Iowa State staff search decades-old paper records to identify Gold Star honorees

AMES, Iowa -- The walls of the Gold Star Hall - the "memorial" in Memorial Union - are engraved with the names of former students who died while on active duty in the U.S. Armed Services. This year, seven new names have been engraved. These fallen soldiers, whose combat deaths span 25 years (from 1944 to 1969), will be honored in Iowa State's Gold Star Hall ceremony on Veterans Day. Five are from the Korean War and one each from World War II and Vietnam.

Of the hundreds of names on the walls of Gold Star Hall, most are alumni. After cross- referencing casualty lists with Iowa State alumni rosters, all known names from a war or conflict were added at the same time-in 1984 (Vietnam and Korea), 1969 (WW II) and 1928 (WW I). Names from current conflicts have been temporarily placed on a wooden plaque until the time is right to engrave them in stone.

The seven names added this year are former students who attended Iowa State, but did not graduate, so their names did not appear on alumni rosters. This is the fourth consecutive year that such names have been identified and added to the hall, and ceremonies observed in their honor.

It takes dedicated Iowa State staff to search through decades-old, hard copy records to uncover the non-graduating students who should be honored in the Gold Star Hall. Once the names are identified, obituaries are located, relatives are contacted, photos are found and life stories reconstructed. The stories are shared during the ceremony, bringing to life the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.

Lists with headings like "Iowans who died in hostile action" or "All POW/MIA Korean casualties from Iowa" are forwarded periodically to Judy Minnick, assistant registrar. Minnick and transcript supervisor Jackie Askland have the arduous task of crosschecking the names with Iowa State records.

"These lists provide the person's name and hometown," Minnick said. "That's not a lot to go by."

There might be several students who attended Iowa State during those years who have the exact same name.

"All of these names pre-date our computerized records, "Minnick said. "We start with the microfilm, which indexes each student's record and tells us where we can find the hard copy record."

For the years between 1926 and 1976 -- when these students would have attended Iowa State -- Minnick's office has more than 400,000 hard copy records on file.

"After we check the microfilm, we pull the paper files of all the students with that name. If the hometown matches and the time of attendance is appropriate, we send the information back to the MU staff, and add the student's date of birth and parents' names and addresses," Minnick said.

"Out of a batch of 180 to 190 names, there may be 20 students who are 'maybes.' Of those, probably only four will match the correct persons," she said.

Last year, Minnick and co-workers spent about 15 hours searching through 462 names.

Kathy Svec, Memorial Union marketing director, researches each person through local newspapers, genealogical and historical societies, yearbooks and phone directories to track down family members and piece together the soldier's life story.

As Svec puts finishing touches on this year's Gold Star Hall event, Minnick is working on a "big list" of names for next year.