Completely revamped August 2015
Resources at Your Fingertips - Advice for Family Members Seeking Info/Documentation Regarding WWII Veterans
Years ago, while still living in Detroit, I began my quest to discover my father’s WWII history. I was only twelve when he passed away, and now I wanted to find out as much as I could, putting the various puzzle pieces back together. While he was one of the veterans who were willing to share his experiences, a long time had passed and those stories I treasured so much as a child, began to fade. I retained a box which held his keepsakes from the war, including photos and army patches; nonetheless, I could no longer recall various details including his unit designation.
One of the first things I was advised to do, was to contact the National Archives in St. Louis, but it took three successive tries, and many months before I finally received a letter at our new home in northern Michigan in autumn 2003. Sorry, they informed me, your father’s records burned in a huge fire in 1973. That was it. There were no instructions on what to do next. Was this a dead end?
I was so distraught it took me almost three weeks before I could show the letter to my husband. I then began to feel angry and that anger led me to one conclusion; I would not give up and this would not defeat me. I had the Internet didn’t I? Without going into a long diatribe, my research led to a happy ending, even though the path proved arduous at times.
However, it is not my intent to share my entire story today, but to provide you with a helpful guide. I’m hoping that my knowledge and experience will facilitate your research into your loved one’s history and save you from all the headaches and red-tape that so many of us have experienced.
Note: this article/advice is intended for families of veteran’s who returned home from the war. Also please be aware that during World War II the serial number was NOT the same as the veteran’s social security number. Many people often get this confused.
Obtaining a Copy of Their Discharge Documents - DD214
These documents contain various information, such as the veteran’s unit, campaigns/battle info, discharge date and more. Please see this link for further explanation.
There are numerous ways to obtain copies and contrary to popular belief, NARA is not the only place to acquire this documentation.
· The National Archives - St Louis, MO - This can take weeks or months so be prepared to wait. I strongly suggest going another route first and using this as a last resort. Also many of the personnel records WERE destroyed in the fire of ’73, so...
· The Veteran’s Administration - This is how I obtained a copy of my father’s discharge papers. Within three weeks, I had received a copy of his DD214’s.
· Court House of the County that the veteran resided in after WW 2
· Many Town Clerk’s offices have discharge documents on file
· A copy may have been filed with estate records at the county Probate Court
· The funeral home that handled burial arrangements will have a copy if the veteran had a military funeral or applied for a government headstone
Obtaining Unit Records
These are actual archived records from each branch of the service. Again, many facilities have these records, but it may vary from place to place. Some units, (i.e. infantry and airborne) will have more information than others. Smaller/lesser known units (i.e. an engineer mapping company) may have little to none at all, so there are no guarantees. Nonetheless, my research has led me to discover, that most people are successful with this part of their hunt.
· National Archives - College Place, MD - This is how I obtained my father’s unit records. I hired a private researcher who painstakingly copied each document and mailed them to me. While this was not cheap, it was well worth the cost and effort for I gathered hundreds upon hundreds of daily journals, after-action reports, maps and more. Please read the page carefully for it is very detailed. It also explains how to arrange to copy the records yourself.
· The Army Corps of Engineers Office of History - (If your veteran was an army engineer)
When filling out the form please select the History Dept., as your recipient. You may also call them at 703-428-6563. They played an instrumental role in my early research, for my father was a member of the 540th Engineer Regiment.
· Fort Leonard Wood - Office of Engineer History
Historian, U.S. Army Engineer School
320 MANSCEN Loop, Suite 043
Ft. Leonard Wood, MO 65473
Other Helpful Links
How Do I Request Military Awards and Decorations?
· Military Awards and Decorations - The National Archives
They will provide the medals for FREE, however, you may have to wait several weeks or more to receive the medals, once they receive your application.
· My Military Medals
However, if you KNOW which medals your loved one should have, you can also buy replacements for a small sum of money.
If you would like a copy of this for your records, you can download the PDF version. This version also contains a short bio and photo of me, plus my website links, for it was written for a friend's blog.
Edited by Walt's Daughter, 17 August 2015 - 09:44 PM.
updated links - reworded post, etc.