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Group works to immortalize stories of soldiers who died in WWII

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Posted at 12:10 PM, May 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-29 18:52:17-04

CHESTERFIELD, Va. -- Etched in glass and stone. Row after row. Nearly 12,000 names of Virginians who fought and died for our nation.

“They gave everything,” said Scott Rayl. “It is hard to describe.”

Rayl isn’t just looking at names. He sees stories.

“I think it immortalizes them,” he said. “It immortalizes the sacrifices they made.”

The 40-year-old from Chesterfield is a driving force in the group Stories Behind the Stars.

“I won’t stop till it is done,” said Rayl.

An all-volunteer organization determined to document and digitize the story of each soldier, sailor and Marine who died during WWII.

“We should remember these names because these are the people who never got to see the results of their sacrifice,” said Rayl.

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Soldiers like Virginia’s Hugh Williams.

“After months of preparation the men were ready to make their first jump in combat on June 6th, 1944,” Rayl explained.

Williams was a paratrooper with the famed 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment or Band of Brothers.

“We’re talking about Hugh Williams who was born July 9, 1924 on Tangier Island,” said Rayl.The 19-year-old died along with 19 others when their C-47 crashed.

“That is where his story ends,” said Rayl. “That is where his story would end if people don’t write the stories and allow for posterity and understand what people did.”

Founded in 2020, Stories Behind the Stars depends on writers of all skill levels to achieve their goal.

“It is humbling but when you engage in a project like this. It is not silent. I hear the voices of the soldiers; each one of the story I’ve read,” said Rayl.

The group is making progress. 136 writers from across the country are compiling the stories of each D-Day casualty. They hope to have each of the 2,502 stories written and uploaded to the site by the 77th anniversary on June 6.

“It could be forgotten if we don’t digitally memorialize this information,” Rayl said.

Rayl knows about sacrifice. He served tours in Afghanistan in the U.S. Army. For him, this is an extension of his time in the military.

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“For me it is all of my passions rolled into one. It is the most gratifying thing since leaving the service,” he said.

With the Stories Behind the Stars roster growing by the day, Rayl said it fuels his passion to make sure the fallen live beyond a name on a wall.

“This story will never end,” he said. “This repatriating the stories of these individuals.”

If you would like to volunteer and write a memorial page for a member of the fallen for Stories Behind the Stars, tap here.

If you know of someone with an interesting story to tell email me a gmcquade@wtvr.com

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