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The Story Behind Each Star: Honoring WWII’s Fallen

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A Gold Star Service Flag is presented to the family of service members who died while serving in the US Armed Forces. Each gold star represents an individual life, and one group of volunteers is working hard to tell each of their stories. Stories Behind the Stars (SBTS) was founded in 2019, and to date, their volunteers have collectively memorialized nearly 50,000 of those who died during WWII. Their stories are attached to Fold3® Memorials and can be viewed in our Stories Behind the Stars collection.

Gold Star Service Flag

These Memorials contain stories of valor and heroism. One example is that of Capt. James McDonnell Gallagher. Gallagher enlisted in the US Army and served in the Philippines, where he trained troops from the Philippine Army. Gallagher was there when Manilla fell to the Japanese and in Bataan at the time of the US surrender on April 9, 1942.

Gallagher died on April 9, 1942, but it wasn’t until later that his family learned the details. A fellow soldier wrote to Gallagher’s family, saying he was with their son at the time of his death. A group of US and Filipino soldiers had been captured on April 8 and interrogated by their Japanese captors. They were forced to march for 10 hours without food or water. Gallagher was very ill and seemed to be suffering from malaria. His condition worsened throughout the day and evening, and he died the following day. His remains have never been recovered. The details surrounding Gallagher’s life, military service, and death have been captured by an SBTS volunteer, ensuring that future generations will remember his sacrifice.

James M. Gallagher (right) as POW

Among SBTS’s impressive recent accomplishments is the completion of stories for each of the 8,700 WWII soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. They are also in the process of documenting stories for each of the fallen from the 100th Bombardment Group, whose experiences have been the subject of the recent miniseries Masters of the Air.

How can you help? SBTS needs volunteers! You don’t have to be a professional writer or military historian (though some are). Most volunteers are regular people (young and old) who want to participate in a project that honors the memories of America’s Greatest Generation. SBTS still has 421,000 more stories to write to complete its mission. According to one volunteer, “Anyone can tell a story.” To learn more, visit Stories Behind the Stars. To read the heroic stories of America’s WWII fallen, explore our Stories Behind the Stars collection today on Fold3®.

12 Comments

  1. Susan Box says:

    The photgrapph of Gallagher and another American prisoner shows what appears to be a thin rope tight around their necks. Horrible…

  2. Carol DuVall says:

    How can I help?

  3. Janice Miles says:

    Is anyone doing WWI?

  4. Mary Ellen Davidson says:

    My great-uncle. Sam Fairchild died in Bataan but I know nothing more about his story . Is it one that has been found?

  5. richard grauel says:

    1. You can click on the above link right above the Gold Star Flag to search for his memorial story.
    2. You can also go to the fold3.org website and type his name in the search box. See if his name appears in the search. There may be many names to look at. If not, keep trying by adding some more information. If there a story written by one of our volunteers, you will find it. I have written several stories about men who fought on Bataan and Corregidor Island in Manila Bay and were then captured by the Japanese.

    • richard grauel says:

      Sorry. That website should be fold3.com, not fold3.org. Easiest is to do the search by clicking on that link.

  6. Pamela Mankle says:

    My grandfather served as Tec5. WWII.His name was Wayne Percival Matthes. I was hoping there might be photos and more information about what he did. He passed away in 1988.

  7. Tim ONeil says:

    Hi Pam, I did not see anything for your grandfather. I would be happy to start building one. I have learned quite a bit on researching Veterans and adding to the stories they have listed.

  8. KWOlsen says:

    Central City, Nebraska Presbyterian Church had a large star flag hanging in the sanctuary. If I remember there were blue stars and if one of the soldiers died the star was replaced with a gold star. Some churches might have stories that would assist in the story of the gold star servicemen and women.

  9. Tracey Trickett says:

    I’m looking for signalman Harold Lord he was a P.O.W. in Japan. My grandad was a desert rat too Harold Cropper.

    • Emily Jurasovic says:

      My Great Grandfather Lou Engledow was a POW in WW2 his location remains unclear as does his participation in the war.

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