Many people are heading to Normandy to commemorate the D-Day landings right now. Perhaps you are one of those people. Maybe you have a trip planned for another time when it is less crowded and you can more easily take in the sights, sounds, and emotions of the places your family member fought, and possibly died. It’s also possible you have been to Normandy to walk in your soldier’s footsteps and are now preparing to write that story. I have a few tips for you before you start writing, or to assist you as you write.
Never Assume….Get the Facts
The Family Story. Many people start research or a story with the family story they heard about their service member. Those family stories may contain grains of truth, whole truth, or no truth, which is why it is important to do the actual research.
In my family, my grandma told me our Frank Winkler fought with the 29th Division on Omaha Beach on D-Day. He received head wounds and later died of those wounds. Turns out this was almost all incorrect.
Frank actually came into the 29th Division 115th Infantry Regiment as a Replacement Soldier on 23 June 1944 north of St. Lo. He was killed by a gunshot wound to the right lobe within 24 hours of being in that unit. He never stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Do you see how family stories may not be 100% accurate?
Assuming the Unit based on death record or discharge paper. A lot of clients have come to me saying they have a unit but could find nothing about it in combat or that their family member was in combat with that unit. The unit they were talking about came off a death file (IDPF) or discharge paper. Some people assume this unit they discover was the only unit and whole truth of the combat story. Most of the time this is incorrect.
Men normally moved through many different units and sometimes a Replacement Depot unit (or two or three or four). The unit they saw combat with may not be on the discharge. They may have seen combat with a couple different units, while being wounded in between and shifted around. Always do the research to find out the true timeline of events for a service member and his/her units.
Write the recollections, gather information and memories, photos, etc. Whether you are talking about Normandy or any other battle and war, gather all the information, memories, emotions, photos, artifacts a family has collected. Each of those things provides clues.
Travel Tips. If you are traveling anywhere your service member served, take a lot of photos to add to the story you will write or have someone else write. Photos of battlefields, signs, monuments, cemeteries, places you stay, people you meet. All of these things add flavor and emotion to the stories you write, which will make people want to read them.
Keep a daily journal of your trip. Every trip I took to Europe, especially when I was living there and traveling, I carried a journal and my fountain pens with me everywhere I went. Always ready to capture my thoughts, some questions, the emotions of what came through, and my encounters with the dead. Keeping a daily journal allows you to add those real time emotions, questions, and ideas about the journey, the service member, and the story. Plus it is easier to look back and know when something happened rather than trying to rely on your memory of an important trip. Be sure to also pick up guidebooks, postcards, brochures, and other things along the way. Also, each evening before bed, write out a summary of your day, noting those important moments and how you felt.
Add yourself to the story. A lot of people write books about their service member and it turns out to be like a biography or sometimes historical fiction. Have you considered writing the story and adding yourself to it? Ask yourself,
- Why is this service member important to me?
- Why do I feel called to walk in his/her footsteps?
- How has this individual impacted or changed my life?
- What did I learn on this journey?
- What did I heal on this journey?
- What did my family member say from beyond the veil as I undertook the entire journey (research, travel, writing, healing)?
- How can my experiences help others (travel, research, write, heal)?
Ask Family Members for Help. If you travel with family members, or they are helping you research, ask them to write pieces of the story. These might be short memories about the service member if they knew the person. Possibly their travel experience or emotions that arose. Perhaps the peace they received walking in the footsteps.
When I traveled to Europe the first time April-May 2015, I walked in the woods near Bras, Belgium where my cousin and spirit guide, James Privoznik was KIA 11 January 1944 (358th Infantry Regiment 90th Division). My mom told our guides that day, Jennie let go of a lot of baggage in those woods. She really needed to do that.
I will never forget my mom said that and how true it was. James helped me through a lot from 2012-2015 (and beyond) and I carried a lot of grief for our family’s war dead, those who came home damaged in some way, and all the others I had researched by that point. That day was life changing for me.
Have you traveled and written your stories? What other tips would you add? Please comment below!
Are You Ready to Start Writing and Researching?
I would love to help you research and write the stories of your family members from World War I – Vietnam. If you are ready to start a research or writing project, email me at email@example.com and let’s set up a free phone consultation. I’m excited to help you bring your family’s military history to life and preserve it for generations.
© 2022 WWII Research & Writing Center