Military Monday – Examining WWII Death Records For an Unidentified Soldier

It’s Monday and that means a new installment in the world of military records! As you read through this series, please keep in mind I’m discussing World War II records only. While there is a lot of overlap between other wars and records, the focus here is only World War II. Today we will examine components of an IDPF, an X-File, for an unidentified soldier. If you missed last week’s post about common elements of an IDPF, you can view that now.

An IDPF created for a soldier who was initially (and possibly forever) unidentified, was called an X-File because he had no serial number by which to identify him. So an X-number was provided. The X-number was a sequence of numbers which identified the Unknown Soldier Dead brought to U.S. Military Cemeteries.

Reasons Why A Soldier Is Unidentified

  • Identification tags were not recovered with the remains.
  • There were no personal effects on the remains that could aid in identification (letter, photograph, ring or watch with inscription or initials.)
  • Laundry marks were for too many individuals.
  • No pay book was found.
  • The remains were decomposed and facial features, clothing, fingerprints and possibly teeth were not recovered.
  • The remains were a skeleton with no additional identifying information.
  • The soldier had been blown away and very little remained to aid with identification.
  • The soldier had been buried in a temporary grave by other soldiers, the enemy, or civilians, with no identifying items. By the time it was recovered, it was so badly decomposed it was nearly impossibly to obtain fingerprints or dental imprints.
  • The soldier had been buried in a POW camp cemetery and the records disappeared (burned, removed, or never retained in the first place.)

Records Process for Unidentified Soldiers

Soldiers who were unidentified went through the same recovery process as those who could. All possible identification evidence was collected and the appropriate IDPF forms were completed. Additional forms which are discussed below were completed. A copy was sent to the War Department and a copy was buried in a bottle with the remains. Remains were buried in a mattress cover, sheet, or parachute with the X-Number painted on the mattress cover. The bottle buried next to the remains in case the soldier could be identified in the future.

Components of X-Files

  • It contains information on the items found on the remains (if any) that may help identify the remains.
  • Testimony from other soldiers or civilians regarding the last know whereabouts of the soldier, where he was located after death, or buried. Some of this testimony was collected after the war as the military was trying to recover MIAs and those buried in temporary graves.
  • Search Investigation documents outlining where the remains were found and any additional information obtained at the time of recovery.
  • Lists of soldiers who were declared MIA in the same area, time period, and unit as the potential unidentified soldier. These lists contains names and serial numbers.
  • Records on other soldiers from the MIA list.
X-62 File information on additional possible soldiers

Source: United States Army, Individual Deceased Personnel File, U.S. Army Human Resources Command, “Unknown X-62 (Hamm)” in the IDPF for Michael J. Greco, SN 33788653.

  • Checklist for disinterment (if buried in a non-U.S. cemetery when found.)
  • Dental charts to aid possible identification
X-62 Report of Burial

Source: United States Army, Individual Deceased Personnel File, U.S. Army Human Resources Command, “Report of Burial for X-62″ in the IDPF for Michael J. Greco, SN 33788653.

  • Report of Burial (a second copy was buried with the remains in case of future identification.)
  • Disinterment Directive for permanent burial.
  • Declaration that the body is unidentifiable (this usually occurred by 1951.)

Importance of X-Files

X-Files are important to researchers because they often contain information on other soldiers within an area or unit in which the unidentified soldier was recovered. If you read X-62′s entire file linked below, you will see many soldiers listed by name and serial number. The Graves Registration Service was requesting the dental and medical records from St. Louis or the FBI, from the soldier’s personnel files. The entire personnel file was not included in the IDPF, just these pieces.

Using the IDPF of soldiers within the same unit as your ancestor or MIA soldier and the records of the unidentified, provides the bigger picture of the war. It may provide clues that will help you tell the story of your MIA or known soldier. You may discover pieces of battle stories within these other files that you otherwise would not have located. Again, we have to step out of the genealogy box and put on our historians hat and explore those records and the bigger picture.

You can view X-62′s entire file here. Please review it before you read the rest of the blog post. Notice it references a soldier named Michael J. Greco.

