Dad's War
Finding and Telling Your Father's World War II Story
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Walter G. Johnston, Jr.

Welcome to the Dad's War home page, created by Wesley Johnston. This site is dedicated to my Dad, Walter G. Johnston, Jr. who was in the Anti-Tank Platoon of Company "B" 38th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 7th Armored Division in World War II, including training in Holland; combat in the defense of St. Vith, Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge; and combat in Germany in the battle to the Rhine and the encirclement and reduction of the Ruhr Pocket.

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First Steps to Finding Your Dad's Story -- Start Here

I have received many requests asking basically the same thing: "How do I find my Dad's story?" Obviously, it is more than a few simple steps (especially for those American GIs -- the majority from both World Wars -- whose personnel files were destroyed in the 1973 fire). But here are the key steps to doing it.

NOTE: This "First Steps" section is aimed at military members in the war. This web page also has information about civilians. So if your father or mother or ... was not in the military or was a member of a special group in or out of the military, jump to here.

Time is the critical factor. Start now to find one of your Dad's buddies before it is too late.

For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston - November 11, 1997
Copyright © 1997 by Lynn Johnston; used with her permission.
Click here for the history of the "Buddy Poppy" and the meaning of November 11.
  1. Step 1: Positively identify his unit(s), to as low a level as possible.

    • If he came home, the best source is his discharge paper. If you do not find it among his papers, then call the VA (phone: (800) 827-1000) if he ever applied for VA benefits. Since they were told that their discharge papers would never be replaced if lost, most men had them legally recorded at the County Recorder's office (the same place that deeds are recorded); so also check the Recorder's office of the county to which he came home. For most men, the unit shown on the discharge was their combat unit. However, for some men who were transferred to other units in order to allow them to come home sooner, the discharge may show the unit with which he came home.

    • If he died in the war

      • United States

        You can find his branch of service, rank, service number, home county and how he died (KIA = Killed in Action, DOW = Died of Wounds, DNB = Died Non-Battle, etc.) -- but NOT his unit -- by searching for him on the World War II Registry of the National World War II Memorial and looking in the resulting link where the Source is designated "National Archives".

        • If his body is overseas or was never recovered, obtain his unit, as well as the location of his overseas grave or memorial, from the WWII Registry entries with Source "ABMC Cemeteries" or "ABMC Tablets of the Missing" or by using the World War II Honor Roll of the American Battle Monuments Commission or by calling (703) 696-6897 or writing them at:

          American Battle Monuments Commission
          Courthouse Plaza II
          2300 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 500
          Arlington, VA 22201

          The AFDIL (Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory) Family Outreach Program has been actively collecting mitochondrial DNA from families of MIAs since 1992. Click here to read more about this and find out how to have your family's DNA collected for possible future identification of your MIA family member's remains.

        • If he died overseas in the Army, Navy or other service, regardless of whether he was ever found and identified or where he is buried, request his Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) from the U. S. Army Human Resources Command. Here is the address to which you should submit your request through Freedom of Information (FOIA) channels:

          U. S. Army Human Resources Command
          ATTN: AHRC-PAO (FOIA)
          1600 Spearhead Division Avenue
          Dept #103
          Fort Knox, Ky 40122-5100

          You can call them at (703) 325-9256, if you have questions, but not to make requests for IDPFs. They require a letter in order to send the IDPF. The letter can also be sent via e-mail to usarmy.knox.hrc.mbx.foia@mail.mil

          Your letter to them should include your signed statement of your willingness to pay the Freedom of Information Act fees for the work involved. If you are requesting your relative's IDPF, they will probably not actually charge you. But they cannot do any work to locate the records without this statement from you.

          For determining the history of men who died overseas, the IDPF is an extremely valuable record -- the most important record that exists in most cases. The amount of information in the files can vary dramatically. The IDPF will almost always establish his unit and give the information on his burial. In many cases, it will also give valuable information about where and when he died, possibly even including reports of the action in which he died. For men whose remains were never recovered or identified, extremely valuable records of the testimonies of his buddies are usually included, giving extraordinary information about the action, what happened to him, and when they last saw him. Though the information in one IDPF can vary considerably from the information in another and a few of them can contain disappointingly little information, most of them are very useful. There simply is no more valuable record to obtain than the IDPF for most men who died overseas. In some cases, they will not be able to find the record on the first try, and they will suggest that you write back in 6 months. So write again in 6 months, but this time add to the letter that this is your second request, since they were unable to locate the record 6 months earlier.

          CAUTION: When you read these files, you are looking at the stark reality of the horror of war and death. The files usually do contain mortuary and medical records, and these may be painful for you to read. This will definitely impact you psychologically, whether you are aware of it or not. It might even reach the point where you feel the need for professional spiritual or psychological help in dealing with it. This is perfectly normal. Be prepared for it.

