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ILLINOIS - According to author Anne Montgomery, her new book “Your Forgotten Sons” is “necessarily gruesome.”

“Your Forgotten Sons” tells the true story of Bud Richardville, a man who served in the Graves Registration Service during World War II. These often-overlooked soldiers identified and buried the dead. Montgomery’s book also covers Richardville’s affair with a woman while he was in Europe, and it reveals the gory history of the Graves Registration Service.

“When we talk about war, we see planes fall from the sky, we see guys shoot each other, and then the camera moves on and the carnage remains. So we never see that part,” Montgomery said. “But along with the horrors of war, there’s a love story in there.”

Montgomery’s path to Richardville is its own journey. A few years ago, she was called to the bedside of a friend who was having surgery to remove a tumor from her spinal cord. The night before the surgery, Montgomery’s friend handed her a stack of letters written by her uncle — Richardville — and made her promise to tell his story. Montgomery’s friend walked out of the hospital a few days later, but Montgomery had made a promise.

She quickly found that it wouldn’t be easy to write Richardville’s history. His military records had been destroyed in a fire, and all Montgomery had were the letters and a few stories that had been passed down through her friend’s family. She set to work learning about the Graves Registration Service and the life of Bud Richardville, a 29-year-old soldier who had been thrust into this position of finding and burying the dead bodies of D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and countless other fights.

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“The bodies are everywhere,” Montgomery explained. “They’ve got to be collected, they’ve got to be identified, they’ve got to do something with them. Not only because of the disease factor but because you’ve got more men coming through there, and it’s the morale factor.”

Richardville and the other men in the Graves Registration Service were tasked with retrieving the body parts and creating cemeteries throughout Europe. They also “cleaned up” the death camps, Montgomery said. Many of these soldiers felt shame about their job and chose to keep what they were doing from their loved ones.

It was horrifying work, and as Montgomery read Richardville’s letters, she watched as he “disintegrated.” Richardville was ultimately buried in France by the men he worked with.

The experience of writing the book is partly why Montgomery is so passionate now about military mental health. An average of 20 veterans die by suicide every day in the U.S. Many more struggle with mental health disorders and suicidal ideation.

“If you have issues, and there are a lot of them who do, they are afraid to mention it, that it will ruin their careers. And guess what? They’re right. It should not be like this now,” Montgomery said. “I watched Bud disintegrate through his letters. I watched it. How many men came home with deep invisible wounds that no one wanted to hear about?...We need to do better. The military needs to do better to figure out a way to help these people.”

Montgomery hopes her book will encourage conversations about military mental health and educate people about the history of the Graves Registration Service. “Your Forgotten Sons” will be available online on June 6, 2024, the 80th anniversary of D-Day. For more information about the book and to order your copy, visit AnneMontgomeryWriter.com.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org.

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