Family is an important part of history; the stories that get passed down through generations often mirror the stories of the generations themselves.
It’s thus fitting that a father and son from central Indiana have taken on a project near to their hearts: bringing orphaned war memorabilia back to their servicemembers’ descendants – or even the servicemembers themselves. And now they want to take it to television.
Indianapolis-area Marine Corps veteran and Legionnaire Matt Massie maintains a Web business called MyServicePride.com, for which his father, Bob, occasionally writes blog posts for the 60,000-subscriber newsletter. While attending an auction a little more than a year ago, Bob came across – and bid on – a lot consisting of World War II memorabilia that had become separated from its servicemember.
“I thought, ‘This is not right,’” Bob says. He and Matt began to buy other such sets of materials, and to feature text and pictures on the blog. Their goal at first was to just get the stories out there; they assumed any family had dispersed. “Their voices were different,” Matt says, “but they essentially said the same thing as guys in Vietnam. So it was just sort of a nostalgia.”
They had identified the first box to Bill Geshweiler of Beech Grove, Ind., using censored letters written to his family to help track his unit’s movements through Belgium. Last month, they were unexpectedly contacted by Geshweiler’s niece, who had done a Web search for her uncle’s name and come across the blog. In mid-January, her father got his brother’s materials back.
Meanwhile, they had identified another early box to John Richeson, who served throughout the Pacific theater. Bob set up a post for him on Ancestry.com, and got a hint that that name was connected to another family there, possibly set up by Richeson’s daughter. He contacted her, and another connection was made. But this accidental one changed the focus of the Massies’ project.
In the summer of 2015, Bob was working with the materials of Joe Baris, who served in the European theater. There was an exceptional number of photographs, Vienna opera tickets and more, and Bob decided to take the opportunity to go beyond hints and do some active searching. He found obituaries for some of Baris’ family members, but none for him. A mentioned church in Utica, N.Y., informed them that Baris was still alive. So Bob, Matt and the box went to Utica, and Baris – now 90 – got his memorabilia back. Matt believes that most boxes get lost when those the boxes are left to for storage themselves die; they often end up in estate sales.
These encounters have inspired the Massies to try to develop a television series. “It has all the fun of a mystery … but all the beauty of family – family stories, military history that oftentimes people didn’t know,” Bob comments. They have chosen 10 boxes of the 75 they have possession of, and would devote an episode to each box’s story and reunion – when possible, at a Legion post. A crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo launched Jan. 15 and ends March 1; donors can receive perks ranging from a picture of themselves on the set’s permanent bulletin board to possession of a “foster box” for which no family has been found. Another possible perk is a "Letters Home" olive/black military-style patch.
But it’s not just financial help they’re looking for, but word of mouth and interest. During the campaign, some newer material will be featured; “We never know when someone is going to see something,” Matt says. The project’s website, LettersHome.com, has opportunities to receive more information and get the latest news, as well as social media links. The more followers they amass, the more receptive a network may be.
“This is an attempt to keep things that are important to us relevant,” Matt says. “This is a story the Legion is almost certainly entwined with.”