University of Wisconsin students had the unique opportunity to tell the untold stories of 30 Wisconsin soldiers who fought and died in World War II and found their final resting place miles away in a cemetery in France.
Professor Mary Louise Roberts’ class on the second world war recently completed a project in which students were assigned fallen WWII soldiers and instructed to research as much information on their soldiers as possible. The assigned soldiers are all at rest in an American World War II cemetery in Épinal, France.
After students completed the project, Roberts said “the war became very real to them.”
Joel Houot, a man from the town of Épinal, France who is the caretaker of the grave of a fallen World War II soldier, emailed Roberts asking for help uncovering information about the man buried in it, according to a statement from the UW history department.
The statement said Roberts thought this request made for a good extra credit project for students in her class. When Roberts asked who might be interested in the extra credit opportunity, she said, “every hand in the room went up,” the statement said.
After receiving the overwhelming amount of interest, Roberts wrote back requesting the names of more fallen soldiers whom her students could research.
Elizabeth Braunreuther, a member of the class, said she was ecstatic at the opportunity to research a U.S. soldier who had fought in WWII.
“I was blown away that someone from halfway across the world had cared so much about the soldier whose grave he takes care of,” Braunreuther said.
Braunreuther said the goal of the project was to collect as much information about their assigned soldier as possible. Students were encouraged to use any means they could think of to find out about their assigned soldiers. Braunreuther and her partner, Kelly Fisher, were assigned the soldier that Houot initially inquired about, Robert Kellett.
They searched Kellett’s regiment on Google and found a Facebook page dedicated to it, Braunreuther said. After asking for information on Kellett from the man who operated the Facebook page, Braunreuther and Fisher received a reply with pictures of Kellet’s current living relatives at his grave in Épinal.
Braunreuther and Fisher continued their research at places such as the Wisconsin State Historical Society, Fon du Lac Public Library, and the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum.
According to the project’s documentation on the history department’s website, the partners found that Kellet was from Fon du Lac, where he met his wife while working in engineering. Kellet married in 1944, but did not live to see his first wedding anniversary, as he was killed in action, the project showed.
“I think something that I gained from this project was the ability to reach out to people and use them as resources,” Braunreuther said. “We have a lot of resources on or around campus … it’s important that we take advantage of all of the knowledge we have at our fingertips because who knows where we’ll be and what we’ll have at our disposal after graduation?”
Roberts said she will definitely do the project again and would like to expand it nationally by publishing it in the newsletter produced by the American Historical Association.