Skip to content

Volunteers working on WWII project: Stories Behind the Stars

More volunteers needed to help project reach its goal

 

By Christa Jennings

Senior Staff Writer

 

During World War II, more than 421,000 American service men and women paid the ultimate price to help preserve the nation’s freedoms, and now a group of volunteers is working to ensure each of them is remembered as more than just a statistic or a grave marker in a local cemetery.

The Stories Behind the Stars project is a nationwide non-profit founded in 2020 which endeavors to ensure each of those who lost their lives in WWII is remembered. The project is named after the gold star banner that families of an American service member lost in WWII displayed in their windows.

Bob Fuerst, a NASA engineer in Huntsville, serves as the Alabama state director for the Stories Behind the Stars project. He leads a small team of volunteers from across the state who have, so far, researched and written short biographical stories of more than 4,000 of the over 6,300 Alabamians who lost their lives during World War II.

Fuerst reports that all stories written for the project are being saved to a common database so that they can be easily accessed via a free smartphone app to read at any grave site or WWII memorial.

Additionally, the stories are also being shared on a daily basis via a Facebook page titled “Remembering Alabama WWII Fallen.”

Fuerst stated that casualty records compiled by the U.S. government after the war indicate that there were 30 WWII fallen from Coosa County. One of those was 21-year-old Flight Officer James Marcus Crew.

Crew was born in Coosa County on March 9, 1923, to Morton H. and Lavin D. (Baker) Crew. He grew up in Goodwater, where his father was employed as a dentist.

Employed by the DuPont Company, Crew registered for the draft in 1942 and within months had enlisted in the Air Corps at Gunter Field in Montgomery. He received his AAF wings at an advanced single engine pilot school at Napier Field in January 1944, and his next assignment was at Pope Field in North Carolina.

Crew was on a routine over-water training flight on a C-47 transport plane when his flight, along with two other planes, were reported missing on July 21, 1944. The three planes, and 15 men, were officially reported missing off the North Carolina coast three days later.

An extensive search was eventually called off, ending hope that the men would be found. According to reports, it appeared that the planes had been caught up in a storm during the routine training flight.

Crew’s official status remained missing in action. He was memorialized at a service at Goodwater Methodist Church in October 1944.

To read Crew’s full story, visit www.fold3.com/memorial/638736500/james-m-crew/stories.

Fuerst is just one of hundreds of Stories Behind the Stars volunteers from all 50 states and a dozen other countries who are researching and writing stories of WWII fallen.

These volunteers come from all ages and backgrounds, with some being as young as junior high school students while others are retired. While some of the volunteers are amateur genealogists or seasoned researchers with years of experience, most are not.

Stories Behind the Stars provides online training in how to research and write the stories, as well as free access to key research sites Ancestry.com and Newspapers.com. The project also has a Facebook group where volunteers help each other with research and answer questions.

“Basically, if you can write an obituary, you can research and write one of these stories in as little as a couple of hours,” said project founder Don Milne of Louisville, Kentucky. “Be forewarned. This is a very addictive and enriching experience. Quite a few individuals have already written hundreds of stories.”

To date, the project volunteers have completed more than 43,000 stories, including those of all the Americans who died at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and all who died in Normandy on D-Day.

The project’s ambitious goal is to complete stories of all the more than 421,000 fallen prior to the eightieth anniversary of the end of WWII in September 2025. However, to accomplish this goal, many more volunteers are needed.

Individuals interested in assisting with the project can register as a volunteer at www.storiesbehindthestars.org/volunteer.

To learn more about the project, visit www.storiesbehindthestars.org.

2 Comments

  1. Bob Fuerst on April 4, 2024 at 9:57 pm

    Thank you for publishing this.

    • Editor on April 11, 2024 at 11:44 pm

      Our pleasure! Thank you for your work on this project.

Leave a Comment