Hope you all don't mind, but I've taken the liberty of typing up a brief (well, maybe not so brief) FAQ for this group.It seems that those of us who contribute regularly here type the same responses over and over.Hopefully in the future we can reference this message (a bit more detailed than message #2112).
Please feel free to email me regarding any comments, additions or corrections.As I mention below, the FAQ is not meant to be all inclusive.I'd be happy to correct any errors, add any info people think is necessary, and repost the FAQ.
Military research for genealogical purposes can often be very frustrating and time consuming for the family researcher.This FAQ is designed to aide the beginning researcher in finding basic information, and is not meant to be all-inclusive.
MY FATHER/UNCLE/BROTHER SERVED IN WW2, AND I'D LIKE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HIS TIME IN THE WAR, WHERE DO I START?
The key to getting information from government sources on his service is his WWII Service Number.Used like the Social Security Number is now, it was used to identify individual servicemen and women.The number is used today to index many WWII military records.
See if you or a family member has his discharge papers, officially called form DD-214.It will list his name, rank, military unit, home address, service number, medals and decorations awarded, among other things.
If you don't have his DD-214, see if a family member has any letters he wrote home during the war.The return address on the envelope will have his service number and unit.
Check also with the town/county clerk in the town where he returned.Many vets filed copies of their discharge papers with town clerks.
You can also check with your local Veterans Association to see if he ever applied for VA benefits.If he did, the VA will have a file on him, which will have some information, including his WW2 service number. The phone number to direct you to your local office is:(800) 827-1000
Once you have his service number, you'll need to obtain copies of his records. WWII military service records are housed at the National Personnel Records Center in St Louis, Missouri.Full instructions on how to obtain these records are available at the NPRC website: http://www.archives.gov/facilities/mo/st_louis/military_personnel_records.htmlhttp://www.archives.gov/facilities/mo/st_louis/military_personnel_records.html
Expect about a 6-10 month wait.
MY DAD SERVED IN THE [DIVISION, COMPANY, REGIMENT, BATTALION] DURING THE WAR AND I'D LIKE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCES
Probably the best place to start is the Internet.Use your favorite search engine and type in the name of the unit. You can find a general history of where they were, where they fought, etc. Many units have reunion/veteran associations, which have websites. Obviously the association websites are only as good as their writers.Some sites may have unit rosters, detailed histories, etc., others may just have details regarding their upcoming reunions. Most, however, will have contact information for the association officers.Drop them a line asking about your relative.If they don't have specific information in their files about your relative they may forward your request on to other members of his unit, or publish your request in their next newsletter.
The information you find will depend on the type of unit he was with.There's a lot written about the front line combat troops, but very little about the service personnel who supported these troops.For every front-line soldier, sailor or marine there were 10 other servicemen in support positions: everything from truck drivers, mechanics, cooks, tailors, radio operators, military policemen, etc., etc.
Next stop is your local library.There are a number of good general histories of WWII, which will give you some background on a soldier's experiences during the war, and can briefly trace the history of a specific unit during the war.An important book to find is "Order Of Battle Of World War II" by Shelby Stanton.Unfortunately, it is now out of print, but it can give you a lot of information regarding individual units: how they were formed, when they went overseas, a brief combat history, lists of subordinate units, when they returned home, etc.
The Army "Green Book" series is a much more detailed history of WW2.Each book in the series covers a specific campaign. And contains numerous maps, photos, etc.A word of warning though: these books can be very technical, and are often difficult to follow for those who know little about military organization and structure. Published by the Center for Military History, it is called the "Green Book" series as it was originally published in a green hardcover.They are now available in large format paperback, and can be purchased from the US Government Printing Office: www.access.gpo.gov, or found in most major libraries.
Many larger units published their own unit histories after the war.They can be as small as a pamphlet, but are often "yearbook" sized books that can often contain photographs, unit rosters, wartime history, lists of awards and decorations, as well as lists of soldiers killed in action.There can often be hard to find, as they were published in limited quantities, and can be very expensive. Try any of a number of on-line used/antiquarian booksellers on the Internet.
