Without Joe May, Blanche Whitesell would know very little about her father.
She would know that he was killed in World War II two days before she turned 1.
That was 11 days before her uncle, Sgt. Paul Orville Neff, was killed in the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
She would know that her father, PFC William L. Crider, was on 30-day leave before going overseas when he married her mother, Helen Neff, on Aug. 24.
“I was born nine months later … almost to the day,” Whitesell said.
But that’s where her knowledge of her father would end.
She never met him in person, just his gravesite and a name on a war memorial at the old Harrisonburg High School.
“As I was growing up, I never heard that much about [my father],” said Whitesell, of Harrisonburg. “I’m learning things through Joe’s research that I never knew before.”
Delegate Joe T. May, formerly of Broadway, has been researching the history of four area men who were among the 75 Rockingham County soldiers to lose their lives in the war.
Those four include Whitesell’s father and uncle, PFC Lawrence M. Holsinger and PFC William J. Sager.
So far, May has completed articles on three of the four men. He’s traveled around Europe for information and photographs, including a trip to Nettuno Cemetery in Italy where Crider was entombed for four years before being transferred to his final resting place at Staunton Military Cemetery.
He’s compiling the information for a digital library that will be stored at the Plains District Community Center museum in Timberville, where he’s also been presenting the articles. His most recent event occurred Oct. 28, when he presented everything he’s found out so far about Whitesell’s father.
After hearing some of the presentations, five other men have gotten involved in the effort.
‘These Are Real People’
May’s meeting with Whitesell is slightly more serendipitous.
After a concert in Harrisonburg with his family’s musical group, the May Family Singers, Whitesell was introduced to May.
“He must have said something to our family about doing this research,” Whitesell said, adding that she explained that her father died in World War II. “Things started escalating from there, and Joe started digging. Joe has dug and dug and dug.”
May explained it this way: “Blanche was estranged from her mother and her mother had discarded all memorabilia [about her father],” he said. “It was one of those sort of dead-ends, but we were gradually able to put it back together.”
What has resonated with Whitesell the most in the 28 pages worth of information May has collected about her father, is the manner in which Crider died.
“He was killed by friendly fire,” she said. “That’s what really sticks out in my mind. … I can’t put it into words what [the research] means to me.”
But the project has been possibly just as emotional for May.
“It’s one of those things that really gets to you after a while, because you realize … these are real people and these are real emotions,” he said.
Anyone with information about any of these veterans can contact May at email@example.com.
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or firstname.lastname@example.org