A Wichita man is looking for a few good volunteers to tell the stories of U.S. servicemen and women from Kansas who died during World War II.
“Those people that gave their lives in service to our nation deserve the recognition,” Doug Rupe said.
Rupe is Kansas coordinator for Stories Behind the Stars, a nonprofit initiative started by a Kentucky history buff two years ago. Volunteers in 50 states and a dozen countries are trying to tell the stories of more than 421,000 Americans who died during the conflict.
Rupe was motivated by the fact that his father, Kenneth Rupe, served during WWII. “I was fortunate to travel with him to DC to see the World War II memorial as part of the Honor Flight program. I have chosen to participate in this wonderful project to honor his service and those of many other Kansans that served, many of whom did not return home.” Kenneth Rupe recently celebrated his 103rd birthday in Wichita.
Rupe knows he can’t possibly write all the articles himself, so he’s recruiting volunteers to write the stories. It’s estimated that about 5,500 Kansans died while serving in the war.
“Some are extremely active,” Rupe said of the writers. “One woman, she’s every day working and researching and writing stories. Others might write one a week or every couple of weeks.”
So far, the volunteers have completed about 500 Kansas stories which are available on a website, Fold3.com, and free mobile app, Find a Grave.
The volunteers recruited by Rupe are working their way through fallen servicemen and women from each county in Kansas in alphabetical order.
“We’re just now getting started on Cherokee County,” he said.
However, there are volunteers elsewhere who’ve completed stories on fallen servicemen from other parts of the state. Rupe said one out-of-state volunteer “decided to take on the project of writing about all the soldiers that are from Kansas who died in Europe and who are buried in the Netherlands at Margraten,” an American military cemetery. Others are writing about soldiers killed at Pearl Harbor.
Rupe himself recently started research on a soldier from Oklahoma after learning that his younger sister, now 90, lives in Wichita. He interviewed her in person.
“She was 10 years old when her brother was killed, four months after landing in Italy. Her memory was excellent. She was able to give me a lot of information on him.”
The stories vary in length and detail, depending on how much information is available. Writers use military records, U.S. Census reports, marriage records, Wikipedia pages and a variety of other sources.
“It’s amazing, actually, how much information is available now that wasn’t previously,” Rupe said, adding that researchers sometimes find and correct errors in the military records.
“What we try to do in these stories is try to be more complete than just an obituary — what they’re childhood was like, whether they grew up on a farm. Then we talk about their military service and ultimately how they were killed.”
Indeed, an article Rupe wrote about a fallen soldier from a prominent Kansas farming family reads like something out of a war novel. To read it, visit Fold3.com and type “Ira P. Lawless” in the search bar near the top of the site.
Rupe is also trying to compile an accurate list of all Kansans who died while serving in the military during the war, which he said doesn’t exist. The U.S. Army and Navy compiled lists, but Rupe called them “incomplete and sometimes inaccurate.”
Members of the Merchant Marine, for instance, were considered civilians, not military, but came under enemy fire.
“As we find people like that, we write them up,” he said.
Writing a story about one fallen Kansan often leads to another.
“It really is kind of a rabbit hole. You find one and it leads to another.”
The goal, Rupe said, is to have every story written by September 2025, the 80th anniversary of the war’s end.
“What I’m trying to do is recruit some additional writers, specifically from Sedgwick County. I’ve got a couple guys who are doing some researching but they don’t want to write.
Rupe believes there’s at least one fallen WWII serviceman from every county in Kansas. He is interested in hearing from anyone who has a relative they think may not be counted among the military’s record of fallen servicemen.
“We’ve got a ways to go, but it’s a worthy goal.”
People interested in volunteering for Stories Behind the Stars may contact Rupe at
firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him at (316) 641-3671.
To read the stories
Fold3.com charges a subscription fee for some of its services, but there is no charge to access the Stories Behind the Stars articles. To look for the story of someone, type the name in the search bar near the top of the page. If the story is available, there are separate pages for facts, stories, a photo gallery and sources. If you want to search for stories of fallen servicemen from Kansas, type SBTS/Kansas into the search bar. If you want to search for those from a particular county, add the name of the county, such as SBTS/Kansas/Butler.
You can also search for stories on a free mobile app called Find a Grave. Tap the Memorial Search button, type in the person’s name and click on the Fold3 Soldier Page button if one is present in the memorial information that appears.