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A guide to researching WWII military service

A guide to researching WWII US military service put together by the Texas Military Forces Museum

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A guide to researching WWII military service

  1. 1. Any information is helpful- If you only have a name, it is still possible to go from there but the more information you have such as serial number, place of service, unit information, dates of service etc… can all help you understand your relative’s WWII service.
  2. 2. “Finding Your Father’s War” by Jonathan Gawne is a wonderful resource. Not only does he explain how to find information about WWII military service he explains military organization and helps you to decipher the information you find.
  3. 3. The DD 214 is the discharge form which the military uses to document a soldier’s service and it contains a lot of useful information including unit, medals, awards etc..
  4. 4.  It is possible to request the form from the National Archives :  Or you can print out a form and mail it to:  National Personnel Records Center 1 Archives Drive St. Louis, MO 63138 However the bad news is in 1973 a fire destroyed 80 % of all Army and Army Air Corps records from 1912-1964. If your relative served in the Navy, Marines or Coast Guard those records were not affected.
  5. 5.  Draft record at the National Archives online: These records contain a limited amount of information but do include; name, serial number, date of enlistment. At this same location are also POW files, casualties lists, passenger lists, photographs and more.
  6. 6. U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 U.S. Rosters of World War II Dead, 1939-1945 World War II & Korean War Veterans Buried Overseas nearly 160,000 listings -- Title of the records in this database: "Register, World War II Dead Interred in American Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, and World War II and Korea Missing or Lost or Buried at Sea" U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949 U.S. Navy Cruise Books Index, 1918-2009
  7. 7. U.S. Marine Corps Muster Rolls, 1798-1958 U.S. World War II Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files, 1942-1948 American Jewish Historical Society WWII Jewish Servicemen Cards, 1942-1947 World War II Prisoners of War, 1941-1946; and WWII Prisoners of the Japanese, 1941-1945 World War II Young American Patriots, 1941-1945 World War II Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Casualties, 1941-1945 World War II Japanese-American Internment Camp Documents, 1942-1946 WWII U.S. Navy Aircraft Carrier Muster Rolls, 1939- 1949
  8. 8. Local county offices, libraries , universities and historical societies might have archived newspapers , documents, or photos which might help in your search.
  9. 9. It is possible to use photographs and letters to decipher information about unit, rank or service. Patches on uniforms will indicate what unit the soldier was in
  10. 10. There are numerous online and book resources for US patches. Two examples: “United States Military Patch Guide” by J.L. Pete Morgan, 2002 
  11. 11. Insignia on uniforms can give rank or branch information. For example, crossed rifles are for Infantry, crossed swords are Cavalry, crossed cannons are Field Artillery, wings indicate Army Air Corps.
  12. 12. Photographs of vehicles can provide information. In this photograph “36- 141-1” on the left bumper and “1HQ-6 “ on the right indicates it belonged to 36th Infantry Division, 141st Infantry, 1st Battalion and that it was the 6th numbered jeep for the 1st Battalion Headquarters Company.
  13. 13. Letters and V-Mail can provide information on unit or location . There is a book available from the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center which lists the location of all APOs ( Army Post Office Number) : “Numerical listing of APO's, January 1942 - November 1947”
  14. 14. Headstones can be a useful source  Find A Grave:
  15. 15. Once you have a unit it is possible to get copies of the Unit Journal, Morning Reports or After Action/ Historic Reports from the National Archives. Morning Reports are the daily history of a unit and account for every officer or enlisted man. They are the best source for individual soldiers. The Unit Journals and After Action reports are more organizational and cover battles, and movements but have very good information on the unit as a whole.
  16. 16. All of these reports can be found at the National Archives. Unit Journals and After Action Reports are located at the College Park, Maryland location and the Morning Reports are located at the St. Louis Mo. Location. Additionally some times they can be found at local sources such as libraries or archives.
  17. 17. There are online forums, websites even Facebook pages devoted to all kinds of WWII units or organizations. They can connect you with people who have knowledge about the specific unit you are researching, sometimes even the veterans themselves. This forum for example has an excellent list of research links with explanations: 
  18. 18. File card for soldiers who served in the 36th Infantry Division Historic reports, photographs, rosters, and other documents related to 36th Division units Personal accounts, mostly 36th Infantry Division War Department General Orders for 1941-1945 List of dead by county for Texas Numerous unit histories in our library covering Army and Army Air Corps.
  19. 19.  National Archives Main Site:  National Archives- Online Military Records:  World War II Casualties-Army, Army Air Corps:  World War II Casualties-Marine, Navy, Coast Guard:  American Battle Monuments:  U.S. Army Center of Military History:  Presidential Unit Citations:  Combined Arms Research Library:  Awards and Ribbons:  Research Listings: showtopic=23