During the post-WWII era, many young boys entertained themselves playing army games. Ten-year-old Don Milne was more interested in learning about real soldiers. He devoured books about Patton, Churchill, McArthur, and Eisenhower. He particularly loved learning about ordinary Americans who served their country in extraordinary ways. Often called the Greatest Generation, Don was touched by heroic stories of the WWII fallen.
Don grew up and embarked on a 37-year career in the banking industry, but his love of military history continued. In 2016, he started a blog, and each day on his lunch break, he researched and wrote the story of a fallen WWII soldier. Before long, he had accumulated 1,300 stories and 1.5 million views on his blog! It seems that Don’s efforts struck a chord with others.
In 2019, Don lost his longtime job at the bank. He decided to take a leap of faith and focus full-time on research and writing. The Stories Behind the Stars (SBTS) was born. When a WWII soldier died, their family received a Gold Star Service Flag. More than 400,000 US service members died during the war, and Don wants each one remembered. To do that, he needs our help!
Today more than 700 volunteers from 49 states and 12 other countries are helping to document these stories. SBTS provides free training for anyone willing to participate. Their goal is to document every soldier lost in WWII before 2025 (the 80th anniversary of the end of the war). In about the time it takes to watch a movie, you can research and write the story of one of WWII’s fallen. Fold3 has teamed up with SBTS and will host these stories on our Fold3 Memorials, where they are preserved and available to view free of charge. Records from Fold3, Ancestry®, and Newspapers.com™ can all be attached to provide rich detail and add to the narrative. Here is an example of a completed Memorial.
One volunteer described his involvement in SBTS as “interesting and rewarding.” John Schlatter has written more than 100 stories and says that his respect for these soldiers and their families has grown immeasurably. Although John has a background in writing, he stressed that anyone can participate. “Anyone can tell a story,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be perfect. Even if you make a mistake, the families of these soldiers are just grateful that someone has remembered them.” John recalled connecting with a woman whose father died a week before she was born. Never having known her dad, she expressed gratitude for John’s efforts in remembering him. “Thank you,” she said, “for this gift to our family.”
In addition to preserving each soldier’s story, SBTS has big plans for the future. Don envisions a day where visitors to war memorials or cemeteries can use a smartphone app SBTS is developing. The app would allow you to scan the name on a headstone and get an immediate link to that soldier’s story. He has several volunteers helping with open-source app development and database management but would welcome more help.