DENVER (KDVR) – It is an ambitious project: tell the stories of each and every one of the more than 400,000 fallen U.S. servicemembers from World War II. And even more difficult? Complete the project in time for the 80th anniversary of the end of the war, three years from now.
But Julie Sohlberg and Gary Smith of Colorado are both up for the challenge.
“I’ve written or participated in about 620 (biographies),” Smith told FOX31.
They are just two of the volunteers helping carry out the Stories Behind the Stars project. FOX31 first reported on it in 2020. Don Milne started the effort to honor the men and women who never made it home from World War II.
“I got into this as a hobby because my kids are older and I had some free time,” Milne said.
He needed help writing biographies for the fallen, and to help accomplish his eventual goal of creating a digital database of those Americans killed in World War II.
Eventually, he’d like to create an interactive smartphone app, allowing people to walk through a military cemetery like Fort Logan National Cemetery, aim their phone’s camera at a headstone, and have that soldier’s picture and biography pop up on the phone’s screen.
More than 400,000 WWII stories left to be told
At that time, only about 1,000 biographies of the fallen had been written. Fast forward to 2022, and volunteers have written more than 16,000 stories, many of them with Colorado ties.
“I’ve written 379 stories. And 318 of them were Colorado men and women,” Sohlberg told FOX31.
For Smith, who’s a veteran, the stories of the fallen often hit hard. He remembers researching the story of Anthony Hitztaler, one of several paratroopers executed by Germans after dropping into Normandy on D-Day.
“And when they did that, they were spied by the Germans, taken prisoner, and all seven of them marched into the woods where they were executed. The fact that the families really never knew what happened until 30 or 40 years later was a little surprising,” Smith said.
There are still more than 400,000 stories like Anthony’s left to be told.
“Hopefully we’ll get a lot more volunteers, because Don needs a lot more volunteers,” Smith said.
To help complete the project, visit the Stories Behind the Stars volunteer page.