Military Monday – More on the 1973 NPRC Fire Conversation

Last week I featured Marion Chard’s resources and experiences on reconstruction military service when the record burned. This week, another colleague, Barbara Geisler, who has written a guest post before, has more advice. I appreciate these women offering their experiences because they differ from mine. Isn’t collaboration fantastic?

My research is rather limited because my husband’s uncle (Pvt. Fred Goempel) was only with the unit 5 days prior to being listed MIA. So, in reality, there was not a whole lot of service to try to recreate. His file was burned in the fire.

I requested his VA file, which took a long time to arrive, but since the family had received l life insurance, the file had been considered active at one time. It is important to know whether or not the serviceman took advantage of an VA services after the war in order to request the file from the VA.

This file held a lot of paperwork, and listed the boot camp where he was trained for service. I can’t say how much more it could have held, with his service time being so short.

It also held letters from his mother where she needed to show financial need for the life insurance, as well as his father’s death certificate, as she had to prove that his father was dead in order to continue to receive the life insurance benefits.

The IDPF gave the information pertaining to the circumstances surrounding his death, as well as a dental chart, but not any service record per say.

The After Action reports on a battalion level, told the story of the unit movement. But, in the case of the 11th Regt, 5th Infantry Division, the reports were given in April for a Feb. river crossing. No detail regarding personal servicemen.

The Morning Reports were instrumental in placing the soldier in the unit on a certain day, as well as listing when he was MIA. The one issue that I had with the morning reports was that they lagged in the time frame and I could only request so many days at a time. I requested the 1 through the 10th of Feb, 1945, and the actual date on the report differed from the date listed on the information. In other words, Feb. 8-9, 1945, were the dates the unit crossed the Sauer river, but the morning report for 9 Feb. lists 24 replacement soldiers arriving on the 5 Feb, including Pvt. Goempel. I was extremely disheartened to have waited so long for these reports only to find that they did not give the information that I had expected. The actual river crossing casualties didn’t show up in the reports until Feb. 12.

Daily Staff journals give hour by hour listing of the action down to the company level.
The information gleaned from these journals is dependent on the person relaying the information. Some wrote many details. Some only wrote the highlights.

Unit histories give an overview of action, and there are often photos in these books.

In the case of the 2nd Regt., 5th Infantry Division, there was a publication put out, Diamond Dust, which was a newspaper that was actually distributed on the field. It was meant to raise the moral, and there are many quirky stories that list the names of the antics of many soldiers in the 5th infantry division. Unfortunately, there are a limited amount of volumes, but these are priceless to family members who may have had a serviceman mentioned.

General Orders were written for commendations for awards for servicemen. These orders are fairly detailed for many, and give a description of the action while describing the heroics.

I’ve never seen a complete Veteran’s file so I have no idea what one would contain. I would presume that it would hold a physical report, dental reports, boot camp, and deployment reports, and any type of medical procedure that may have been necessary, as well as discharge information. I would not expect the file to detail events of service for a particular individual.

So, even if you are fortunate enough to have the Veteran’s file survive the fire, it seems to me that all of the above would be necessary in order to reconstruct the action and to write the story of a serviceman. Even letters sent home were censured, so it would be difficult to write details of action.

My experience only deals with the 5th Infantry Division in Europe. If the serviceman was an Airman, there are the Missing Air Crew Reports. Many airmen survived crashes, and there are eyewitness accounts held in these reports which may help one write their story.

Of course, the best source of information comes from the Veterans themselves, or people who may have known them. But they are advanced in age, may not remember things as they actually happened, or many of them have already passed. I have contacted many veterans over the years, and few of them remembered the details. Those who did, have the experience etched in their minds. When I sent out surveys with questions to answer, I received a variety of answers. Each remember things quite differently. But how can I fault these men when I can’t seem to remember what I did last week?

In short, my experience has been that there were no set rules as to how information was recorded. You just have to get out there and dig, and hope for the best!

About Barbara

portrait BarbaraBarbara graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a BS in Chemical Engineering.  She began her career as a research engineer, working for Gulf Research.  She married her Chem E lab partner from Pitt, and decided to change career paths to full time motherhood after giving birth to their first child. Since 2000, her research skills have been invaluable in the hunt for information pertaining to her husband’s uncle.  Over the years, she developed a passion for genealogy, and has been volunteering since 2007 at the local Family History Center.  In addition, she has been involved with finding several families of MIA’s in hopes of collecting DNA for the WWII database.  She firmly believes that all families of WWII MIA’s deserve to have answers regarding the fate of their loved one.

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Military Monday – Continuing the Change the 1973 NPRC Fire Conversation

Resources at Your Fingertips – Advice for Family Members Seeking Info/Documentation Regarding WWII Veterans

This is a guest blog post by my colleague, Marion Chard. She has a different experience working with clients and veterans seeking service information than I do. I asked her to share her experiences and resources with my readers so you have another perspective and set of possibilities.

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.

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.


Marion at a WWII reunion with her “boys” as she affectionately refers to them

marion chard photo Marion Chard is the proud daughter of WWII veteran, Walter “Monday” Poniedzialek, a 540th Combat Engineer. While she started out solely seeking basic answers and information on her father’s regiment, her journey went above and beyond, for she’s become the official historian of the VI Corps Engineers and owns and runs an extensive website and forum. She has written several articles for military magazines and was invited to Fort Hood and Fort Leonard Wood as a guest and speaker. She wrote, directed and published a documentary, dedicated to her father and his fellow engineers, No Bridge Too Far. Part one is currently available to the public. Parts two and three are to be released in the near future.

For further information, or to contact Marion, please visit the following websites or email her directly at:

VI Corps Combat Engineers
VI Corps Combat Engineers forum
No Bridge Too Far
VI Corps Presents the Music of WWII

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Chicago Writers Association Speakers Bureau Guide

The 2015-2016 Chicago Speakers Bureau Guide has been released and is available on their website. Three of my programs are listed in the guide. You can learn more about all my programs and upcoming appearances on my website. I am booking programs for WWII Reunion groups, genealogy societies, libraries, military groups, organizations and corporations through 2017. Please contact me to set a date for your group.

© 2015 Jennifer Holik

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