Milburn woman uses lockdown to write stories of veterans

Luann Greenwell of Milburn writes the stories of Sanpete County’s fallen soldiers.



Milburn woman uses lockdown to

write stories of veterans


By Robert Stevens

Managing editor



MILBURN—A Milburn woman found purpose during a self-imposed lockdown by researching and writing the stories of dozens of fallen soldiers from Sanpete County.

Following suggestions of public health officials to stay home during COVID-19 as much as possible, Luann Greenwell, a lifelong Sanpete County native, started writing.

“I needed a purpose,” she told the Messenger. “I started grasping for something, and that’s when I discovered ‘Stories Behind the Stars.’”

Greenwell is retired after working more than 30 years in the financial services industry; she spends much of her free time farming or spending it with her kids, but she says she was looking for a bit more.

Stories Behind the Stars is an all-volunteer effort started by a man named Don Milne. Found on Storiesbehindthestars.org, it chronicles the history of more than 400,000 Americans who lost their lives during World War II.

Intrigued, Greenwell reached out to Milne, who got her started with some advice and a list of some Sanpete County fallen WWII vets she could research. Greenwell decided she would make it her goal to record the stories of every fallen Sanpete soldier, not just World War II either.

“I took on all of Sanpete,” she says. “That is where my heart was.”

Fast forward to now and Greenwell has researched and recorded the stories of more than 70 of Sanpete’s fallen war veterans so far.

The process requires a lot of legwork and research, she says. Once she knows the name of a fallen soldier, she begins the work of finding his history, which is scattered across dozens of archives, military history registers, ancestry websites and more. In some cases, she will visit a museum looking for information.

“Old Manti Messenger news clippings have been great too,” she says, “as well as old Pyramids and Salt Lake Telegram. They would share a lot of information that doesn’t get shared now in papers.”

One of the most vital resources Greenwell has for finding the history is the archive of applications for a military headstone.

“That little card is a wealth of info,” she says. “I can get the service dates, unit, the day they died, who applied for it and more. Usually, it was the mother or father who fills it out and so the info is pretty good.”

Greenwell says photos to include with the stories are one of the most difficult things to find.

Sometimes the research process results in finding daily activity logs from military records, says Greenwell. While these can be very helpful sometimes, they can also give a tragic glimpse into the suffering or death of the soldiers. Greenwell says this perspective is not only sad, but has changed her perspectives.

“It’s a heightened level of respect for these soldiers,” she says. “I feel like I know most of these guys pretty well now. The world would be a much better place if they were still with us.”

She says, as a mother, she feels so much heartbreak for the mothers and families of these men, who “sent those boys off to the war not knowing if they would ever be home.”

“The other day I was reading about a Vietnam soldier who died and it was so sad I had to take a day off to clear my thoughts,” she says.

Greenwell’s stories are compiled into the Stories Behind the Stars database and Fold3.com, where they are hosted alongside many other stories of the fallen at fold3.com, a military history website connected to ancestry.com.

The eventual goal of the Stories Behind the Stars project is to create an app that will allow visitors at a cemetery scan a headstone or grave marker and automatically pull up the story associated with the soldier buried there.

Greenwell says she welcomes contact from anyone who has information to add to her stories, or wants to get involved with the project herself. She can be reached at luann.greenwell@gmail.com.

“I am not a professional writer,” Greenwell says. “Anyone could do these and I would love to hear from anybody who wanted to add or help. It’s all out there, but to put it all together in one place is my way of showing respect for the sacrifices they made.”

Private Ralph Nielson, a WWII Marine who was killed in action on Feb. 1, 1944in the battle for the Roi-Namu Islands.

Excerpt from the story of Ralph Nielson

Ralph’s mother received the following letter; (Original in photo gallery) Since the letter seems incomplete, It’s possible a shipmate sent it to the family after Ralph’s death on the 1st of February, 1944.


Mrs Joseph M Nielson, Ephraim, Utah:


Dear Mother and Dad, I am writing this letter aboard the USS Wayne. We have been on this ship 13 days now, it’s now Jan 24-44. We are about 1000 miles west of Honolulu. We are going to take the Marshall Island. We will land there in about 6 days from now. Mother Dear, I’m writing this letter just in case anything goes wrong, but if I must die for my country, I don’t want you Mother Dear or Dad or any of you to feel bad.

Jan 25 1944, next day, Hello Mother Dear, today it rained, the sea is a bit rough but we don’t pay any attention to such things. We are still going West-By South Marshall Island. Hello Mother Dear how are you, hope your well, everything O.K. here.

It’s Sunday Jan 30-1944 two more days left until we hit the beach, we are in very good shape.


The full story of Ralph Paul Nielson can be found at https://www.fold3.com/page/653608009-ralph-paul-nielson.