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!
Barbara 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.Tweet