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Identifying Military Personnel: Decoding Serial Numbers

February 27, 2023 by | 4 Comments

Thanks to our special guest contributor Michael Strauss, an Accredited Genealogist from AncestryProGenealogists® for this informative article on military research using military serial numbers. 

Understanding the use of serial numbers in the military provides genealogists with a way to discover the branch of service, component assignment, and enlistment date of military personnel. The assigned prefixes give clues to occupational specialties and other work performed. Before service numbers were assigned, military personnel were listed by their name, rank, and military unit designation.  

Private John N. CleggWWI

Origins of serial numbers

Serial numbers were first assigned to United States Army enlisted personnel during World War I. On February 12, 1918, the Army issued General Order No. 27, which read: “All soldiers of the United States Army will be numbered by or before February 28, 1918…as soon as a number is assigned to a soldier, it will become a part of his official designation, never changed, never reassigned to another soldier”.

The order further stipulated that the Adjutant General was in charge of issuing the numbers with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), noting that “Block numbers will be allotted…to the commanding officers of all organizations of the A.E.F…an accurate account will be kept of numbers allotted and assigned and… excess numbers will be listed”. The same order also noted that the number would be stamped on the soldier’s identification tags and appear conspicuous on the military records, rolls, and reports for the individual. Initially, the numbers were designated to enlisted personnel. The first number was assigned to Master Sergeant Arthur B. Crean (issued number R-1) with his service in the regular United States Army.

Honorable discharge papers for John N. Clegg

The first 310,000 numbers were reserved and then distributed to members of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), being sent to France and Belgium. Knowing the serial number will help to determine what component of the AEF a soldier served in. Here is a breakdown of allocations:

1-18,000-Medical Corps

18,000-38,000-Aviation Corps


105,000-112,000-Machine Gun Battalions

114,000- Headquarter personnel and Military Police (no number range provided)

116,000-122,000-United States Marines (before the branch assigned their own numbers)

123,000-146,000-Field Artillery

146,000-147,000-Trench Mortar personnel

147,000-152,000-Coast Artillery Corps personnel

153,000-154,000-Anti Aircraft personnel


196,000-197,000-Engineer Trains

197,000-202,000-Signal Corps

203,000-207,000-Ammunition Trains

207,000-208,000-Ordnance personnel


212,000-214,000-Supply Trains

215,000-217,000-Motar Supply Trains

217,000-219,000-Quartermaster Corps

219,000-235,000-Stevedores and labor battalions

236,000-General Headquarters of the American Expedition Force

The United States Army understood more personnel would be called up. Additional numbers were issued, starting at 310,001 through 2,380,000, based on where recruits were inducted or later at the military training camps. The camps were separated by regular army, national guard, and national army (for men conscripted), with recruits in the latter two having assigned numbers connected to induction camps. The numbering continued through the end of 1918, reaching 5,999,999. Following the war’s end in 1918, another significant change came in June 1921, when commissioned officers were now issued serial numbers. The first number assigned to an officer (O-1) went to General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces in France during the war.

Russell Gerhart Strauss – US Navy WWII

The United States Army would continue to use serial numbers through World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam Wars. Some numbers would be issued for very specific groups. The eight million series from 8,000,000-8,999,999 were issued to female enlisted personnel from 1948-1969. Other numbers would be assigned to specific components. The 20 million series from 20,000,000-20,999,999 covered national guardsmen, with the third digitdetermining where the guardsman was from or inducted.

  • [20 1]-CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, and VT
  • [20 2]-DE, NJ, and NY
  • [20 3]-MD, PA, VA, and DC
  • [20 4]-AL, FL, GA, MS, NC, SC, and TN
  • [20 5]-IN, KY, OH, and WV
  • [20 6]-IL, MI, and WI
  • [20 7]-CO, IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, and WY
  • [20 8]-AR, LA, NM, OK, and TX
  • [20 9]-AK, AZ, CA, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, and WA. 

