About American WWII Orphans Network

Ann Mix, Founder of American WWII Orphans Network

It is estimated that 183,000 American children were orphaned – lost at least one parent – when their father died or listing as missing in action during World War II. The American WWII Orphans Network (AWON) is a national organization dedicated to locating sons and daughters of Americans who died or are still missing from World War II, honoring their fathers’ service and sacrifice, and educating the public about the impact their fathers’ deaths had on the children they left behind.

AWON was founded in 1991 by Ann Bennett Mix of Bellingham, Washington. Ann’s father, Pvt. Sydney W. Bennett, was killed in action in 1945 in Italy while serving with the famous 10th Mountain Division. As a child, Ann “always waited for him to come home.” As an adult, Ann yearned to meet others like herself, who grew up in an era when households led by single mothers were not the norm, or in step-families that had their own family dynamic challenges and acceptances.

Growing up as an American WWII Orphan was largely “under the radar.” Some families continued to talk about and honor the deceased father openly, while others didn’t mention him at all. Communities, schools, churches – even extended family – sometimes pretended the father never even existed. Some orphans lost touch with their fathers’ family entirely, even though they may have lived in the same town. Schoolmates and neighborhood children often were told by adults not to ask, “Why doesn’t Johnny have a father?” It was a Wall of Silence.

In adulthood, American WWII Orphans faced new challenges. Many went to college on their fathers’ G.I. Bill benefits, but still felt stigmatized as “being different” than everyone else. Some carried into adulthood unresolved issues from the absence of their father, having a bad relationship with a step-father, or having no father figure at all, in their formative years. But like everyone else in the 1960s and 1970s, American WWII Orphans focused on starting careers and families of their own. And when the time was right in their later adult lives, American WWII Orphans revisited the thoughts, feelings and questions they had in childhood, just like Ann Bennett Mix.

Growing up as an American WWII Orphan was not a dreary upbringing – it was just different than everyone else growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s. Many Orphans had happy childhoods, were told from an early age about their fathers, and stayed in touch with their fathers’ families. But it is safe to say all World War II Orphans wished they could know more about their father, wished they had had their father in their lives, and would want to honor the sacrifice he made for freedom.

AWON is here to help, by educating the public about these fathers and their Orphan children. If you are an American WWII Orphan or know someone who is, please consider joining AWON.

Our Mission

AWON (American WWII Orphans Network) is dedicated to our Fathers and to the service of their families.

More than a million fathers served in World War II. Leaving their wives and children, they traveled overseas, where many paid the highest price in service to their country. Some are still there, buried in foreign cemeteries. Others are still missing or were never recovered, and some of those were lost or buried at sea. Many are memorialized on the Walls of the Missing, examples of which may be found at a number of overseas cemeteries and in home town cemeteries across America.

The deaths of more than 406,000 men left an estimated 183,000 American children fatherless, and totally unaware that so many others share the same condition. Some of these children (and grandchildren) have already found the American WWII Orphans Network, but most don’t know where to look. It is this latter group we seek – so if your Father or Grandfather died in WWII, or as a result of WWII, you’ve found us!

Most of these fatherless children are now in their fifties and sixties – and whether they found us or whether we found them, they are finally being brought together for the first time by the American WWII Orphans Network.

Here are the things that AWON does:

  • Locate American WWII Orphans wherever we can find them
  • Show Orphans they aren’t alone, and help them understand some of the commonalities most of us share
  • Help connect Orphans to sources of information about their fathers from military and government records
  • Help Orphans honor – in every way possible – their father’s service and sacrifice
  • Hold local, regional and national gatherings and conferences
  • Publish The Star — a quarterly newsletter of research information, resources, hints, tips, and success stories
  • Provide and maintain this website, a Guest Book, a Press Page, and a highly active email community connected through a private, university-based mail server
  • Maintain the only database known to exist dedicated Orphans of those lost in WWII
  • Help people who have information and resources locate the families of men who died as a result of WWII
  • Honor our Fathers with Memorial Day wreath layings at Arlington and American Cemeteries around the world
  • Welcome Orphan Memberships as the basis of our existence. We also offer Family and Associate Memberships from those other than sons and daughters, from sponsoring individuals and organizations, from veterans groups, members of the media, and other interested parties.

Testimonials

My father was just a name among a row of crosses on the edge of the town cemetery. I can’t recall anyone speaking of the men those crosses represented as individuals. They were always addressed collectively. The ‘Great Silence’ was not just a thing my mother subscribed to; the whole war-weary town developed the same habit.

Now that the ‘wall of silence’ has been broken, I can deal with my grief openly and help others face their hidden hurt and abandonment. Ann, thank you for your dedication, genuine caring and love in helping us all toward completion and appreciation of our precious gift of life defended so dearly by our fathers.

Brenda K.

Since our most wonderful time in Seattle at the Commemoration, I’ve been searching my mind for the words to express how very meaningful this was. Being with different ones at various times and hearing from their hearts their feelings and sometimes frustrations brought closeness and new friendships. It’s amazing how many offers of help were given — a genuine sign of kinship.

Val

My father’s death three weeks after my birth in 1945 altered my life forever and contributed to an innate and sometimes confusing state of sadness and loss. I have examined this throughout my life and have realized the source of those feelings was that early loss. Considering the casualty count in WWII and subsequent wars, there must be many of us who understand that myriad of feelings.

Sharon T.

It has been almost one year since our first correspondence. Since that time I have received, through your help… information about my father’s death. I received more than 50 pages of information from one particular source.

David K.

I got your return message with my Dad’s service number, etc. and I can’t tell you what this means to me. I have had so little from him and about him all my life. He was a Yale graduate, and a good man. But I think my family thought that since I was so young when he was killed (4 months old) that they’d leave well enough alone, and not fill my life with memories of him that would just make his loss that much harder for me to understand.

Rik P.

I have reflected that when I was born in July of 1943, my father was already stationed overseas. We never lived on the same continent. Our lives overlapped one another’s for only fourteen months; the first fourteen months of my life and the last fourteen months of his. While flying on a mission, he was killed in France on September 11, 1944. There are no memories of him for me to cherish, no hopes of ever seeing him in this life, but he remains a beloved part of my life which though gone is always held dear. How good it is to know that he and the other fathers will be remembered as we, the children come forward and join together.

Anne O.