May 28—Monday, May 29, the country honored and mourned U.S. military members who died while serving their country. More than 421,000 U.S. service members died in World War II and a nationwide effort, The Stories Behind the Stars, is under way to tell each of their stories.
During World War II, families would place banners over their front window with a blue star representing each of the household's men serving in the war. Those stars would replaced by gold stars as mothers learned of the loss of their loved one, thus the term "Gold Star Mothers."
The Stories Behind the Stars is a volunteer effort created to organize a central digital location to collect stories of all the WWII service members represented by Gold Stars.
The project began in 2018 when Don Milne, a history buff, decided to write one story a day of a fallen soldier from WWII. He posted the stories to Facebook, and soon he had gathered a sizable following. He then set out to write as many stories as he could before 2020 — the 75th anniversary of the war. In trying to do so, he eventually turned to those following his page for help.
Bob Fuerst was one of those who reached out to lend a hand, and now he is the Alabama State Director for Stories Behind the Stars.
"As he got close to the end, he had so many followers he thought, 'Let's take this nationwide. Let's try to get enough volunteers to write all 400,000. Right now, it has morphed into 1,000 volunteers in all 50 states and 12 foreign countries," Fuerst said. "We currently have close to 1,000 volunteers, but there is over 400,000 fallen from World War II. So, it's going to take a lot more volunteers than that."
At last estimate, more than 50,000 stories have been written by the project's volunteers. In Alabama, more than 6,300 military personnel were lost in WWII. At the end of 2022, volunteers had completed the stories of 2,800 of them.
Currently, 28 of Alabama's 67 counties have been completed or are near completion. Some the counties have zero completed. Fuerst is currently working on writing stories of the fallen from Limestone County.
Fuerst said, "Whatever volunteers we get, I would certainly like to put them to work in Alabama, but if somebody has a different state they would like to work in, that is certainly just fine."
Several special sections have been completed, including stories of all 2,502 Americans killed at Normandy on D-Day and the 2,341 service members killed at Pearl Harbor. Stories of those killed from the State of Utah, Milne's home state, have also been completed.
The new goal is to have all the stories completed by the 80th anniversary of the war in 2025. Fuerst is concerned about that being feasible without an increase in volunteers willing to help.
Stories Behind the Stars offers training and access to several subscription services to assist those who volunteer. "Ancestry.com, newspapers.com, and Fold3.com are the main resources and Don (Milne) has arrangements with them to give free access to volunteers," Fuerst said.
Those interested in volunteering with Stories Behind the Stars should visit storiesbehindthestars.org and click the "volunteer" link.