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80th Anniversary of D-Day

June 3, 2024 by | 53 Comments

“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you…” With these words, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the “Order of the Day” just before the 1944 Allied assault on Normandy Beach. It’s been 80 years since that historic day, and less than one percent of Americans who served in WWII are still alive. However, the impact of their service and sacrifice will live on forever.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the “Order of the Day”

Code named Operation Overlord, planning for D-Day began after France fell to the Nazis in 1940. It involved Allies from several countries and was the largest amphibious invasion in military history. As H-Hour approached (5:30 a.m. local time) on June 6, 1944, demolition teams had already blasted out underwater obstacles planted by German forces. Rangers were already scaling the cliffs to knock out coastal guns, and American and British airborne divisions had been dropped in hedgerows behind the beaches overnight. Soon, the first waves of Infantry would hit the beach.

Leonard T. Schroeder, Jr. served in the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry, Fourth Division, where he was the commanding officer of Company F. 

Leonard T. Schroeder

He has the distinction of being the first man ashore at Utah Beach, the first beachhead, landing fewer than 60 seconds after H-Hour. Recalling the day, Schroeder said that Allied aircraft had bombed the beach heavily, creating craters that could be used as cover. Some of those craters were offshore and hidden by water. When Schroeder’s landing craft pulled ashore, he jumped off and into a water-filled crater six feet deep. He came up sputtering and struggled to rush ashore. Working his way up the beach, he was wounded by shrapnel but continued to fight. He commanded his company for three hours before collapsing into unconsciousness. He woke up at an aid station and was later evacuated to England. Schroeder received the Silver Star.

Carlton W. Barrett

Pvt. Carlton W. Barrett served in the 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division and participated in the Normandy Invasion. His unit was in the third wave of Allied soldiers to come ashore at Omaha Beach, landing at about 10:00 a.m. Germans had planted mines on the beach about a foot apart, and the beach was strewn with bodies of soldiers. Barrett landed under heavy enemy fire, wading through neck-deep water. He noticed fellow soldiers around him floundering in the water and rushed to save them from drowning. Once on the beach, Barrett carried dispatches back and forth along the exposed beach while under heavy fire. He also carried wounded soldiers to an offshore evacuation boat. For his dauntless courage, Barrett was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The Allies landed over 160,000 troops on June 6, 1944, with an estimated 10,000 casualties, more than half of which were American. Today, a visit to the Normandy American Cemetery is the final resting place for 9,387 Americans and a sobering reminder of selfless service and the ultimate sacrifice made 80 years ago. To learn more about D-Day, search Fold3® today.

The Story Behind Each Star: Honoring WWII’s Fallen

May 28, 2024 by | 12 Comments

A Gold Star Service Flag is presented to the family of service members who died while serving in the US Armed Forces. Each gold star represents an individual life, and one group of volunteers is working hard to tell each of their stories. Stories Behind the Stars (SBTS) was founded in 2019, and to date, their volunteers have collectively memorialized nearly 50,000 of those who died during WWII. Their stories are attached to Fold3® Memorials and can be viewed in our Stories Behind the Stars collection.

Gold Star Service Flag

These Memorials contain stories of valor and heroism. One example is that of Capt. James McDonnell Gallagher. Gallagher enlisted in the US Army and served in the Philippines, where he trained troops from the Philippine Army. Gallagher was there when Manilla fell to the Japanese and in Bataan at the time of the US surrender on April 9, 1942.

Gallagher died on April 9, 1942, but it wasn’t until later that his family learned the details. A fellow soldier wrote to Gallagher’s family, saying he was with their son at the time of his death. A group of US and Filipino soldiers had been captured on April 8 and interrogated by their Japanese captors. They were forced to march for 10 hours without food or water. Gallagher was very ill and seemed to be suffering from malaria. His condition worsened throughout the day and evening, and he died the following day. His remains have never been recovered. The details surrounding Gallagher’s life, military service, and death have been captured by an SBTS volunteer, ensuring that future generations will remember his sacrifice.

James M. Gallagher (right) as POW

Among SBTS’s impressive recent accomplishments is the completion of stories for each of the 8,700 WWII soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery. They are also in the process of documenting stories for each of the fallen from the 100th Bombardment Group, whose experiences have been the subject of the recent miniseries Masters of the Air.

How can you help? SBTS needs volunteers! You don’t have to be a professional writer or military historian (though some are). Most volunteers are regular people (young and old) who want to participate in a project that honors the memories of America’s Greatest Generation. SBTS still has 421,000 more stories to write to complete its mission. According to one volunteer, “Anyone can tell a story.” To learn more, visit Stories Behind the Stars. To read the heroic stories of America’s WWII fallen, explore our Stories Behind the Stars collection today on Fold3®.

Hollywood Goes to War

May 13, 2024 by | 79 Comments

When the United States entered WWII, life changed for Hollywood actors, on and off the screen. Studios shifted to making movies to bolster patriotism and morale, while actors often supported the war effort differently. Some led recruitment and bond drives, and others entertained troops. A few left Hollywood altogether and joined the United States Armed Forces. Here are a few Hollywood actors who played a part in WWII.