The National Archives Modern Military Records department in College Park, MD has extensive original files on the various units during the war.
A brief note at this point regarding government agencies and the National Archives in particular: they simply do not have the staffing or budget to wade through 6 boxes of documents to find the one reference to your relative.If you know exactly what you're looking for, say, General Order #54, 2nd Armored Division for 1944, they can find it easily.You can request these types of documents my mail, and pay a nominal copying fee.But if you write and say "my uncle John Jones won a Bronze Star sometime during the war with the 2nd Armored Division, can you give me the citation?", don't expect to get a reply.You can visit the facility and read every General Order yourself for every year of the war to find a reference to your uncle. Alternatively, if you really don't want to spend the time and money of traveling to Washington to do the research yourself, you can hire one of a number of professional genealogical researchers in the Washington DC area.They generally charge about $30 per hour plus expenses, but four hours of research can cost you a lot less that plane fare, a hotel room, and meals. A quick search of the Internet pulled up about a dozen researchers in the DC area.
HELP!!I'M FINDING ALL THESE TERMS I DON'T KNOW: REGIMENT, BATTALION, DIVISION.... WHAT DO THEY ALL MEAN?
Okay, I can write a whole other FAQ on this subject, but I guess it's important to touch on it briefly.For those who know all this stuff, my apologies up front for simplifying the info.
Without going into too much detail, there's always been a hierarchical structure in the military, from the President on down to the lowly private.For the sake of brevity I'll just talk about the basic structure in the infantry in WWII.
The basic unit in the infantry in WWII is the Division (and it's probably the unit you'll find the most about in histories). There were approximately 15,000 men per division.Each Division had 3 combat Regiments consisting of about 3200 men each; along with Artillery units, tank units, medical units, engineer units, quartermaster (supply) units, and signal (communications) units.
Each Regiment had it's own numerical designation, and had 9 companies, designated by the letters A-I. Companies were grouped into units of three, each three Companies making up a Battalion (A, B and C companies made up the 1st Battalion, D, E and F companies the 2nd Battalion, etc). So a soldier could be a member of B Company, 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division.Or E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.Get the picture?
The same structure hold true for the Marine Corps.Air Force combat organization was structured by squadron/group/wing/division. Research for the Army Air Force is usually conducted at the "Group" level.
THANKS, BUT THAT STILL DOESN'T HELP ME.MY DAD'S RECORDS SHOW HE SERVED WITH THE [4355th QUARTERMASTER BAKERY COMPANY].WHAT DID THEY DO IN THE WAR?
(BTW, that's an actual WWII unit) Sometimes you can just run into a dead end.Unless you can get lucky and find something on the Internet, you're only hope is the National Archives Modern Military Records Branch. Ask for copies of the Unit Historical Data Report for that particular unit. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of small Company sized units, sometimes no larger than 100 men, who carried out essential duties during the war and were sent where they were needed as they were needed.Unfortunately, oftentimes there are no more than two or three pages in existence on the history of these types of units.
MAY DAD/UNCLE/BROTHER WAS KILLED DURING WWII, CAN I FIND OUT HOW HE DIED?
Up to a certain point, yes. Again, the Internet is your first choice for research here.The first place to start is the American Battle Monuments Commission website: http://www.abmc.govhttp://www.abmc.gov. The ABMC is the official US government agency responsible for the maintenance of overseas cemeteries of our fallen servicemen.Their website has a search engine which lists all US servicemen buried overseas or missing in action.If your relative falls into either one of those two categories, he will be listed on the site, along with his rank, unit, date of death, serial number, home state, and place of interment.
