Tracking Your Past: Preserving D-Day Stories

Doris Green

By Doris Green

Seventy-seven years ago this month, the biggest seaborne invasion in history marked a turning point of World War II. The stories and photos from June 6, 1944, haunt us still, particularly if our ancestors participated in the Allied invasion on the beaches of Normandy. All along those beaches (Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword), amphibious forces moved from the sea toward the entrenched German fortifications above the coast of France. They followed 24,000 American, British and Canadian airborne troops, as well as aerial and naval bombardment.

How many soldiers died that day? No one knows for sure. Estimates of German deaths range from 4,000 to 9,000. Documented American deaths totaled 2,501.

For decades, Americans memorialized the events of D-Day, Pearl Harbor and other World War II battles, often without acknowledging the names of the fallen. Then, in 2017, Don Milne created a blog, ww2fallen100.blogspot.com, to honor the World War II fallen on their 100th-year birthdate. 

The blog attracted many thousands of readers and soon led to a website, Stories Behind the Stars (www.storiesbehindthestars.org), to tell the tales of the more than 400,000 American casualties of World War II. Currently, the website features stories of the fallen from one state (Utah) and the fallen heroes of D-Day.

But there is not an accurate list of all these heroes, and Milne needs help to tell their stories. The website welcomes volunteers to help write the stories of every fallen World War II hero. So far, more than 700 volunteers have signed up to research and write these stories. The project provides online training to interested storytellers. With the volunteers’ help the project can document the story of every fallen soldier by 2025, the 80th anniversary of the war’s end. 

While much of family history work involves individual research, online or in-person, it is also a community activity. Like www.findagrave.com, Stories Behind the Stars depends on volunteers to document our ancestors’ lives.

Stories Behind the Stars partners with www.myheritage.com, www.ancestry.com and www.fold3.com, so that family historians can find the World War II hero stories already written by the volunteers.

Phase two of the project involves the development of a smartphone app. One day a visitor to a cemetery will simply scan the name on a veteran’s headstone to receive a link to that vet’s story.

Doris Green’s dad was drafted and honorably discharged late in the war; thankfully, he never saw the beaches of Normandy. She has authored “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery” and “Wisconsin Underground: A Guide to Caves, Mines, and Tunnels.” Also available: “Minnesota Underground: A Guide to Caves & Karst, Mines & Tunnels,” co-authored with Greg Brick. Visit http://henschelhausbooks.com.