An Oklahoma Navy vet needs help in telling the stories of Delaware's military men buried in cemeteries overseas.
It is said that people only are truly dead once they’ve been forgotten.
U.S. Navy veteran Michael Beach wants to make sure America’s fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines always are remembered, not for their deaths but for their lives.
The Oklahoma native recently completed a journey taking him to more than 20 military cemeteries outside the United States, searching each one for Oklahomans buried there. In his travels, he’s left more than 2,000 miniature memorials at each cross or Star of David he’s found.
Now Beach has a new project: he’s looking to tell the stories of 1,200 Americans, at least one from each state, who lie buried in those overseas burial grounds.
The former machinists mate, who lives in south central Oklahoma, often volunteers at veterans homes, where he talks with veterans about the grim truth of war and death.
“What they talk about often isn’t pretty, John Wayne type of stuff,” Beach said. “It’s harsh reality.”
Part of that reality is that many American casualties were young men, low-ranking enlisted and officers barely out of school who had yet to start a family. Today, their survivors are mostly elderly brothers and sisters or nieces and nephews who never have visited the cemeteries in Europe, the Philippines or Hawaii where their relatives lie at rest.
As part of his current project, Beach is looking to contact Delawareans who have relatives interred overseas. The American Battle Monuments Commission has recorded nearly 125,000 Americans buried overseas, with an additional 94,000 memorialized as missing in action.
The ABMC lists 39 Delawareans from World War I buried in Europe, as well as 290 from World War II.
The files at the cemeteries record only basic information about each service member, but Beach wants to be able to tell more. He wants to find out what each man was like, his personality, his likes and dislikes, little stories that endeared him to those he left behind.
“When I would visit the cemeteries, I’d see tour groups, and they weren’t always from America,” he said. “My goal is that when these tour groups come and they look at a headstone, they don’t just see a name. If their guide can talk about them, what their childhood was like, that lets people know that there is a person buried there, not just a marker.”
Beach knows the task he has set is a formidable one: first he must let people know about the project and then ask soldiers’ survivors to write to him.
“Some will send a picture, some will send more, saying ‘Here’s what we know,’ and that’s it,” he said.
But he is undeterred.
“I’ve done a book about the Oklahoma soldiers, and I’d like to do a book about the 1,200 soldiers,” he said.
“That’s my dream. I don’t know if I’ll be able to actually have that, but that’s my dream.”