Many servicemen's remains were repatriated after the war, and rest in local cemeteries in their hometown.If you know what county he was from the National Archives has digitized the WW2 Killed In Action database.The listing is indexed by state and county.It is available at http://www.archives.gov/research_room/arc/index.htmlhttp://www.archives.gov/research_room/arc/index.html. As of this writing, click on the yellow "search" button, and type in search terms "army casualties" or "navy casualties".In the results, look for the listings by state.Results unfortunately are in .GIF picture files, and can take a long time to wade through, especially if you're using a dial-up connection. The Army listing will show name, rank, and serial number.The Navy listing will show name, rank, and next of kin, home address.
Next you'll need to write to the Total Army Personnel Command in for his Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF).The IDPF contains the complete record of each WWII casualty, from the initial report of death to the final disposition of remains.Be warned that information contained in these files can be very graphic, describing wounds, state of remains, etc. It can contain correspondence from the family, and will list date and cause of death, unit, next of kin, personal effects, among other things.
Their address is:
Total Army Personnel Command
Alexandria, VA 22231-0482
Provide as much information as you can (minimum is name and serial number). You must site the Freedom of Information Act in your request, and offer to pay for copies (even though I offer I've never been charged).They will send a form letter back acknowledging your request within a couple of weeks, but expect about a 6-10 month delay in receiving the actual file.
The NPRC also maintains Morning Reports from WWII. These reports were made each day in every Company in the Army. Morning Reports tell where the soldiers are located, list casualties, unit strength, troop movements and soldiers being transferred in and out of the unit.Since these are Company level reports you'll need to know what company he served in (company designation shows up the DD214 or in the info you've previously obtained). Write to the NPRC and ask for Morning Reports for the date your relative died and a day or two before and after. The NPRC will not process requests for longer periods, i.e., they won't copy a month's worth of Morning Reports. They will, however provide records to you at their facility.Please note that records must be specified, official permission must be granted, and an appointment must be made.Don't fly to St. Louis and show up at their door!!
Another source of information I've found are local historical societies or genealogical societies, especially in small towns.As always, the Internet is a wonderful thing.Once you've determined the county he was from (from the NARA website shown above), search for historical societies or genealogy groups related to the specific county or town.In my research I've been amazed at what I've gotten back: copies of newspaper obituaries, copies of articles about the serviceman from the local paper, photographs of war monuments with the soldier's name engraved, etc.Even local public libraries may have a genealogy group or local history section.
Except in a few rare cases, don't expect to find detailed, specific information on how he died.Remember, in the "fog of war" many soldiers died alone or in the heat of battle, and its was virtually impossible to determine specific minute-by-minute details on how they fell.That information just wasn't recorded.Oftentimes soldiers died and no one knew they were dead until hours or sometimes days after the battle.
MY DAD WAS IN THE AIR FORCE AND WAS KILLED IN ACTION, IS THERE ANY MORE I CAN FIND OUT?
The Air Force was a branch of the Army during WWII, so much of the same research for ground forces applies to Air Force research as well.In addition, the Air Force Historical Research Agency is located at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and it contains many AAF records.Their website is: http://www.maxwell.af.mil/au/afhra/http://www.maxwell.af.mil/au/afhra/
There are two additional records available from government sources specifically regarding AAF casualties.The first is the Missing Air Crew Report (MACR).If your relative was in an aircraft that was shot down or crashed in enemy territory, his unit would have filled out a MACR within 48 hours of the plane's loss.These reports will contain list of crew, home base, place and time of loss, any eyewitness accounts, etc.After the war German POW and burial records were amended to the MACR's, so you'll often find copies of original German burial reports, crew listings, etc.
If the aircraft went down in allied territory, e.g., as a result of a crash on takeoff, landing, during a training mission, etc., an Aircraft Accident Report was compiled.These will show a list of the crew, type of aircraft, circumstances surrounding the accident, etc.
Both of these documents are available from the Air Force Historical Agency listed above.See their FAQ for more information.
WHAT ABOUT NAVY AND MARINE RECORDS?
