Arakelian, Utah

Lisa Arnold, Texas

Lisa Brocadello Bergeson, Colorado

Molly Brown, Utah

Coby Crump, Utah

Jonathon Floyd, Utah

Amie Gutierrez, Michigan

Debra Holley, Utah

Jay Jones, Utah

John Lannefeld, Utah

Lisa McCole, Missouri

Mary Peterson, Minnesota

Michael Plymale, West Virginia

Jenna Rabtzow, Colorado

Kathe Reber, Utah

Aarica Rice, Colorado

Al Schutte, Ohio

Elizabeth Shaw, South Carolina

Micheline Smith, Utah

Rhonda Steele, Colorado

Valerie Wood, Utah

Ginny Wortz, Indiana

Contributing 1-10 stories:

Angie Abram, Utah

Valerie Auld, Kansas

Aiden Bandiola, Utah

Kristin Barlow, Utah

Melissa Barocio, Utah

Michelle Bates, Oklahoma

Bette Bellefeuille, Idaho

Sheryly Binetti, Utah

Bette Bohman, Utah

Steve Booth, Utah

Tim Bowman, Alabama

Steve Brannan, Alabama

Andy Brockway, Ontario, Canada

Tyler Brownell, Colorado

Anna Burkholder, Utah

Troy Burnett, Utah

Dian Burton, Utah

Kagan Byron, Utah

Sam Carpenter, Utah

Marilyn Clark, Utah

Emily Collins, Wisconsin

Tracy Cook, California

Kim Crump, Utah

Dylan David, Utah

Esther Davis, Utah

Norma DeBrow, Alabama

Dennis Dupras, Alaska

Candice Empey, Texas

Pat Filippone, California

Preston Freitas, Utah

Donna French, Utah

Char Fulfer, Texas

Bryan Fusfield, Colorado

Amanda Greenwood, Utah

Amberlee Hansen, Utah

Judy Hansen, Utah

Amber Hatton, Utah

James Hooper, Texas

Mark Hutson, Wisconsin

Rose Jacklin, Utah

Michelle Kelleher, Alabama

Maxine Keller, Utah

Frank King, Florida

Joanne King, Florida

Mac Kolar, North Carolina

Emily Koresko, Georgia

Von Landon, Utah

Contributing 1-10 stories:

Robert Leifson, Utah

Rick Leimbach, Utah

Deborah Lobey, Oregon

Tami Malan, Utah

Karen Marie McNichols, Illinois

Debbie Martin, Utah

Ashley Martinez, Utah

Autumn McFarland, Arizona

Steve McGee, Texas

Jerry McLaughlin, Georgia

Shawn Mecham, Utah

Sabina Morrey, Utah

Peri Muhich, Washington

Kaylene Mulvey, Utah

Marilyn Murphy, Wisconsin

Mark Nelson, Utah

Camille Noel, Utah

Allison Norman, Utah

Brad Olsen, Utah

Marianne Olsen, Utah

Eden Palmer, Illinois

Noelle Parent, Arizona

Lucy Peterson, Utah

Doug Phillips, Oregon

Deborah Pierce, Utah

Hugh Poland, Texas

Staci Porter, Utah

Judy Price, Indiana

Brandon Rhea, Utah

Rebecca Rogers, Utah

Sophia Shaprio, Utah

Beth Sano, Utah

Heather Sather-hansen, Utah

Linda Simpson, Oklahoma

Shauna Skog, Utah

Gary Smith, Colorado

Peggy Smith, North Carolina

Julie Sohlberg, Colorado

Samantha Strong, Utah

Ronalee Summers, Utah

Debra Swager, Idaho

Wendy Vincent, Utah

Linda Welker, Utah

Alison Wilde, Utah

Marti Wiser, Utah

Tina Yeagley, Utah

Anna Young, Utah