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Everyday Hero: Utah man wants to tell the story of every American who died in WWII

Don Milne has been a World War II enthusiast his whole life. Milne, of Bountiful, is fascinated by the fact that hundreds of thousands of young men gave up promising futures to fight in what was arguably the most consequential war in modern history.

During a December 2016 commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it dawned on Milne that there remain unsung heroes from the war: those who never made it back.

“As a history buff, I recognize … that it’s our fallen that never came home (who) are the true heroes,” Milne said in an interview Friday. “Because they paid the price for the freedoms we have.”

Milne is the founder and director of “Stories Behind the Stars,” a national nonprofit initiative started this year “with the goal of telling the stories of all 400,000-plus Americans who died during World War II.”

“It always kind of bothered me that, on Memorial Day, we pay homage to our fallen heroes, but if you were to ask the average person, ‘Can you name anybody that died in World War II that was a hero, or any (soldiers) of the other wars?’” the Utah resident said. “Unless it’s a close family member, they probably don’t know.”

He added, “Yet everybody knows, if they watched ‘Endgame,’ that it was Black Widow and Gamora that were the two Avenger heroes that died. So we know more about our pretend heroes than our real heroes.”

Aided by census data, military records and other public information, Milne has written narrative accounts of the lives of more than 1,200 American soldiers who died during World War II — including those who lived in Utah County.

One of those fallen fighters is Loren Healy, a sailor from Orem who “was lost at sea on December 18, 1944 when his destroyer, USS Spence was sunk in a typhoon,” according to a blog post written by Milne.

Milne has also written about Vern Barnett, a Utah native who became a second lieutenant in the Air Force’s 366th Bombardment Squadron that arrived in England in November 1942. Lt. Barnett and two others were killed when their plane was hit by flak, according to Milne’s research, which also found that “seven airmen survived and became prisoners of war.”

Barnett’s grave can be viewed today at the Payson City Cemetery.

Milne’s blog posts are hosted on Fold3, a military records site maintained by Lehi-based Ancestry, a sponsor of the “Stories Behind the Stars” project.

Milne knows it is unrealistic, if not outright impossible, for him to tell the stories of every American that died in World War II. So, he started asking people from around the country to get involved with the project and research fallen soldiers on a volunteer basis.

“The information’s out there,” he said. “I just have to find people that want to take the time to volunteer and research those stories.”

As of Friday, Milne said volunteers for 30 states and two countries other than the United States have contributed to the growing collection of stories. Milne runs a YouTube page featuring tutorial videos that train volunteers how to find information.

One retired woman from Minnesota, who told Milne she had a great-uncle who died in the war, has written over 150 stories about soldiers from her home state.

A next step in the project, said Milne, is to develop a mobile app that uses GPS and word-recognition technology “so that any time anyone visits a war memorial or cemetery, scans a picture of their name, they’ll get a link to read the story.”

Milne said such an app will help younger generations connect with the past.

“They can’t have a connection just by looking at a name on a gravestone,” said Milne. “But if all of a sudden they’ve got this cool app and (for) every name they scan they get a short 200 or 400-word article about someone who … was a real person. He had a real future, and yet he chose to put himself in harm’s way. And because of 400,000 people that did this, we have a lot of freedoms that maybe wouldn’t have happened if America would have taken a different course.”

To volunteer or learn more about the initiative to tell the stories of fallen World War II soldiers, visit http://storiesbehindthestars.org.


Local
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Pro-bono therapy clinics aiding low-income patients via telehealth during pandemic

Imagine working for a pro-bono physical therapy or communication disorder clinic when the COVID-19 pandemic hit this spring.

Not only did you face the prospect of increased demand as the economy suffered but the pandemic restrictions also meant you couldn’t meet with patients in person.

Those were significant challenges the Community Rehabilitation Clinic (CRC) and Center for Communication Disorders (CCD) — non-profit 501©(3) charitable organizations in Provo run by the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions Foundation — faced this year.

“When COVID-19 started becoming a big issue in the US, I started hearing rumors that the universities were shutting down,” CRC director Coleby Clawson said in a teleconference last week. “I started to worry not only about our patients but because we fill such a huge need for the community here. A lot of the providers who see these patients send a lot of referrals to us, so it dropped away suddenly it would be a huge loss. I also worried about our employees and volunteers.”

He said he was thinking about what he would have to do if he had to shut the clinic down.