The numbered series would continue to be issued for all components of regular army, national guard, and draftees through 69,999,999, with the last series of ten million issued to draftees for the Vietnam War. The Army didn’t issue numbers in the 70-80 million series but did include limited numbers from 90,000,000 for members of the Philippine Army during World War II. The United States Army also used lettered prefixes attached to serial numbers. During World War I, “R” indicated service in the regular army, “F” was used for field clerks, and “O” for officers. During World War II, other prefixes were added, accounting for personnel assigned to the Woman’s Auxiliary Corps (WACs), warrant officers, and other military occupational specialties issued during the 1950s and 1960s.

Other branches follow

The United States Air Force was formed on September 18, 1947, as a separate military branch due to the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which restructured the military. The numbers assigned were then divided into series for officers (from 1-3,999,999) and enlisted personnel (from 8,000,000-69,999,999) until 1969. Numbers were broken down with specific date ranges for reservists, air national guard, and personnel who crossed over from the United States Army still on active duty in 1947. The Air Force used prefixes (one and two letters) and suffixes. The prefixes were two-lettered, with the first letter of “F” indicating Air Force. The second letter provided the assigned component. One-lettered suffix codes were assigned to male and female officers, with two letters to other personnel.

The United States Navy began issuing serial numbers by 1920 in a circular from the Department of the Navy. The early numbers were retroactive for active service dating back to 1885 for career sailors who served during the Spanish American War, Philippine Insurrection, and World War I. By the start of World War II, the Navy was regularly issuing enlisted service numbers from the two through nine hundred series. This number now specified a recruiting district code.

For example,872,74,00-874,74-99 would record the inclusive number for Naval Recruiting Station (NRS) in St. Louis, Missouri, which opened on December 15, 1942. The Navy Department book called the Master Service Number Book lists the NRS by serial number and date. 

In 1965 the Navy began adding two-lettered prefixes. The “B” series was issued to enlisted personnel covering 10,001-999,999 from 1965-1971. The “D” series was issued covering 10,001-999,999 from 1965-1971.

The United States Navy used prefixes separated into two codes.  The first O-Codes (numbered 1-2) were for officers. The second, called V-Codes (numbered 1-12), was for Navy reservists with issued numbers for officers and enlisted personnel.

The United States Marine Corps authorized the assigning of serial numbers as part of their identification on February 15, 1941. They started assigning numbers for all enlisted personnel on March 1, 1941. This change in regulations followed an earlier July 1, 1905, circular that assigned a number to each enlisted case file that was organized numerically. From 1905 to 1941, the numbers were not identification based but created for the purposes of the organization. On May 3, 1950, a memorandum was issued directing the term serial number would be replaced with the term service number until 1972.  For commissioned officers, the Marine Corps in the early 1920s started to assign numbers alphabetically, later adding the prefix “O” to distinguish enlisted from officers.

The United States Coast Guard began to record serial numbers for personnel by 1921. The numbers assigned were divided into two different series for officers (from 1-99,999) and enlisted personnel (from 100,000 to 999,999) until 1974. Numbers were broken down with specific date ranges for reservists, warrants, and members of the Coast Guard woman’s Reserve (SPARS) during war and peacetime. The Coast Guard was the only branch not to utilize any form of prefixes.

Moving away from serial numbers  

The terms ‘service numbers’ and ‘serial numbers’ are often intertwined. By November 1948, each military branch began to settle on using the term service numbers. Nearly twenty years later, changes occurred in the issuing of numbers. Newspaper reporter Douglas C. Campbell reported on the changes in the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California, on May 18, 1969. He wrote, “Old Service Numbers Don’t Die, They Just Fade Away.” The military began moving away from service numbers, and soon each branch began adopting social security numbers.  

  • United States Army-on 1 July 1969
  • United States Air Force-on 1 July 1969
  • United States Navy-on 1 January 1972
  • United States Marine Corps-on 1 January 1972
  • United States Coast Guard-on 1 October 1974

Another change in identification numbers

On June 1, 2011, the branches of the United States military stopped using Social Security Numbers (SSN) to identify service members. The Department of Defense issued a unique ten-digit number that would be used on all forms and records for members of the military.

