Military Monday – USMC WWII Missing in Action and Finding of Death Statuses

The last few weeks I have been immersed in USMC records from World War II as I write my books. There are so many “small” details that emerge from looking at service files, death files, reports, and histories for all branches of the military. In October I wrote a post called Missing in Action and Presumed Date of Death. In that post I talked about how the military determined a death date for soldiers who were declared Missing in Action (MIA.) It is fairly straightforward, a year plus one day after a soldier is declared MIA, they are given a Finding of Death (FOD) date which according to military paperwork, is the official death date. Then I encountered some Marines who were given a MIA status but no FOD status for roughly two years. Why?

Edward Bishop IDPF Photo

1st Lt. Edward Bishop

I’d like to introduce you to 1st Lt. Robert E. Bishop and his gunner, Private First Class Richard L. Parrow. These men flew a mission near Rabaul on 15 January 1944. These men were listed as MIA on 17 January 1944. Checking the Marine Corps Muster Rolls, I discovered they remained on MIA status on the rolls. This is an important difference from Army Morning Reports. When a soldier is listed at MIA in the Army, Air Corps, or National Guard, they are dropped from the rolls. The Marine Corps kept these men on the rolls until such time they were located as a POW, returned to the unit, or were given a FOD. These events are also listed on the Marine Corps Muster Rolls.

In Bishop’s service file, a letter was sent to the Secretary of the Navy regarding the MIA to FOD status of Bishop and Parrow. This letter is shown below but basically says the men may be Prisoners of War somewhere as their plane had a water landing in enemy territory. Due to the fact they may be POWs, they were kept in MIA status for another year.

USMC Service File for Robert E. Bishop, serial no. 021059, Letter to Secretary of the Navy dated 17 Jan 1945.

USMC Service File for Robert E. Bishop, serial no. 021059, Letter to Secretary of the Navy dated 17 Jan 1945.

Bishop 17 Jan 45 MIA ltr pg2

USMC Service File for Robert E. Bishop, serial no. 021059, Letter to Secretary of the Navy dated 17 Jan 1945.

Then on 22 January 1946, the USMC made a ruling that the two men were no longer MIA and had not been located in any POW camp since the cessation of hostilities. Therefore they were given a FOD of 15 January 1946. The letter explaining the decision is shown below.

USMC Service File for Robert E. Bishop, serial no. 021059, Letter to Mrs. Bishop dated 22 Jan 1946.

USMC Service File for Robert E. Bishop, serial no. 021059, Letter to Mrs. Bishop dated 22 Jan 1946.

The rest of Bishop’s file was filled with information on his final flight, family letters and information, and something interesting….he was in the Naval Reserves prior to joining the Marine Corps. His Marine Corps service file is incomplete and missing some key pages. I’m waiting to receive his Navy file next week. I wonder what details it will contain!

As you explore any World War II record or branch, always remember the records and rules were created similarly across the branches. Each though, has their own distinct differences that change the story.

What interesting things have you discovered in World War II records?

© 2014, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL

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Tuesday’s Tip – Not Everyone Wants to Remember

Throughout the last few years as I research World War II ancestors and talk to many people both online and offline about their World War II family members, one thing has appeared a few times that I think many of us do not think about.

Not everyone wants to remember.

What do I mean by this statement? In this case I am referring to those who lived through the war and lost someone they loved. In one case I am working on the story of a man with the 90th Division who went missing in France in 1944. He was never recovered. His widow had a very young daughter when this happened. She later remarried and removed almost every trace of her first husband from her life. She did not even share with her daughter, information about her birth father. At first I was stunned but then I realized not everyone wants to remember those they lost. The pain is too much to bear. Many women became widows and often with young children during the war. Moving on, remarrying, and focusing on the present and future is what they did.

Some want to remember quietly or share with a select few.

What do I mean by this statement? In another case I worked with a woman who watched her husband die in front of her just weeks into their marriage. She was 20 when he died. Can you imagine being a widow at 20 and seeing your husband die? Can you imagine the devastation that would cause or how long it might affect your life? This woman after several months chose to take up the fight and join the war effort. No one in her husband’s family knew what happened to her or stayed in touch. After all, they were married only three weeks. This woman remarried right after the war and had a family with her second husband. She held on to the pieces of the life she had with her first husband but as many veterans did, she focused on the present and her family. It wasn’t  that she didn’t want to remember him, but for her I believe it was a matter of quietly honoring his life in her own way and sharing their story and his mementos with only a select few. I was lucky enough to be among those.

When we conduct military research, regardless of which war or conflict, past or present, I think we need to be conscious of the feelings of those who lost someone they loved. Maybe the pain is too fresh and they cannot share. Maybe they choose not to remember or share in order to not dredge up all the pain from the past. Maybe they choose to share those special people and stories they lost with people they really love and trust. Maybe they, like many who lived through World War II, just want to focus on the future and close that chapter of their lives.