      • British Commonwealth (Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom)

      • Germany

  2. Step 2: Find his outfit's Alumni Association

    • United States: Remember that the airmen were in the Army or Navy: there was no Air Force as a separate service branch until after the war. For Army, most Associations are at the Division level. So you need to find out what Division his discharge unit (usually Battalion or Regiment) was in. The best source for doing this is Shelby M. Stanton's book "Order of Battle: U. S. Army World War II" from Presidio Press. Try your local library.

      1. U. S. - All Branches - START WITH THIS ONE FOR U. S. UNITS.
        This Ben Myers' up-to-date list, posted by Military Network. It has U. S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard -- all branches of service.
        Navigation Tip: Once you are at the site, click Association Lists on the menu at the left.

      2. Or if the first one does not work, try this one or this one.

      3. If you cannot find the unit in the lists above, or if you want more information, try the web pages below.

    • Other Countries
      • Stalag 13 Aviation Links: This has links to many web pages of aviation units for all nations, not just U.S. It is very comprhensive. You will have to sift through it to find the World War II units, but you will find a great deal there for many of them. -- I know that this link is bad, since AOL abruptly pulled the plug on all member web sites. I am trying to find out if this important web site is going to be resurrected in a new location.
      • British WW2 Veterans Reunion and tracing your Military Ancestors Page
      • Commonwealth Order of Battle: 1939-1945: This site does NOT have links to veterans' organizations, but it does have the way in which units fit within other units. This is important to know, so that you are looking for all of the possible associations that might exist. Includes: United Kingdom, India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Union of South Africa, Ireland.

  3. Step 3: Use the telephone! The mail is too slow: none of us are getting younger, and more of the vets are having difficulty writing each year. Time is the critical factor here.

    For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston - November 11, 2000
    Copyright © 2000 by Lynn Johnston; used with her permission.

  4. Step 4: Obtain the Unit Records -- Particularly After Action Report / Unit History types of records

    Write to the National Archives at the following address. Request that they send you an inventory of any records that they have for his battalion (or squadron or equivalent lowest-level unit) and also instructions for how to obtain and pay for copies of the records.

    National Archives II
    8601 Adelphi Road
    College Park, MD 20740-6001

    The records that will give a narrative account of the unit's monthly progress through the war are what you are looking for: After Action Reports or Unit Histories or similar names. The inventory of the records may also contain intelligence and operations journals, message logs, award citations, or other documents. But for starting out, it is the After Action Report type of record that you want.

    The National Archives staff will NOT do research for you. But they will do the copying, so that you can do the research. So do not expect them to pick out specific pages or sections. They will copy an entire folder, and you have to be the one to figure out what is relevant. With the After Action Report type of records, it is almost all relevant if he or she was there at the time of the events being described. It is better for you to have too much copied than it is too little, since you really do not know enough at first to make decisions about what might or might not be relevant in the After Action Reports.

  5. Step 5: Obtain the Morning Reports -- You must know his company (squadron, troop, etc.) to do this most efficiently. For most soldiers, that is on their discharge (step 1 above).

    The Morning Reports were daily reports turned in by a company the morning after the day of the report. They are the only records that survive down to the company level. So they are extremely important for all units and especially for support units (engineers, cavalry, tank destroyers, etc.) which often had their companies assigned to different units, so that the battalion headquarters did not know what the company was really doing, so that the battalion-level After Action Reports could not include the company's information.

    The Morning Reports show (1) location as of 2400, (2) any men with personnel status changes, (3) a Record of Events for the company for that day (not always present every day), and (4) the strength counts of the company for that day.

    While most of the individual personnel records at NPRC were destroyed in the 1973 fire, the organizational records (which include the Morning Reports) were unscathed by the fire. To obtain the Morning Reports, write to the Military Organizational Records Unit of the National Personnel Records Center at the following address.

    National Personnel Records Center
    Military Organizational Records Unit
    1 Archives Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63138

    In the letter, state (1) that you are NOT requesting a search for individual personnel records but that you are requesting copies. Also state (2) that you are requesting copies of the complete Morning Reports, including all attached documents, of Company X of the YYYth Battalion for the months of AAA 194B to CCC 194D. For example, if the soldier was in Company C of the 48th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 7th Armored Division and you know that they went ashore in France in July 1944, write for 3 months of his company's Morning Reports by requesting "Please send me copies of the complete Morning Reports, including all attached documents, of Company C of the 48th Armored Infantry Battalion (7th Armored Division) for the months of July, August and September 1944." Finally state (3) your willingness to pay whatever fees are involved in the copying up to a maximum of $50. It is money very well spent!! I highly recommend obtaining the complete months -- and not just trying to cherry pick for his specific mentions -- for a variety of reasons that I will not go into here.

  6. Step 6: Buy my workshop book if you are going to get into this seriously. Depending on your needs, you should also buy these books:

Radio Interview
On November 7, 2009, I was interviewed about researching your soldier's story in a 45 minute radio show on KMJ Radio in Fresno, CA, as that week's installment in Paul Loefler's "Hometown Heroes" program.
- Click here to listen to the entire interview (MP3).
- Click here to listen to the entire interview (WMA).