“That week I had two neighbors come to me and three family members call me with issues,” Clawson said. “I talked them through some things on the phone and some of the things I gave them work. I thought that while it’s not as good as getting your hands on patients, I think that a telehealth program could work. We can’t do everything but we have found ways to be creative and help patients through issues where they wouldn’t have had any help. I think overall it’s been a big success.”

Laura Harrison has faced back and feet issues, and has been working with the clinic for a few years but no one knew what was going to happen when the virus hit and everything shut down.

“I was concerned,” Harrison said. “They put me on a home program but I thought I would lose communication with the clinic and not be able to keep in touch.”

Miskin said Harrison has a chronic condition, so it is something that takes time and diligence to mend. That’s why it was important to stay on top of things with the physical therapy.

“Telehealth was very helpful during the COVID-19 situation,” Harrison said. “It was nice to be able to use video and audio to discuss with the therapist what I was going through. They were able to update my treatment plan. That was really helpful. There were limitations, such as the fact that my camera is attached to my laptop so it wasn’t easy for them to examine my feet. But we were able to work through the treatment.”

Miskin had only joined the clinic in March, just in time for things to go in an unexpected direction but she said her rodeo background prepared her for such challenging times.

“It was quite the ride,” Miskin said. “That first week we started using Google Meet, which the patient could download on their phone or use on their computer. That seems simple but the challenge became trying to make sure the patient was ready for their appointment. We had cameras pointing at the ceiling, at the floor, at the dog, you’d just never know. It required patience and creativity as we worked with the patients.”

Miskin had an advantage, she said, because during her fellowship she had a time period where she wasn’t allowed to touch patients.

“They said, ‘you are only going to look with your eyes and your’s going to see the movement dysfunction so you can start to hypothesize what is going wrong with their movement breakdown,’” Miskin said. “We had the opportunity to start doing telehealth when I was at Kaiser Permanente. We saw most of our patients in person but I had that experience with telehealth.”

She said that background made the challenges of the COVID-19 shutdown something she felt prepared to face.

“It’s really fun,” Miskin said. “I didn’t realize that my training was going to come in handy just six months later.”

She explained that some of the toughest things for a physical therapist to understand why a patient is having an issue and also getting a patient to comply with their therapy plans.

“Because we are in their home space (via telehealth), they have been a thousand times more compliant,” Miskin said. “It solved a lot of different problems. Some of our best experiences have been having people show us exactly what they are doing so we can see where the problems are coming from.”

CCD assistant clinical professor and speech language pathologist Kristen Ipson said that her staff saw some similar telehealth benefits in working with communication disorders.

“I had a school-age client and I asked her mom for some feedback,” Ipson said. “One of the things she mentioned was that she feels like her daughter was able to open up a little bit because she was in her own environment. She got to share her life with the clinician. Our student clinicians don’t normally get to see their bedrooms or get a feel for what their family lives are like. They got to peek into the home and this mom in particular felt like it helped her daughter because it was her space instead of our space. She was able to focus better in the days after our sessions as well.”

It wasn’t an easy process for any of the clinicians or the patients as they had to adapt quickly to the new way of doing things.

“There was definitely a learning curve for us as faculty members and for students because students are learning a lot of these skills for the first time,” Ipson said. “Teaching them to take the skills they have and learn new skills in a virtual setting was definitely a challenge.”

She said one of the positives was seeing students rise to the new challenges and get more creative.

“If they would use an active game that would get a child moving and running around the clinic, they had to figure out how to use the parents to maintain the child’s attention while still getting that active movement,” Ipson said. “There was a lot of creativity that had to happen. We had some hiccups for sure but it was really nice that while everything in the world was changing we could provide something to our clients that was at least something familiar to them.”

One of the most important messages that Ipson, Clawson and Miskin want people to know is that there are resources available, even during tough times.

“One of the biggest barriers in our field is that idea that asking for help means you aren’t doing something right as a parent or as an adult,” Ipson said. “Seeking extra support or resources is about helping clients function and participate in life in the way they want to. It should be seen as a partnership. It’s not about us as the experts knowing everything to do. It’s about working with clients to improve their quality of life. For us that’s helping them communicate with the people who are important in their lives.”

Clawson said there are still many who don’t know clinics like the CRC or the CCD exist.

“We would tell people to not wait, to not go without therapy if they need therapy because you can’t afford it,” Clawson said. “We want people to know we are here to help.”

Harrison urged those who need help to seek it out because it makes a difference.

“I would say to use the clinic and to be open with exactly what is going on with your problems,” Harrison said. “I would also tell them to stay on schedule with their exercises. I would also tell people to not be scared of telehealth, since they can use it to keep in touch with the CRC.”


