Shall Our Gratitude Sleep?

RobertSAustin[Editor’s note: Genealogy expert Thomas MacEntee discusses how you can memorialize the people who died while serving the country’s armed forces.]

“When our perils are past, shall our gratitude sleep?” (—George Canning) represents the sentiments of many when it comes to honoring those who gave their lives in military service. We often feel a duty not just to remember our military ancestors, but also to make sure future generations never forget their sacrifices.

Most of us will mark Memorial Day on May 29th in different ways: attending a memorial service at a military cemetery, watching a parade or simply noting the day with our own thoughts and memories of family members who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

And some will take time to work on projects devoted to memorializing the military service and achievements of brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and generations on end.

Gathering Records, Photos and Mementos

Before you create any tribute, take time to gather as much information about the veteran as you can. Here are some obvious and not-so-obvious hiding places:

  • Photos: Family photo albums and scrapbooks; also ask relatives if they have any related photos. These should be scanned using your Flip-Pal mobile scanner and digitized so you always have a secure copy.
  • Medals and Patches: Medals awarded in combat during military service; patches worn on jackets and other items of clothing; dog tags and other ID items. These can be scanned as well and incorporated in digital or online tributes.
  • Letters and Diaries: Letters from the service person sent home and vice versa, from their loved ones if they were saved. If the people mentioned in the documents are still alive, make sure you get permission to use the items. And again, don’t forget to scan these letters and diaries!
  • Interviews: If there is a person who was close to the service person, take time to conduct an interview about them. The Veterans History Project at the Library of Congress has sample interview questions on their website: Record the audio using Flip-Pal’s  StoryScans talking images feature that merges the audio with the scan to create an image that speaks

Create a Lasting Tribute

There are various creative ways you can remember family members past and present who served in the military. Many of these projects involve photos—both printed and digital—as well as the use of medals, ribbons, patches and even written diaries and letters. Some inspiring ideas:

  • Create an Online Memorial Page: There are many sites such as Fold3 where you can create a multi-media online tribute to a veteran.
  • Give the Monument a Voice.  Create a personalized online digital memorial by uploading photos, video, documents, and text. Place a tag on the gravestone that can be scanned by your mobile device and directed to that personalized page. Visit
  • Build or Fill a Shadow Box: If you have several 3-dimensional items such as medals and patches or dog tags along with photos, you might choose to build a shadow box, which is basically a deep-framed box with a glass door. You can also choose to purchase a shadow box and then fill it with various items you’ve collected.
  • Publish a Memory Book: Once photos and documents are scanned, they can easily be uploaded to various publishing vendors to create a quick and easy photo book. Include quotes and scans of medals as well.
  • Create a Military Family Tree: Many families have generations of veterans who served in various wars and engagements. Consider creating a family tree chart listing names and dates of service along with photos.
  • Write A Story: Use letters, diaries and interviews, as well as other items gathered through research, to write the story. Make sure you include ways to share your written tribute including blog posts, a printed book or even an e-book.

Any tribute you create will help tell the story of that veteran and their service and allow you to pass the story down to future generations.

Image: Robert S. Austin, abt. 1918. Photo in possession of Thomas MacEntee. Used by permission.

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3 Responses to Shall Our Gratitude Sleep?

  1. Shirley Crampton May 18, 2019 at 10:40 am #

    I posted a memorial yesterday on the anniversary of the death of my mother’s cousin in WWII. I posted this on a local Facebook group. Within a few hours someone from the County Archives posted it on their website. Many people who never knew him liked my post or made comments. In the post I included the background info that I knew, details (unclassified) about his last mission and details about the memorial wall in England, plus photos. He was a Canadian flying with a British squadron.
    I have also included this information in the family history that I am writing.

  2. Mike O'Shea May 26, 2017 at 9:50 pm #

    A couple of years ago I began collecting military memories of my ancestors and other family members who served in the military during various wars. What has emerged are three large volumes of collected papers, photographs, stories, and other materials which cover my family members from the French and Indian Wars to the present day. Pension files from the American Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil War are among the most prized and are full of family history information I have acquired. It has gone well beyond my family to encompass my wifes family and other extended relatives on both sides of our families. Everyone who takes the time to look at them marvel at all the documentation I have gathered on these patriots.

  3. Sandi May 26, 2017 at 5:27 pm #

    One can also set up a memorial page on National World War II Memorial online

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