This year marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. We pause to remember D-Day as both the turning point of World War II and the immense cost of the war. With each anniversary of World War II, more and more of our veterans have passed and those stories and memories pass with them unless we capture them in our histories.
If you have a living relative who participated in World War II, spend some time with them learning their story. Perhaps you have letters, diaries, pictures or other documentation that you can use to write their story. If none of those options are available to you, you can still find more information about the experiences of other soldiers who had similar experiences or were perhaps in the same unit.
To get started, you will want to do your homework and find the military records of your ancestor. Sites that may be useful are FamilySearch, Fold3, Ancestry as well as others. Some charge fees while others are free.
You may want to carve out time to hear what the experience was like in their own words. There are some great resources where you can hear directly from those who served.
Veterans Oral History Project – The Heritage Education Commission has undertaken to capture regional veteran’s oral histories from the Red River Valley of the Dakotas and Minnesota. You can view the transcripts and listen to the oral histories of these brave soldiers. (Full disclosure that I am a member of the Heritage Education Commission Board.)
National Homefront Project – According to their website: “The National Home Front Project, an innovative oral history initiative at Washington College’s Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, is capturing the memories of those civilians: men, women, and children whose lives were charged by the greatest global conflict in human history.”
Veterans History Project – “The Veterans History Project database honors all those military veterans and civilians who have been interviewed for the Veterans History Project, or whose personal accounts have been donated to the project. The collection is growing and the database will continuously add names as those individuals' donations are received and processed. Information contained in the database is based on participants' own reporting of their service history.”
World War II History Project -- The World War II History Project is a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to finding, recording, saving and preserving the stories of World War II participants to educate current and future generations, with a particular focus on reconciliation that leads to understanding and peace. Since 2010, we have interviewed roughly 200 American, Canadian, British, French and German veterans and civilians. Interviews range from 2 to 30 hours long. We scan photo albums, journals, letters, and ask veterans to read them on tape.
As genealogists and keepers of our family history, we have a plethora of information available and thankfully others are recognizing the value of capturing veterans’ stories to help us all learn the cost of war, the impact on the family and the changes to the nation. Those who served and didn’t come back and those who returned all influenced the paths of future generations. Let’s do our part by capturing their stories.
“They fought together as brothers-in-arms. They died together and now they sleep side by side. To them we have a solemn obligation.
--Admiral Chester W. Nimit
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With a lifelong passion for genealogy and history, the author enjoys the opportunity to share genealogy tidbits, inspiring others to research and write their family story.