This was brought home to me while meeting with a group of Vietnam veterans who held a reunion in Townsend a couple of weeks ago. (See the story on page 1C.) When they spoke about their service, it was the stories they didn’t tell that seemed to fill the room — stories I can’t begin to imagine, horrors that still lurk in the background of their thoughts like malware programs running undetected on a computer. One of the men had told me earlier via email, “Our battalion was one of the most decorated in Vietnam, and we lost a lot of good people.” The memories are painful, but even more painful is to forget … And that’s why the men I met got together, some for the first time since they served together in 1968, to remember. That’s also why Homer R. Steedly Jr. created a website called www.swampfox.info, to help us all understand the reality of war.
I received an email about another website, AmericanAirMuseum.com, a crowd-sourced website launched on Oct. 1, 2014, by the Imperial War Museum’s American Air Museum at Duxford, England, to honor members of the U.S. Army Air Force who fought air battles to end World War II from their bases in the United Kingdom. According to the website, “The American Air Museum website records the stories of the men and women of the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) who served their country from the UK in the Second World War. It also records the memories of the British people who befriended them. …
“At its peak strength in 1944, USAAF employed 450,000 Americans in Britain. Most of us will immediately think of fighter pilots or bomber crews, but the majority of USAAF’s men and women were engaged on a much wider range of tasks, all of which were necessary to keep the aircraft flying. Nearly 30,000 never made it home.”
Thanks to American military casualty researcher William L. “Bill” Beigel, a new resource is available via this website. Beigel, of Torrence, Calif., recently donated a collection of American airmen’s Individual Deceased Personnel Files (IDPFs) to the the museum and these have been added and are accessible to the public. “The collection of 231 airmen’s records is the culmination of hundreds of hours of research over a 15-year period,” according to the release. “Beigel has contributed dozens of hours adding summaries to airmen’s records on the site.” The collection focuses on the final missions and circumstances of the deaths of these airmen, most of whom were members of the 8th Air Force based in England during World War II.
Few details were provided to the families who lost loved ones in active service in wartime, and learning the details continues to be difficult today. This makes Beigel’s work even more valuable for families. Carl Warner, research and information manager at the museum, was quoted in the release as saying, “The Individual Deceased Personnel Files uncovered by Bill Beigel and generously donated to the American Air Museum in Britain are fascinating documents, They remind us of the huge and painstaking efforts undertaken to identify and properly commemorate the men of the USAAF who made the ultimate sacrifice. … Bill Beigel’s tireless research perfectly complements our aims: to provide a place where American and British researchers, historians, veterans and families can come together to help create the definitive account of the air war fought by American airmen from the UK.”
Beigel’s quote sums up the reason we observe Memorial Day. He said, “So many Americans are still searching for answers about what happened to their loved ones in World War II. I hear stories every week about brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews of men who died, still seeking these answers. I want these donated records to be a tribute to these lost airmen — to keep their stories alive. And I want to try to help a few more people find the answers they’ve been seeking.”
Beigel specializes in facts relating to Americans who died or went missing in active duty in World War II, the Korean War or the Vietnam War. His research is intended to assist individuals and groups in learning the circumstances of military deaths since little information was given to next-of-kin. To date, he has researched more than 1,600 individuals for more than 1,000 clients. In 2016, his book about the forgotten history of the “Return of the World War II Dead” will be published. For more information, visit www.ww2research.com.