Connecting to an Identified Soldier – Sometimes

There are cases where you can link an X-File to a soldier and other times when you cannot. In the case of Michael J. Greco, a soldier who was recovered and initially provided an X-number (X-4055.) The X-File pieces will be combined with the IDPF that does identify a soldier. That file then becomes so much richer with information because of the testimony, additional medical and dental records, and other paperwork. It also provides the reasons why (the proof) of how the Graves Registration Service came to the conclusion this was a specific soldier. Look at Greco’s Report of Burial shown here. Notice the X-4055 under his name?

Greco Report of Burial

Source: United States Army, Individual Deceased Personnel File, U.S. Army Human Resources Command, “Report of Burial” for Michael J. Greco, SN 33788653.

Personnel File Included?

If you read my initial post a few weeks ago, Military Monday – Where ARE the World War II Military Records?, I said there was a military researcher online telling people that the personnel file information was included in the IDPF. This is only partially (a very small part) true. Look at this page from Michael J. Greco’s file. The Graves Registration Service sent a letter requesting specific information from personnel files on soldiers they thought a possible connection to the remains found. If that happened, you will find unit, date and place of induction, and training camp information among the details provided. However, that is all of the personnel file that is included.

Greco Request for Information

Source: United States Army, Individual Deceased Personnel File, U.S. Army Human Resources Command, “Memo: Information requested for Graves Registration Service” in the IDPF for Michael J. Greco, SN 33788653.

Want to know the rest of Michael’s story and what is included in his IDPF? You can read Michael J. Greco’s entire IDPF here.

There is much more to discuss regarding X-Files and IDPFs but we’ll save that for the book series coming out soon.

Important! If your soldier died in service, you want to request this file. It will take at least six month to receive but it is well worth the wait. If you have very little information on your soldier to start with, the IDPF will provide a great deal of information to help your search.

Location of IDPFs

For those killed while serving in the Army Air Corps – contact the NPRC in St. Louis.

For all other service branches send a letter to:

Department of the Army
U.S. Army Human Resources Command
ATTN: AHRC-FOIA
1600 Spearhead Division Avenue, Dept 107
Fort Knox, KY 40122-5504

Next week I’ll talk about a soldier who is non-recoverable and what that means. You will want to stop by and check out his story and records related to his death.

Like what you’ve seen and want to know more? Sign up for my newsletter on my author website. For military research and writing services, or to book a lecture on military records, please contact me through my website Generations.

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© 2014, Generations, Woodridge, IL

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3 thoughts on “Military Monday – Examining WWII Death Records For an Unidentified Soldier

  1. Charles rogers

    My uncle was KIA on Luzon, on 4/22/45, along with 14 or 15 other men. The bodies were identified by the Co. 1st Sgt., then buried in aUSAF Temporary Cemetery. When my grandmother wanted to gave his body shipped home she was told the cemetery had no record of him. Five years later he was declared ‘Unrecoverable’. I obtained his IDPF. Just recently, we obtained a Chaplains Report that showed that my uncle was buried in a Temporary Cemetery on 4/30/45. It showed the name of the USAF Temporary Cemetery, the grave number, the Row number and the Plot number, as well as the name of the Chaplain who was present at the interment. Unreturned dead we’re disinterred & were reinterred at Manila. We don’t know what to do next. Any suggestions. THANKS FOR ALL OF YOUR INFORMATION.

    • Hi Charles,
      I just tried to email you and it came back undeliverable. Could you please email me directly at jenniferholik at generationsbiz.com? I’d like to see the IDPF and Chaplain’s reports if possible.
      Thanks!
      Jennifer

  2. Charles rogers

    Hi Jennifer:I just tried to mail you at generationsbiz.com & it also came back undeliverable. I’m blown away by your quick response (too used to dealing with the Army). My cousin & I, & a very knowledgeable friend, have been digging away at this for 3 1/2 yrs. The IDPF was at least 105 pages. I’ll try to send it to you if you’ll give me your address. I’ll have to hold off on the Chaplain’s Report until I find out what our friend us going to do next. In the meantime, I’ve been using a sort of shotgun approach to ny place that looks like it might be able to help, without revealing too many details. Our hope is that Graves Registration Cross-referenced the number of the grave he was buried in to the number of the grave he was reinterred in, in the ABMC Cemetery in Manila (1 of 3000+ unknowns).

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