State-and-regional
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The Reopening: As July Fourth holiday approaches, recreational activities open in most all states across the nation, offering countless outdoor options

With the Fourth of July less than a week away, there is an extra emphasis on outdoor activities in the age of COVID-19 due to the open air as well as the ability to easily social distance. As such, a number of state parks have already opened while others plan to do so later this week, just in time for the holiday.

Jeffrey Lusk, executive director of the Hatfield-McCoy Regional Recreation Authority in West Virginia, said of the Hatfield-McCoy Trails last week that he understands the appeal when it comes to why families may seek out recreational getaways over the next couple months.

“This is a very good social-distancing type of vacation,” Lusk said. “It’s just you and your family on your ATV or UTV out there in the woods.”

UTAH

In Provo, Utah, use of the Provo River Parkway, a trail that cuts through the center of the city, was up almost 133 percent this April when compared with April 2019.

Doug Robins, assistant director of parks and recreation, said “thank goodness” Provo has resources like the Provo River Parkway and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail. Robins said recreational activities like hiking, biking and walking have become “one of the very few things that people can do to get out of their self-isolation.”

Provo is surrounded by mountains on the east and Utah Lake on the west, natural confines for the city that have caused an increase in population density. The city really has no place to grow except for up, Robins said, and as the population density continues to increase, recreational activities and trails will become even more important.

“To be able to get out of the house and go experience nature and get outside, I think that’s a huge pressure relief for a lot of folks,” Robins said. “It really is an essential component of public health and safety.”

PENNSYLVANIA

In Williamsport, Pennsylvania, residents have been getting out for a summer lunch program for the community’s children.

Kayla Drummond, recreation coordinator for Williamsport, said that because of social distancing guidelines and other restrictions, they weren’t able to open the typical summer day camps this year or the pool. Even so, the lunch program serves as a means to ensure children are offered a mid-day meal and they are able to get outside for a few hours each day.

“For them, a couple hours can make a big difference,” Drummond said. “Now we even have grandparents out here with the kids and moms and dads too.”

The skate park, playgrounds and pavilions are open to the public, she said, and people have been using the parks to get exercise. She said about 80 percent of people in the parks are not wearing masks.

“The parks are being used regularly and people seem very comfortable using them,” she said.

VIRGINIA

In Strasburg, Virginia, a walking path along the Shenandoah River has seen a lot of traffic, according to Michelle Bixler, director of community development.

“People tell us they love the tranquility and connection to nature they get when they visit that area,” Bixler said in an email.

The boat ramp at the east end of that walk is also seeing some traffic from residents looking to enjoy fishing, kayaking and tubing on the water, Bixler said.

On July 1, the town pool will open, she said, as they’ve had many phone calls from residents who are interested in swimming. The playgrounds and pavilions are also open for the public, Bixler said, but people appear to be more interested in activities that don’t involve frequently touched surfaces.

“Our experience has been that some people feel safe using pavilions and the playground, and some people do not,” Bixler said in an email.

IOWA

In Fort Dodge, Iowa, COVID-19 prompted the city to create an “in-motion marathon” to get people moving, and it’s something the city now plans to reinstate every year.

Erin Habben, recreation technician for Fort Dodge, said participants had to complete 26.2 miles of movement in one month in order to receive a t-shirt and be entered into a giveaway for some prizes. Eighty-nine people participated, Habben said, including a child as young as 2 years old.

Habben also discussed summer youth softball and baseball leagues, and said that while they typically start in mid-May, opening days were pushed back due to COVID-19.

Habben said they are about 50 percent down in participation this summer, so they have changed the league format to accommodate the decrease. Kids now arrive and are separated into groups for 30 minutes of skills practice, and then the second 30 minutes are devoted to a pickup game.

NEW YORK

Business has been steady but different for Infinity Charters owner Frank Schoenacker. In prior years, he’s run fishing charters for visitors to Chautauqua County from California, Colorado, Indiana and Arizona.

“I’m not getting any of that. It’s all either Pennsylvania, Ohio or New York,” said Schoenacker, who operates two boats — one on Lake Erie and one on Chautauqua Lake.

People aren’t booking as far in advance either, but there is plenty of activity on the lakes, he said.

“People using their boats, it’s something they can do,” Schoenacker said.

With five lakes and trail networks for hiking, biking and horseback riding, the area has long been an outdoor recreation destination, said Megan Arnone, marketing and communications coordinator for the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau. That could be even more appealing as folks look for vacation activities that don’t involve air travel or gathering in large numbers indoors.