Searching for records with serial or service numbers

Fold3® has several collections listing serial and service numbers for different branches of the military in the twentieth century. The following collections can prove very helpful in finding that information:

Other sources cover the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, and the Army Air Forces (during World War II) that, after September 15, 1947, would be part of the United States Air Force.

This list isn’t exhaustive, and other collections are available on Fold3® and Ancestry® that provide issued numbers for multiple wars and military branches. Digging into your ancestors’ military history and decoding their service numbers will provide valuable clues about our veteran ancestors. These same numbers were soon to be made a permanent part of the identification tags referred to by their colloquial name of “Dog Tags.” In a future blog post, we’ll break down historical details about dog tags.

Did you know you can search Fold3® records by service number? Just use the filter and enter the service number to see records related to your service person.

Start searching Fold3® today!

Buried Treasure: The Shanghai Bowl

January 11, 2023 by | 65 Comments

In 1942, as Japanese forces advanced on Corregidor, soldiers from the US Army’s 31st Infantry Regiment burned the regimental battle standards and buried a silver bowl and cups. The bowl was a prized Army heirloom known as the Shanghai Bowl, and the soldiers didn’t want it to fall into enemy hands. When the war was over, a contingent, including one who helped bury the bowl, returned to Corregidor to retrieve it. It took two months of digging, but they eventually unearthed it. Today, the Shanghai Bowl remains a symbol of the heritage of the 31st Infantry Regiment and is housed at Fort Drum, New York.

The 31st Infantry Regiment Shanghai Bowl has figured prominently in the regiment’s ceremonies and social functions for nearly a century. Photo courtesy of Fort Drum.

In 1932, the 31st Infantry “Polar Bear” Regiment arrived in Shanghai. The Polar Bear nickname came from the regiment’s service in eastern Siberia during the Russian Revolution from 1918-1920. The regiment aimed to protect American citizens and property after hostilities erupted between Chinese and Japanese forces. While in Shanghai, officers of the 31st collected $1,600 in silver dollars and commissioned a Chinese silversmith to create a silver punch bowl and cups to commemorate the unit’s service. The bowl is 30 inches across by 21 inches deep and was used for special occasions, including ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary of the regiment’s founding.

The 31st kept the Shanghai Bowl at regimental headquarters overseas, so as WWII approached, it was in the Philippines. On the night of May 2, 1942, with enemy shells falling nearby, Capt. Earl R. Short led a small detail and buried the bowl and cups on a hillside on Corregidor. Shortly after, Corregidor fell to the Japanese on May 6, 1942, and Short was captured and taken POW.

Some 1,600 soldiers from the 31st participated in the infamous Bataan Death March. They were already weakened and emaciated from four months of fierce fighting without replacements or resupply. Now, as POWs, they endured torture, starvation, and horrific conditions. More than 1,000 soldiers from the 31st Infantry Regiment died in captivity.

Following the war, Capt. Short (who was promoted to major after his release) went to Maj. Gen. Robert J. Marshall and told him about the buried bowl. Marshall ordered Short to find the bowl and sent a small detail of ten men with shovels to accompany him. After arriving at the hill where he’d buried the bowl, Short found the landscape transformed from heavy shelling. After a week of digging, he called for additional heavy equipment. After a two-month search, they finally found the Shanghai Bowl.

The Shanghai Bowl is still an important symbol for the US Army. The bowl remained with the regiment while they served in Korea, and after 55 years overseas, the Army transported the Shanghai Bowl back to the United States in 1987. Today, the Shanghai Bowl is a distinguished part of Fort Drum’s collection and is still brought out for special occasions.

If you would like to learn more about the Shanghai Bowl, or the 31st Infantry Regiment, search Fold3® today.

Reconstructing the Past – Part II: The National Personnel Record Center Fire of 1973

December 5, 2022 by | 41 Comments

This month we welcome back special guest contributor Michael Strauss, an Accredited Genealogist from AncestryProGenealogists®. In September, he wrote a blog on reconstructing military records lost in the fire at the National Personnel Record Center in 1973. Due to the number of responses and additional questions, Michael has graciously volunteered to follow up with more information. Click here to see Part I in this series.

