Tracking Your Past

World War II battles endured by River Valley residents come alive in a scrapbook collection published by Mariel Beeman Kepler in 2002. The oversize scrapbook, “World War II News of Our Men and Women in Service,” Richland County, Wisconsin, contains clippings from The Republican Observer and The Richland Democrat, covering news of hometown men and women serving in the armed forces. Kepler, then a student at Richland Center High School, clipped the stories to track local people involved in the war effort. More than a half century later, she published the 312-page volume, which also includes additional war news, photos and telegrams.

The stories roam from the mundane (Staff Sgt. Leslie Ghastin home on furlough) to the intriguing (Patricia Bowser now a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Service) to the mind-boggling (74 German planes shot down in 18 minutes). A number contain excerpts of censored letters sent to families waiting at home.

News came slowly. One story reported on Lt. John A. McGlynn Jr., missing in France after his plane was shot down. A later clipping noted his Cazenovia parents had received a cablegram reporting his safe arrival in England. Weeks later, they received his letters, providing scant information about his escape.

Kepler’s collection provides detail about individual assignments, troop encounters and awards and honors — from good conduct medals to silver stars and oak leaf clusters. Like eating one chip from a bag, reading just one clipping is impossible. The terse reports draw us into a world engulfed in war.

Family historians will find context for their veteran ancestors’ war experiences, as well as facts and quotes to make their lives both real and relevant. Though printed chronologically, the clippings are undated; but a thorough index directs readers to the 6,000 entries.

With help from family and friends, Kepler indexed and published the volume around the time of her husband’s death. In fact, the book is dedicated “to the memory of all those from Richland County who served during WWII and especially to my husband Downing R. Kepler, TEC 5 U.S. Army (1923–2002).”

Hynek Printers produced only 700 copies, with sales going toward the creation of the Richland County Veterans Memorial. The memorial was dedicated in June 2015, six months after Mariel Kepler’s own death.

Genealogists can find one of those 700 copies at the University of Wisconsin-Richland Library. They can also read non-circulating copies at the Madison Public Library and the Wisconsin Historical Society Library in Madison.

Thanks to Cecilia Farran for sharing a 2003 news story about Kepler’s scrapbook collection.

Doris Green received a Readers’ Favorite award for “Elsie’s Story: Chasing a Family Mystery,” available from http://henschelhausbooks.com/, Amazon and bookstores. Visit https://dorisgreenbooks.com.