BOUNTIFUL — Don Milne is on a mission to make sure the fallen heroes of World War II are forever remembered — but he’s looking for some help.
Milne, 59, of Bountiful, recently launched a nonprofit called “Stories Behind the Stars,” an ambitious project that aims to compile short histories of all of the 400,000 plus American soldiers who died during WWII. The histories would be searchable, by name, from an online database Milne is creating. He says he’s also developing a smartphone app that would link to the database and allow people to scan names from war memorials and headstones, then instantly be taken to a particular soldier’s biography.
A self-described “history buff,” particularly of WWII, Milne has been blogging and writing military bios for fallen soldiers of the war pretty much every day for that past three years. So far, he’s written about 1,200 profiles, piecing the stories together mainly through sources he’s found online.
“It’s just been a hobby of mine,” Milne said. “But eventually, I started thinking it would be cool to have something on every single soldier who died. But I realized quickly I couldn’t do that by myself.”
So Milne is looking for family members and friends to submit stories for their WWII fallen loved ones. He’s also looking for volunteers to do what he’s been doing for the past three years: research and write.
Since launching the nonprofit and doing a little online soliciting, Milne said he’s already had people from 30 states and two foreign countries express interest in writing for the project. Ancestry.com is giving everyone who works on the project free access to its main website and subsidiary platforms Newspapers.com and Fold3.com, so the volunteers can access source material for free.
“To help, all people need is to free up some time to write these stories,” Milne said. “And a lot of people have extra free time these days, with the pandemic still going on.”
Milne says profiles are typically between 200 to 800 words long. So far, he’s only written about 50 profiles on Utah soldiers and is hoping to get a strong showing of volunteers from the state.
According to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, there were about 1,500 Utah soldiers killed during WWII.
“With enough help, we could write all of their stories very quickly,” Milne said, noting he’s already recruited the help of Utah State Historian Kevin Fayles and the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs and has a list of names of the Utah fallen.
Milne said he hopes his project will inspire a younger generation who may not be familiar with the world-saving deeds of the Greatest Generation.
“We live in an age that craves heroes,” he said. “Every year, millions of dollars are made and spent on telling stories of make-believe heroes — all the Marvel Comics movies and those kinds of things. But 75 years ago, America was engulfed in a struggle that required everyday citizens to become real heroes. We need to remember them.”
To learn more about the project or to volunteer to write, go to www.storiesbehindthestars.org.