They were boys, mostly, not unlike who you will find across the Midcoast today.

Herb “Herbie” Campbell grew up on Georgetown Island and attended Morse High School before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Force in December 1942 at the age of 18. A Stories Behind the Stars obituary written by Judith Skillings tells the story of his service and eventual death behind enemy lines in 1944. Photo contributed by Stories Behind the Stars

The sons of fishermen and factory workers and shipbuilders, they filled classrooms in Morse and Brunswick high schools. Others found their way to Maine after finishing school, drawn by the promise of a steady job at Bath Iron Works.

In the years following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, tens of thousands of young Mainers left their homes and their families to fight for a cause greater than themselves. Many, like Georgetown’s smiling Herbert “Herbie” Campbell, just 18 when he enlisted, never made it home.

Today, nearly 80 years after Campbell was shot down and killed behind enemy lines in France, a growing network of amateur genealogists is working to keep his story and the memories of his fellow soldiers alive.

Stories Behind the Stars is a grassroots effort to write an obituary for each of the over 400,000 Americans who died in World War II, according to Judith Skillings, the organization’s Maine director.

“It’s an amazing array of human stories,” said Skillings, who in just four months has researched and written about nearly 130 soldiers, including Campbell. “I mean, I just love every one of them.”


Though she has long enjoyed untangling lost histories, Skillings had never been interested in military trivia. But after deciding to dip her toes in the water with Stories Behind the Stars, she found herself hooked.

Now, she will sometimes research and write three 500- to 2,000-word obituaries every day, each of which can take up to four hours to produce.

“They’re like potato chips,” she said. “Mouth full, I’m reaching for the next one.”

Stories Behind the Stars began as one man’s lunch break hobby.

“I was just going to do this as a hobby on my own,” said founder Don Milne, a Utah banker who in 2016 began writing and posting one WWII obituary each day. “Within about a year and a half, and it had more than 1 million views, and I ended up having other people saying, ‘Hey can I write stories, too?’”

Close to 1,000 volunteers have since contributed to the effort, Milne said. About half of that number represents individuals who have written about one of their family members, while the rest are volunteers who write occasionally, weekly or even daily.


An online bootcamp teaches new members how to scour resources like for military records, family histories, high school yearbooks and other clues that can help uncover the life behind a name on a grave.

“You’re kind of like a detective,” Milne said. “Within two or three hours you’ve really grown to know who that person is.”

Most of the organization’s volunteers are older retirees, like Peter Duston, who developed his research and analytic skills as a history teacher and Army intelligence officer.

Over the past two decades, Duston has used his knowledge of military records to help families secure military honors for their loved ones and has also written about several WWII veterans. Now, he’s using those skills to help Skillings’ team of volunteers ensure that the approximately 3,500 Mainers who lost their lives in the war will be memorialized.

“That somebody is remembering them and they are not just forgotten in the dust of history is just really important to me,” he said. “If you want to call it a mission, I guess it’s a mission.”

Stories Behind the Stars has compiled over 21,000 obituaries so far and aims to complete its project by Sept. 2, 2025, the 80th anniversary of the war’s end, according to Milne. An accompanying smart phone app will allow visitors to any cemetery in the world learn about the veterans buried there.

The project, he hopes, will help transform Memorial Day and Veterans Day from vague conceptual celebrations of veterans to more specific, enriching experiences.

Skillings is actively looking for Maine volunteers to help her repay the heroes like Herbie Campbell who lost their lives too young.

“My mother used to say in her elder years, ‘As long as I am remembered, I am alive,’” Skillings said. “That’s kind of what I feel like with these guys: Somebody needs to remember them.”

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