The Épinal Project - by students of History 357: The Second World War


Our Wisconsin Boys in Épinal Military Cemetery, France

EventThis project began with an email from Monsieur Joel Houot, a French citizen from the village of Val d’Ajol to Mary Louise Roberts, professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Mr. Houot wrote to Professor Roberts, an historian of the American G.I.s in Normandy, to request information about Robert Kellett, an American G.I. buried in Épinal military cemetary, located near his home.

Professor Roberts decided the research requested by Mr. Houot might make a good extra credit project for one of the students in her lecture class History 357, The Second World War. She presented Mr. Houot’s appeal to the class, showing them Val d’Ajol on Google maps, and reading aloud an English translation of his email. The students were touched by the request. When it came time to volunteer, every hand in the room went up. So Professor Roberts wrote back to Mr. Houot requesting more names of soldiers resting in the U.S. military cemetary in Épinal. Two weeks later, an email arrived from Jocelyne Papelard-Brescia, the director of the ‘parrainage’ or gravesite adoption program at Épinal. A retired elementary school principal, Madame Papelard-Brescia started the adoption program in 2012. She sent Professor Roberts the names of several soldiers, describing them as “boys buried in Épinal World War Two U.S. cemetary.” Most exciting to the students was the fact that all the soldiers were from their home state of Wisconsin.

EventIn this way, the Épinal project was born. Over the course of the semester, 43 students worked on “their” boys from Wisconsin. We were lucky enough to have a first-rate genealogist, Joyce Nigbor, auditing the class. Joyce’s research knowledge proved invaluable. The teaching assistant for the course, Jennifer Gramer, gave generously of her time at every stage of the project. Finally, the United States Army could not have been more helpful. Erica Elaine Wilson, Corinne E. Hagan, and Susan M. Kilianski worked hard to cut through red tape and make the IDTP file (Individual Deceased Personnel File) for each soldier available in record time. We are so grateful to these three amazing women and to the entire staff at the Freedom of Information Act\Privacy Act Office Human Resources Command for their help with this project!