“In a way, we’re in a good position to welcome people who decide to travel this summer,” Arnone said.

Schoenacker said the first half of the year has been a roller coaster but once fishing and boating activities were able to resume in mid-May, things settled down.

“This by no means will be a record year, but it’ll be OK,” he said. “And I can deal with that.”

Peek ‘n Peak Resort in Clymer reopened about three weeks ago. Employees are meeting and exceeding requirements to keep things sanitized as visitors return to golf, zipline, swim and more, said Nick Scott Sr., president of Scott Enterprises, which owns the resort. Staff members are wearing masks and have removed tables to allow for proper social distancing in dining areas, among a host of other steps, he said.

The resort is offering deep discounts, Scott said, including a package deal with the company’s Splash Lagoon indoor water park resort. About half an hour away in Erie County, Pennsylvania, it opened on Friday for the first time in more than three months.

“We’re trying to entice people to come back out,” Scott said. “We’re just kind of climbing out of that hole.”

Although they had to lay off employees while closed, the company used the down time to make improvements, he said.

“I think the guests are going to … be pleasantly surprised at the condition of everything and some of the new attractions that we have,” Scott said.

MINNESOTA

“Our parks are being utilized extensively,” said Fairmont City Clerk Patty Monsen.

She noted there are five lakes in the Fairmont area, and Cedar Creek Park has been bustling with activity. The park has three 18-hole disc golf courses on it, and she has noticed more use this year than in prior years, which she attributes to COVID-19. She said more people are engaging in outdoor recreation because it’s in the open, and they have been cooped up at home for so long during the pandemic.

“It’s got nature trails, bike paths — it’s a really nice park,” she said of Cedar Creek Park. “It’s used a lot, but I feel like there’s a lot more people out utilizing the trails. I think that people are just getting out and doing more like that because of COVID.”

The city also owns Fairmont Aquatic Park, which is set to open on July 1. It has been closed because of COVID-19, Monsen added.

NORTH DAKOTA

In North Dakota, state parks are open, including camping and restrooms, but most visitor centers are closed to the public. The Theodore Roosevelt National Park is open while its visitor center and campgrounds are closed.

While numerous events are canceled or postponed, recreation areas in state parks remain open, as do trails and boat ramps.

“The department has been working with our local and state partners to continue to open services system-wide based on the ND Smart Restart guidelines,” Andrea Travnicek, director of North Dakota parks & recreation department, said in a statement. “We are excited to be able to continue to offer opportunities for the public to enjoy the parks throughout the state as we work with park managers and health officials to evaluate best practices as conditions change.”

Group camping sites reopened June 23 and wildlife management areas remain open, along with boat ramps on the Missouri River.

Any non-essential travel to Canada, however, has been restricted.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

For those planning to visit New Hampshire overnight, people are required to provide signed documentation stating you remained at home for at least a 14 day quarantine period before arriving in the state. This is required if an out-of-state person is staying in a lodging property like hotels, bed and breakfasts, cabins, and short-term rentals.

Outdoor activities such as biking, mini-golf, boat rentals, walking trails, gardens tours and petting zoos are limited to groups of 10 people or less. Everyone should be asked to wear a facemask when inside a facility or public space when social distancing is not possible.

Campgrounds, public and private, are open in the state to state residents and out-of-state visitors who have met the quarantine requirement.

Many New Hampshire State Parks are open, with some guidelines or restrictions to prevent overcrowding. Day-use parks require reservations and campgrounds also require reservations.

Pools in the state are also open to the public, but people must maintain social distancing of 6 feet at all times, even in the pool.

For those who aren’t ready to leave home, New Hampshire is offering virtual experiences in arts and theatre, museums, outdoor tours and kids learning resources.


Lehi
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Officials: Fireworks spark Utah wildfire, evacuations

LEHI, Utah — Fireworks caused a wildfire in Utah that forced out residents of several houses and from an apartment building early Sunday as flames threatened the homes, officials said.

A suspect was cooperating with law enforcement, Utah Fire Info said in a tweet. Strong wind gusts had been reported in the Lehi area as the Traverse Fire grew to about 200 acres, news outlets reported.

Photos showed the fire erupting in the background of a residential area and behind a large church. No structural damage had been reported.

Evacuations were ordered in Lehi and Draper. A high school gym in Lehi and a middle school in Draper were offered as shelters, according to tweets from the cities.

Rocky Mountain Power tweeted that about 7,500 customers lost power. Draper said around 6,000 of its households were in the dark.

No injuries were immediately reported.