The loss of records of the United States Army between 1912 and 1960 and the Air Force from 1947 to 1964 can be disappointing. However, other sources can be searched to locate details lost from the service files that can help to reconstruct your veteran ancestor’s military service. Here are three more sources to consider:

Frederick William Bender

Pension and claim files

Beyond looking at service files, many veterans and their dependents applied for benefits based on their prior military service after their discharge. The National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri, has custody of the pension/claim files. In 1921 the United States Congress created the Veterans Bureau to assist veterans seeking benefits. Later in 1930, President Herbert Hoover combined the Veterans Bureau with the Bureau of Pensions and the Home for Disabled Veterans to form a single office called the Veterans Administration. Later in 1989, this office was changed to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The indexes to locate veterans who applied for benefits cover multiple years. The earliest index dates from 1917 to 1940. This index covers veterans of World War I, the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916, and older Civil War and Spanish-American War veterans or their dependents who lived into the twentieth century.

The index is available on Ancestry®, and you can search the names of veterans here. Digitized images of the original cards are available at FamilySearch and can be found here. The original card indexes usually contain the following:

  • Name and address of the veteran
  • Branch of service
  • Military unit or organization
  • Military rank or grade
  • Service number
  • Dates when veterans mustered in/out of the military
  • Claim number

The upper right corner of the card index includes a claim number beginning with either a “C” or an “XC.” The “C” indicates the veteran applied for their own benefits. The “XC” indicates the veteran died and someone else applied for the benefits.

Frederick William Bender – Military Pension Index Card (Note the “XC” designation)

The master card indexes often include other prefixes beginning with letters for other documents included in the veteran’s pension or claim file. For example, the letter “A” followed by a series of numbers was only for World War I veterans eligible for a bonus owed for military service. The master index of codes can be found here. A later master index for pensions covers 1940 to 1972, covering veterans of World War II. Searches in the index are only available by request from the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Regardless of which master index is searched to obtain copies of the pension file, the same research office must be contacted.

Military discharges filed in the courthouse

Other sources for military records beyond the service files can be found locally where the veteran was domiciled at the end of their military service. Many veterans filed copies of their discharge or separation papers at the local courthouses where they resided. Requests for copies of separation papers should be directed to your local courthouse. On discharges, the military issued a form referred to as the Reports of Separation for the veteran authorized by the Adjutant General Office of the United States War Department (you will see WD AGO, representing the War Department Adjutant General Office, listed at the bottom of the paper). The term DD214 for separation from military service was not formally adopted until 1 January 1950. Since then, the new form has undergone multiple revisions and is still in use today for discharged military personnel.

Statement of service cards

Following the end of World War I on 11 November 1918, the United States Congress passed an act on 11 July 1919 (41 Stat. 109) authorizing the creation of service cards for each soldier who served in the Army in the late war. The cards were sent to individual state Adjutant General Offices to be processed after the war. On 4 June 1920, Congress passed the Naval Act of 1920 (41 Stat. 815) authorizing that veterans of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard also have their military service recorded on service cards.

Frederick William Bender – Statement of Service Card

For veterans of the United States Army, two different forms were used. For enlisted personnel Adjutant General Office (AGO) form 724 was used, and for officers, Adjutant General Office (AGO) form 84 was filled out. Officer cards were sub-divided into Regular Army (RA) form 84a-3, National Guard (NG) form 84b-1, Officer Reserve Corps (ORC) form 84c-1, and National Army (NA) on form 84d-1. The last-named group for the national army was officers that were conscripted. For enlisted personnel, the 724 series of cards were numbered between 1-9, indicating the cause of separation from the military, and used different card color stock.

Another form 724-1 ½ was also used by the Adjutant General Office (AGO) for the United States Army, where the type of enlistment would be inserted, followed by the place and date and place where the event was recorded. The type of enlistments was RA for Regular Army, NG for National Guard, ERC for Enlisted Reserve Corps, and NA for National Army conscripted men.