The same sources for Army casualties are available for Navy/Marine casualties. (IDPF files, NPRC data, etc). Navy units also have veteran/reunion associations, usually organized around a specific ship.So if you know the name of the ship he served on, use a search engine to see if there's a reunion association.To find out more about the history of a specific ship, try the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships online: http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/
The Navy maintains the Navy Historical Center at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington DC. Their website is: http://www.history.navy.mil/index.htmlhttp://www.history.navy.mil/index.html Check out their FAQ for related information on official Navy records.
Additional Marine historical records are housed that the Marine Historical Center in the Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC. Here's a link to their site: http://hqinet001.hqmc.usmc.mil/HD/Home_Page.htmhttp://hqinet001.hqmc.usmc.mil/HD/Home_Page.htm
MY DAD SERVED WITH [JOHN SMITH/JIM DOE/FRANK JONES] AND HE'D REALLY LIKE TO FIND THEM AGAIN, HOW CAN I HELP HIM?
This type of research can be a process of elimination.First check the Internet to see if his unit has a Veterans/Reunion Association as outlined above.Drop them a line to see if any of these guys is a member.
Unfortunately, we are losing lots of our WWII veterans on a daily basis.If Dad remembers where these guys were from, first check the Social Security Death index to see if they are still with us. The SSDI is a listing of deceased citizens provided by the Social Security Administration.Use your favorite search engine and type in "SSDI" to pull up a number of sites that contain this database.
If you don't find them there, then they are hopefully still with us, or their family never applied for Social Security death benefits.Try any of the online "white pages"-if you're lucky he just might be living in the same hometown, or have an unusual enough name that there's only one of him in the country.
I'D LIKE TO FIND OUT WHAT MEDALS MY DAD RECEIVED AND GET COPIES OF THEM
His discharge papers (DD-214 listed above) will show all the medals and decorations he was entitled to.Again, if you don't have his DD-214, you'll need to write to get a copy from the NPRC. You can request replacement medals, which are also available from the NPRC.Follow the instructions on this page:
I'VE GOT A FEW OF MY DAD'S MEDALS HERE, WHAT ARE THEY AND WHAT ARE THEY FOR?
While a discussion of specific medals is beyond the scope of this FAQ, I can briefly say that there are two kinds of medals:campaign medals and valor awards.Campaign medals were awarded to every soldier who served in a specific campaign, whether he was a frontline combat soldier or not.They are basically "I was there" medals.
Valor medals (e.g., Air Medal, Bronze Star, Silver Star, Distinguished Service Cross, Medal of Honor, etc.) were awarded for specific acts of bravery.
The awarding of these valor medals were usually recorded in a unit's "General Orders", which would show date of award, name, serial number, rank, and a brief description of circumstances (the higher the award the more detailed circumstances).These records are held at the National Archives, Modern Military Records branch in College Park, MD. They are indexed by unit, so you'll need to know what unit he was a part of.Research of this type can be very time consuming (searching through hundreds of GO's for each year of the war).
To find pictures and descriptions of the various US Medals try this site: http://www2.powercom.net/~rokats/medals.htmlhttp://www2.powercom.net/~rokats/medals.html
MY DAD WAS A PRISONER OF WAR.CAN I FIND OUT ANYTHING ABOUT HIS TIME IN PRISON CAMPS?
There are a number of great books about the prisoner of war experience during WWII.If you want to find out about the general condition of the camps, and the day-to-day experience of a POW, find a few at your local library. Unless you get really lucky, you probably won't find anything specific about him and his time as a POW except for his data contained in the info below.
The National Archives kept a database of repatriated POW's for both the Europe and the Pacific theatres. It contains a listing of all 143,000 US POW's who were returned safely to this country.Data will show name, rank, serial number, date of capture, unit, POW camp, date of repatriation, among other things. It is available from their Center For Electronic Records Department in the Washington DC facility.It is part of the Records of the Provost Marshal General (Record Group 398), entitled "Repatriated Military Prisoners of War - World War II European Theater" (or Pacific Theatre, as the case may be).Their website is: http://www.archives.gov/electronic_records_archives/http://www.archives.gov/electronic_records_archives/