Something to consider, don’t you think……….

© 2014 Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL

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Military Monday – Caution! Check the Death and Burial Information

William F. Cowart, USMC. Photo source: OMPF

William F. Cowart, USMC. Photo source: OMPF

This weekend as I was working on my World War II record books and reading a USMC personnel file for Pvt. William Franklin Cowart, something important occurred to me. Important and somewhat bothersome issues I feel needs to be addressed for anyone who does genealogy research. The issues are: Family trees, FindAGrave, and death and burial information for soldiers killed during World War II.

As is commonly discussed in genealogy research, each source should be analyzed and documented. It is not good enough to just attach it because it “looks” right. And in some cases, an explanation or additional documentation is necessary. This is the case with soldiers killed in the war.

Issue 1. Soldier death date. When we create a family tree we enter the date of death. For many individuals, this date is the actual date of death. For soldier’s Killed in Action (KIA), it may not be the actual date of death but a Finding of Death (FOD) date given after a soldier was MIA for at least one year plus one day. The FOD is the official date of death according to military records.

USMC Pvt. William F. Cowart was KIA 20 Nov 1943 on Tarawa, Gilbert Islands. According to sparse death records, he was buried on Tarawa and his family was notified of his death and burial. Apparently he had at one point been identified. The Graves Registration Service (GRS) was not present to complete official paperwork and document the location of all the graves though. Trench burial was done and markers put up. Later when additional contingents arrived, the cemeteries were still not documented and the markers became more of a memorial to whomever was buried there rather than an actual grave location.

In the online family tree for Cowart on Ancestry.com (there are a few), he is listed with a death date of 20 Nov 1943 in Tarawa. This is correct based on records.

Issue 2. Burial information. This is tricky for soldiers KIA. First, if you have the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF), you will usually see, if the GRS completed paperwork, the temporary cemetery burial location of the soldier. That is the first burial.

Then when the war ended, the GRS began disinterring the unidentified soldiers to attempt identification. They also began disinterring all soldiers in temporary cemeteries as cemeteries were combined and some soldiers’ remains were repatriated to the U.S. for permanent burial.

When you are on Ancestry.com you may see shiny leaf hints for FindAGrave. While these may be great hints, I believe when you add them to your tree, you need to add the context with them. An explanation. This is especially important for soldiers, like Pvt. Cowart, who were never returned but have a Memorial Stone and those who were unidentified and their remains are Unrecoverable and they are listed on a Tablet of the Missing at an American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) cemetery. Notice the NONRECOVERABLE stamped on the top of his application. Cowart, on Ancestry.com’s family trees have him buried either in Alabama or Hawaii (Memorial for the Missing or Table of the Missing.) Both are incorrect but the information is pulled in through FindAGrave records. He is likely buried on Tarawa unless he is among the remains JPAC has and is trying to identify.

Cowart headstone application. Source: Ancestry.com

Cowart headstone application. Source: Ancestry.com

Issue 3. FindAGrave Entries Let’s go back to Pvt. Cowart. His remains were Unrecoverable due to the lack of records after the Battle of Tarawa. His family requested a Military Headstone and you can find the application on Ancestry.com. The ABMC created a FindAGrave entry for Cowart. The ABMC has his home state listed as Mississippi on their tablet, which is incorrect. Alabama was his home state. There are those errors to watch for also. Family members created a FindAGrave entry. Unfortunately they list him as a sibling of himself on FindAGrave. I have no idea how this could be corrected unless one entry was removed.

Improving the Information on Cowart’s Trees. We can improve the information on Cowart’s family trees in the following ways:

  1. Provide additional details to his Death Date, especially if it is a Finding of Death date. This FOD date is extremely important as you navigate other records because errors do occur. War was chaotic and hellish and the men and women recording the information were often under a lot of stress. Errors happened. Check, double check, and triple check your facts.
  2. Add an explanation to his Fact/Source of Military Headstone Application that it is a Memorial Stone. State where he is actually buried. Provide an additional source for that (ABMC database entry, IDPF, Personnel File, obituary.)
  3. Add explanations for the Burial entries regardless of which source they came from (FindAGrave, Alabama WWII deaths, ABMC listing, etc.) Explain he is listed on a Tablet of the Missing in Hawaii because that is where all the Pacific Theater missing are listed. Because he is listed there does not mean he is buried there. Explain on the FindAGrave facts this is a memorial stone. Provide proof as to where he is buried from sources listed above.

My suggestion for you. I strongly encourage you to provide additional explanations, sources, and images of records for cases like this. If a soldier has a Memorial Stone in a U.S. cemetery, state that and explain where he is actually buried. This helps prevent the transmission of incorrect data from online tree to online tree.

If you have questions regarding any of the topics presented here, please feel free to comment below.

© 2014, Jennifer Holik, Woodridge, IL

 

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