‘Stories Behind the Stars’ seeks veterans’ talesJan 13, 2022 12:15PM ● By Tom Haraldsen
Jensen was on the USS Oklahoma that sank at Pearl, and was among the 2,335 military personnel killed that day. Courtesy photo
Theodore Que Jensen was born in 1919 in Mt. Pleasant. The fifth of seven children, he was just six years old when his mother died, leaving his father Charley to raise the kids even while he worked as a farmer. Theo graduated from Delta High School, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1940 and, following boot camp, he was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Six months after reaching Pearl, he was among those killed on Dec. 7, 1941, in the Japanese attack on the base.
His story is one of thousands that have been compiled as part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (www.storiesbehindthestars.org). This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 400,000+ of the US WWII fallen.
Bountiful resident Steve Booth is part of that effort. He said the 80th anniversary of the attack which just passed has invigorated the project’s efforts to put the finishing touches on the gathering of stories.
“Our goal is to research, write and publish the stories of the 2,335 military personnel who lost their lives at Pearl that day,” he said. “We have about 50 stories to go, so we’re working on it.”
Booth said he started by following the story of Jasper Leonard, a soldier from Delta.
“I found someone from Leonard’s hometown who was looking for information on a fallen soldier,” he recalled. “The family would go to plant flags on fallen soldiers’ graves, and they wanted some information on Jasper. I contacted his family through a site called Find a Grave, which has millions of cemetery records. I told the family I was researching a story on Leonard, and they gave me information I couldn’t find online. Those stories are out there, waiting to be discovered and told.”
Jensen’s case was particularly interesting because he was killed when his ship, the USS Oklahoma, sank at Pearl Harbor. He was listed as Missing in Action and later Killed in Action, but his remains were not identified and the Navy buried a mixture of remains at the American Battle Monuments Commission location in Honolulu. Efforts continued for decades to further identify the fallen, and in December of 2020, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced Jensen’s remains had been identified. They were returned to Delta and he was buried last June 2 in the city cemetery.
The Stories Behind the Stars project was the brainchild of Don Milne, who lived in Utah for 35 years and is “a self-described World War II history buff,” Booth recalls. Milne says he has spent every day the last four years chronicling one story about a U.S. soldier who died in war. When his job at a local bank was cut, he decided to make the project his full-time hobby. Within 18 months, more than a million readers were following the project through the website. He’d planned to stop in September 2020.
“I had done about 1,200 profiles already, but when people found out I was going to stop, they said ‘Why?’ I said, ‘At one a day, I can never finish all these names in a lifetime.’”
So readers soon turned to volunteers, and with financial support from the Greatest Generation Foundation (which helps elderly veterans revisit the battlefields where they fought) and Ancestry.com, Milne said he has been able to provide the resources necessary for more than 400 volunteers across the country to collaborate on the project. Its goal is to complete all 400,000+ profiles by 2025, the 80th anniversary of the end of WWII.
“We still need volunteers who are willing to help,” Booth said. “They can reach out to me and we can get them started. It’s very fulfilling and leaves you with a great feeling when you know you’ve helped tell someone’s story.”
Contact Booth at [email protected]