During World War I, several states published their card indexes and later made them available online. Many other states kept the original cards in their state archives maintained by the Adjutant General Office (AGO) locally, but Ancestry® and FamilySearch have digitized them. Other states have lost their extant records completely. One of the states that suffered a record loss includes Illinois. Searching their online card catalogs using the keyword “statement of service” will locate the records. 

Statement of Service Cards was again authorized for World War II. This was part of the passage of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 passed by the United States Congress on 16 September 1940 (54 Stat. 885) that required all men between the ages of 21-45 to register. The Office of Selective Service Records (OSSR) used form number 4 to record the statement of service for World War II veterans who served. The same form was used for all military branches and included the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Very few of the forms are online for World War II. Forms for North Carolina from 1940-1948 are available on Ancestry® by clicking here.  Alaska records from 1948-1949 are available at FamilySearch by clicking here. For other states, look to state archival collections. For example, the Nevada State Library and Archives have cards from 1948-1953 for World War II and the Korean War.

Putting everything together

World War I veteran Frederick William Bender (1897-1921) served in Battery A of the 69th Coast Artillery Corps (CAC) during the war. His Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) was destroyed in the fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Both his military pension index card and World War I statement of service card were found using these search techniques. Both records point to new information making the additional searches well worth the time.

To search military records dating back to the Revolutionary War, visit Fold3® today.

The Caterpillar Club

November 18, 2022 by | 91 Comments

Have you ever heard of the Caterpillar Club? The Caterpillar Club is an association of people who have successfully used a parachute to jump out of a disabled aircraft. The club began in the 1920s, and though not limited to military personnel, many club members received admittance while serving in the military. Those admitted to the club received a caterpillar lapel pin identifying them as members. The Irvin Airchute Company was one of the companies that claimed to have founded the Caterpillar Club and created pins to award to members saved by Irvin parachutes. Other parachute makers followed suit. Branches of the Caterpillar Club still exist today. The club’s name refers to the silk threads used to make original parachutes, and though it’s a club that nobody wants to join, once admitted, membership comes with bragging rights and a sense of pride.

Caterpillar Club Membership Card for Lt. Wallace H. Wickander
Caterpillar Club Pin

The origins of the Caterpillar Club aren’t known, with several different people or organizations claiming to be the original founders. Our Fold3® collections contain declassified microfilm made available from a private donor. The microfilm dates from the 1920s and contains records from the US Army Air Corps related to the Caterpillar Club. You’ll find remarkable stories of Airmen who survived jumping from a disabled aircraft.

Charles Lindberg was an early member of the Caterpillar Club with four jumps to his credit. One jump came after a mid-air collision in 1925. While practicing formations and diving attacks over Kelley Field, Texas, Lindberg collided with Lt. C.D. McAllister. “My head was thrown forward against the cowling, and my plane seemed to turn around. Our ships were locked together…I jumped backwards as far from the ship as possible. Fearing the wreckage might fall on me, I did not pull the rip cord until I had dropped several hundred feet. The parachute functioned perfectly,” said Lindberg. Lt. McAllister also jumped from his disabled aircraft, and he, too, earned admission to the Caterpillar Club.

Russell B. Graham
Caterpillar Club Membership Certificate for Russell B. Graham

During WWII, the Caterpillar Club was incorporated as an official organization, and membership increased dramatically. T/Sgt. Russell B. Graham earned his membership when his B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down on February 26, 1945, after a bombing raid on Berlin. Graham and the rest of the crew bailed out. They could not see the ground until just before landing. Graham landed in a tree and survived. He kept the parachute that saved his life and, following the war, brought it home. His mother used the fabric to sew a small blessing gown, and many of Graham’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were blessed in that gown.

Would you like to learn more about the Caterpillar Club? Read more accounts of the heroic jumps that earned admission to the Caterpillar Club and see additional records and Memorials for Caterpillar Club members on Fold3® today.

