Marion City Library’s microfilm viewer is 18 years old, no longer prints images, is out of focus, has sticking buttons, and is Melissa Methvin’s best source for soldier obituaries not available anywhere else.
Methvin is a volunteer for Story Behind the Stars, a project in which volunteers write life sketches of World War II soldiers. It is associated with Fold3, a military records website that works in tandem with Ancestry.com.
She was inspired after the project’s creator wrote an article asking for volunteers in a magazine published by Brigham Young University, of which she is an alumna.
“I thought it would be nice to do it for my county,” she said. “I want to make sure the small town person isn’t forgotten.”
Unsurprisingly with its connection to online services, Story Behind the Stars recommends that volunteers look online for soldier accounts — but Methvin had little luck online. Marion resident soldiers often would be placed in the wrong county because of where a parent or spouse lived.
Inspired by her mother’s own genealogy research, Methvin turned to the library and its preserved copies of the Marion County Record.
She has pieced together dozens of stories of Marion County soldiers using articles not available anywhere else.
She found men like Niles Siebert, whose parents donated large amounts of books to the library, and Lieutenant Frank Gonzales, who died crawling between tanks in the midst of battle.
“When I told my husband about that, he’d said that would be ‘Band of Brothers’-worthy,” Methvin said.
She also found veterans who hadn’t realized a close friend had fallen until strolling past graveyards in foreign lands, as well as Marion neighbors who died within hours of each other.
Many soldiers had fathers who served in World War I. In some families, every young man volunteered, whether there were six sons or only one. They married, left to serve overseas in the war, and died at 19 or younger.
“As a parent, it scares me,” she said. “What would it have been like to not hear from your kid for months, and then hear that they’re dead?”
Lucy Burkholder, a previous librarian, faithfully recounted soldiers’ obituaries during the war. She shows up frequently as author of the articles Methvin is looking for, as well as on a donated bench just outside the library.
“They may not be our own, but we want them counted,” Methvin recalled her saying.
Methvin has done her work in three waves, working with a list of soldiers she managed to find online and discovering others as she goes. She returns to the library frequently because a printer attached to the microfilm viewer no longer works. She instead photographs the articles on her phone and prints them. Often, she will forget to catch sections split between pages, and it is nearly impossible to read the bottom of the microfilm.
“That’s sad because that’s where they put the picture of the soldier,” she said.
She needs to edit the photos as best as she can to post them on Fold3.
A new microfilm viewer for the library would cost $6,500, not counting the computer required to be connected to it.
“I don’t want this history to be lost,” Methvin said. “I don’t want a repeat of World War II.”
The library is seeking donations to purchase a new viewer. The Marion County Record has pledged to match any donations for the project.