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My Own Web Pages
These are pages that I have created related to finding and telling my own Dad's story, including the workshops that grew out of that work. These are other pages that I have created. Return to top of Dad's War Home Page

The rest of the information on this page consists of the following lists of valuable links to other web pages that can help you find and tell your Dad's story. But don't overlook the very important first steps above.

Telling Someone's World War II Story
There are four groups of information here. All are web pages, except for the single group of books.
  1. People telling their Dad's (or brother's or uncle's or grandmother's, etc.) story on web pages
  2. People telling their Dad's (or brother's or uncle's, etc.) story in books
  3. World War II Veterans telling their own story
  4. Collections of veterans' and home front stories
For Better or For Worse by Lynn Johnston - November 11, 1999
Copyright © 1999 by Lynn Johnston; used with her permission.
  1. People telling their Dad's (or brother's or uncle's or grandmother's, etc.) World War II story on web pages

    Here are sites at which you can register a WWII veteran and tell his or her activities. Some of the sites also allow you to post a photograph.

    Here are sitesof people telling their Dad's (or brother's or uncle's or grandmother's, etc.) World War II story.

  2. People telling their Dad's (or brother's or uncle's, etc.) story in books
    • Air
      • Michael Goodwin's Shobun: A forgotten war crime in the Pacific Stackpole Books, 1995.
      • Thomas Childers' Wings of Morning: The story of the last American bomber shot down over Germany in World War II Addison-Wesley, 1995.
      • W. Raymond Wood's Or Go Down in Flame: A navigator's death over Schweinfurt Greenhill Books, 1993.
      • Jeff Badger's War Buddies from World War II: Jeff is in the process of writing a book on his search for the story of his grandfather Leo Kavanaugh (978th Engineer Maintenance Company, XIX Corps, Ninth US Army)
    • Land
      • Aaron Elson's Tanks for the Memories: An oral history of the 712th Tank Battalion from World War II Chi Chi Press, 1994. See Aaron's web page for more information.
      • Gregory Orfalea's Messengers of the Lost Battalion: The heroic 551st and the turning of the tide at the Battle of the Bulge Free Press (Simon & Schuster), 1997.
      • James Montgomery's B Company, 776 Tank Destroyer Battalion in Combat in Africa and Italy. (Contact his son Dr. Tom Montgomery.)
      • Roger L. Shaffer's Letters Home: A Soldier's Legacy Republic of Texas Press, 1996. (His uncle, Bill Rogers, was in HQ Company, 2nd Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment of the 36th "Texas" Division and was KIA at Cassino in January 1944.)
      • Rose Welton'sWe Clear the Way: A Tribute to my Uncle, Staff Sergeant John L. Schreir and the 319th Engineer Combat Battalion, 94th Infantry Division, United States Army Rose Welton; P.O. Box 22704; Juneau, AK 99802; (907) 364-2779, 2001. (Her uncle was killed in Germany in 1945.)
      • J. Thomas McClelland, editor: Name, Rank and Serial Number: Survival in Stalag VIIA, a German POW Camp (Edited the papers of his father James P. McClelland (Company "A" of 350th Infantry Regiment, 88th Infantry Division in Italy)
    • Special Books
      • Scott Turow's Ordinary Heroes: A Novel Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2005. Click here for the Amazon.com page on the book. This is fiction, but it makes for a very good read. It is the story of a journalist's search for his father's WWII story, which turns out to be quite surprising, even if it is a bit larger than life for what most of us will find in our own searches for our father's WWII story.

  3. World War II Veterans telling their own story

  4. Collections of veterans' and home front stories

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World War II Military and Related Sources
These are some useful pages for finding out about World War II military resources to find and tell your Dad's WWII story.
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Special Groups
While it is true that most of the Allied troops were adult white males, the war affected many other groups - in the war zone and at home, military and civilian. These are useful pages for information on people in some of these groups, which also include the troops who were captured.

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Broad Coverage World War II Sites
These are some good pages for finding out about World War II in general, including jump sites that have a lot of links to other World War II pages. There are many more pages; so use your search engine to find more.

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Places to Post and Read Messages on World War II
These are some useful sites for making and reading postings from others interested in World War II. These may turn up some useful information, but they tend to be less useful than finding the right unit association.

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Places to Find Your Dad's Wartime Buddies
If you have not been able to find one of your Dad's wartime buddies through the veterans' associations (see First Steps above), then posting messages on bulletin boards has limited usefulness. So here are some sources of information on how to find people. If you know their full name and where their home town was, you can start from there. Unusual names are the easiest ones to find, if the person is still alive.

If you suspect one of your Dad's wartime buddies has died, you may want to search for him in the Social Security Death Index, which Ancestry.Com has made available for free searches. Be warned that this is a graphics-heavy web site that can be very slow to use, even with a high speed modem.

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Web Search Engines
Use the best indexes to find more places on the web. These are constantly changing, usually for the better.

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"For Better or For Worse" drawings are protected by copyright of Lynn Johnston, as noted under each one, and are used with her permission.
All else is Copyright © 2012 by Wesley Johnston.
All rights reserved

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