75th Anniversary of the First Veterans Day Celebration and Free Access to Fold3® on Veterans Day Weekend

November 7, 2022 by | 42 Comments

Following WWI, the United States commemorated November 11th as Armistice Day. The date was significant since WWI fighting ended on November 11, 1918 (the 11th hour, 11th month, 11th day). However, in 1947, a WWII veteran from Birmingham, Alabama, was the driving force in his community to organize this country’s first Veterans Day celebration. Raymond Weeks believed that all veterans should be recognized – not only those who perished, as was the case for Memorial Day. The idea took root, and eventually, in 1954, Congress passed a bill designating November 11th as Veterans Day.

This Veterans Day marks the 75th anniversary of that first celebration. To honor all veterans, starting Thursday, we are offering free access* to Fold3® on Veterans Day weekend (November 10-13). We invite you to explore our Fold3® collections, find records related to your veteran, and create a Memorial for our Honor Wall. These Memorials contain heroic stories of service and sacrifice and can be shared with others. You can attach military records, stories, journals, and photographs in one place to create a lasting tribute to the service of your veteran. There is no subscription required to view these Memorials. For tips on how to create a Memorial, click here.

Sgt. Daniel P. Matthews

One example of a Memorial is that of Sgt. Daniel P. Matthews, who served in the Korean War. Dan and his twin brother Dave were from Van Nuys, California, and enlisted together in 1951. Dan served in the Marines, while his brother Dave served in the Navy. Dave recalled that each time a round was fired from his Navy ship, he prayed it would keep Dan safe. On March 28, 1953, at Vegas Hill, Korea, Dan charged an enemy machine gun emplacement. The enemy assault was preventing the extraction of a wounded Marine. Though seriously wounded by enemy fire, Dan continued the charge until mortally wounded. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. Dave accompanied his brother’s body home, and the heartbroken family laid Dan to rest in Sylmar, California.

We owe a debt of gratitude to our veterans and their families. Take advantage of free access to our Fold3® records collections this Veterans Day and explore nearly 600 million records from the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI, WWII, and more. Discover incredible details about the courageous men and women who have served to defend and protect our country. Search Fold3® today.

*Access to the records on Fold3® will be free until 13 Nov 2022 at 11:59 p.m. MT. Registration required. After the free access period ends, you will only be able to view records using a paid Fold3® membership.

New Collection of Military Notices from the London Gazette!

October 28, 2022 by | 15 Comments

We are pleased to announce a new collection of UK records on Fold3®. The UK, London Gazette WWII Military Notices 1939-1945 contains 1.3 million indexed records for service members found in the Military Notice sections or supplements of the London Gazette newspaper.

The London Gazette is Britain’s oldest continuously published newspaper. It is the authoritative source of government news and publishes notices related to elections, Royal proclamations and other declarations, appointments to public office, and more. Issues of the Gazette also include notices on military matters. This new collection consists of a searchable index of service members and the awards or mentions they received in the Gazette during the WWII years of 1939-1945. These notices include military awards or commendations, reports of people leaving service due to illness, appointments, promotions, and other military matters.

Ordinary Seaman Bennett Southwell posthumously receives the George Cross

In some cases, the award notice also includes the story behind why the recipient received an award or commendation. The notices in this collection may contain information such as name, rank, regimental number, occupation, military dates of service, commendation dates, regiment, and unit. They provide clues to help unlock stories of bravery and sacrifice. One example is Ordinary Seaman Bennett Southwell, who served in the Royal Navy.

On October 7, 1940, during the London Blitz, Southwell served in the Land Mine Disposal Section. That day he and Sub Lieutenant Jack Easton arrived on the scene of an incident in East London. A bomb containing 1500 pounds of explosives had crashed through the roof of a house but failed to detonate. The parachute bomb was dangling by its lines, with the chute canopy partly wrapped around the chimney. The two men could see that the fuse was damaged, and they would need to attempt to deactivate the bomb in place. They evacuated the surrounding area, and the men went to work. Suddenly, the bomb shifted and began ticking. Southwell and Easton ran. They only had 12 seconds until detonation. The bomb exploded with such a terrific force that it destroyed 12 streets. Miraculously, Easton was dug out of the rubble alive, albeit with severe injuries, including a fractured skull, pelvis, and two broken legs. Southwell, 22, was not so fortunate. He died in the blast. On January 23, 1941, the Gazette announced that Southwell would receive the George Cross. King George VI presented the award to Bennett’s widow at Buckingham Palace in October 1941.

To explore this collection, you can search by a service member’s name or browse the records by year and month. The individual information found within the notices provides a jumping-off point for further research.

Start searching this new collection of military notices from the London Gazette today on Fold3®.  

The Last Surviving Veterans

October 14, 2022 by | 83 Comments

Each time the last surviving veteran from any war passes away, it marks the end of an era and the closing of a chapter in history. The question of who was the last often brings lively debate. In some cases, the claims are contested and not verifiable, and in other times, early records are missing. We’ve combed our archives to share the stories of some veterans who are among the last survivors from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, and WWI.

Daniel Frederick Bakeman

Revolutionary War: Daniel Frederick Bakeman was the last soldier from the Revolutionary War to receive a pension. He was 109 years old when he died in 1869. Though no specific records to validate Bakeman’s claim of service survived, authorities deemed his testimony credible, and he received a pension. Bakeman was born in Schoharie County, New York, in 1759. At age 18, he enlisted and served as a private in the Tryon County Militia. He fought at the Battle of Johnstown. After the war, Bakeman married Susan Brewer, and they had eight children. Bakeman outlived his wife and two children. He died in Freedom, New York, on April 5, 1869. In his 109 years, Bakeman experienced inventions that revolutionized daily living, such as trains, gas lighting, elevators, typewriters, the sewing machine, and photography. His lengthy pension file contains records, letters, and testimony.

Hiram Cronk

War of 1812: Hiram Cronk was born in Frankfort, New York, on April 19, 1800. He enlisted in the 157th Regiment of the New York militia on October 8, 1814. He was 14 years old and served at the naval station at Sacket’s Harbor. Following the war, Cronk married Mary Thornton. He worked as a shoemaker, and they had ten children, seven of whom survived to adulthood. During his lifetime, Cronk witnessed incredible advances, including the invention of electric lighting, the automobile, and the airplane. When Cronk passed away in 1905, he was honored with a state funeral in New York City. Thousands lined the streets to view his funeral procession. The event was captured on film and preserved in the Library of Congress.

Funeral of Hiram Cronk courtesy of the Library of Congress
Albert Henry Woolson

Civil War: When Albert Henry Woolson was young, he met Abraham Lincoln. It’s hard to comprehend that a soldier who met President Lincoln in the 1860s survived long enough to see Elvis Presley’s hits top the charts in the 1950s. Woolson was born in Antwerp, Minnesota, on February 11, 1847. He enlisted as a drummer boy on October 10, 1864, in the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment, Company C. During Woolson’s lifetime, he had a front-row seat to history and watched the industrial revolution transform the country’s landscape. On his 109th birthday, Woolson said he enjoyed pipes and cigars and smoked for nearly a century, beginning when he was 12. Woolson died in 1956.

WWI: The last surviving American veteran of WWI was Cpl. Frank Woodruff Buckles. Buckles was born on February 1, 1901, in Missouri. He enlisted at 16 and served in the American Expeditionary Forces with a detachment from Fort Riley. He mostly drove ambulances and motorcycles in Germany and France. Following the war, Buckles sailed home aboard the Carpathia – the same ship that rescued survivors of the Titanic. Buckles went to work as a purser on commercial ships. He was in the Philippines in 1941 when Japan invaded and became a civilian POW. He endured nearly three years of cruel treatment before being freed after a US Army raid on the prison where he was held. In 2008, President George W. Bush invited Buckles to the White House. Buckles lived 110 years, passing away on February 27, 2011. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Frank Woodruff Buckles

To learn more about these and other veterans, explore military records, veteran Memorials, and other collections today on Fold3®!