Major James M. Stewart was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross on 3 May 1944

Jimmy Stewart was an Academy Award-winning actor when he traded tuxedos for military fatigues at the height of his career. In March 1941, Stewart enlisted in the US Army and went from a $12,000/month job as a Hollywood A-lister to a $21/month job as a private in the US Army. Military officials were hesitant to send someone so famous overseas, but Stewart refused preferential treatment. He served in the 8th Air Force and flew more than 20 combat missions over Europe. Stewart received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and the French Croix de Guerre. By the time the war ended, he had achieved the rank of brigadier general, making him the highest-ranked Hollywood actor.

Paul Newman during WWII

Paul Newman was a radioman/gunner in torpedo bombers in the United States Navy during WWII. He enlisted in 1943 at age 18, hoping to become a pilot, but he was rejected because he was color blind. Newman spent three years in the Pacific Theater. Following the war, Newman studied drama and made his Broadway debut in 1953, where he met his future wife, Joanne Woodward. They married in 1958. His breakout role occurred in 1956 in Somebody Up There Likes Me.

Charlton Heston received a scholarship to Northwestern University, where he studied drama. In 1944, before his film career took off, Heston enlisted in the US Army. He was a radio gunner in the 77th Bomb Squad of the 11th Air Force and was stationed in the Aleutian Islands. While there, he flew combat missions to the Kuril Islands north of Japan. Heston achieved the rank of staff sergeant. Following the war, Heston’s Hollywood debut occurred in 1950 when he starred in Dark City. He is also known for his iconic performance of Moses in Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments.

Charlton Heston WWII Draft Registration Card

Clark Gable was already an established movie star in 1942 when he joined the US Army. Gable was married to actress Carole Lombard, but in January 1942, Lombard was killed in a plane crash while returning from a war bond tour. Mourning her loss, Gable joined the Army that August. He flew combat missions as a tail gunner in the Army Air Corps, serving in the 359th Bomb Squadron, 303rd Bomb Group. Among his fans was Adolf Hitler, who offered a reward to German troops if they could capture Gable alive. They were never successful, and Gable was discharged in 1944.

Clark Gable encourages Americans to buy War Bonds on a broadcast from England during WWII

Henry Fonda made a name for himself in Hollywood in 1940 when he was nominated for an Oscar for his role in The Grapes of Wrath. He was a good friend and former roommate of Jimmy Stewart, and the two had raised money for the defense of Britain. When war broke out, Fonda said, “I don’t want to be in a fake war in a studio.” He enlisted in the US Navy and served three years as a quartermaster on the USS Satterlee, later qualifying as an air combat intelligence officer. He was discharged in 1945 and returned to Hollywood to pick up his career in film.

Henry Fonda

To explore military records for other well-known veterans, search Fold3® today!

May 1943: War Department Announces the Rescue of Aviators Lost in Greenland

May 1, 2024 by | 29 Comments

In November 1942, an air transport crew ferrying a B-17 Flying Fortress to England diverted to Greenland to participate in a search for an overdue plane. During the search, the Flying Fortress crashed on the Greenland ice cap. Before the epic ordeal was over, five men died (including three rescuers), and the others spent months on the ice before being rescued the following Spring.

Left to Right: S/Sgt. Don T. Tetley, Lt. Harry E. Spencer, and Capt. Armand L. Monteverde

On November 6, 1942, pilot Lt. Armand L. Monteverde, co-pilot Harry E. Spencer, and navigator William F. O’Hara, along with their crew, were flying near Greenland when military officials asked them to divert and assist in a search for a missing aircraft. The aviators landed in Greenland. Foul weather made the search difficult and often grounded the crew. On November 9, the clouds broke, and the crew, including Sgt. Paul J. Spina, Pvt. Alexander F. Tucciarone, Corp. Loren E. Howarth, and Pvt. Clarence Wedel took off for another search. Sgt. Alfred C. Best and S/Sgt. Lloyd Puryear came along to help.

Heavy cloud cover moved in during the flight, and the line between sky and land became indiscernible. Suddenly, the plane lurched. A wingtip had brushed the ground. Before the pilot could react, the plane crashed violently and skidded, and the fuselage broke apart. Crew members were battered and bruised but survived. The most seriously injured was Spina, who broke his wrist and was thrown from the plane.

The men huddled together in the fuselage for warmth. The extreme cold and biting wind made the situation miserable. After a few days, the weather eased up, and crew members ventured out to assess the situation. After taking a few steps, Spencer fell 100 feet into a deep crevasse. Fortunately, an ice block wedged in the gap stopped his fall. Fellow crew members used a parachute harness and rope to hoist him to the surface, but the men soon realized they were surrounded by deep crevasses that threatened to swallow the plane. O’Hara also suffered from frostbite, having gotten snow in his boots while helping Spina and Spencer.

After six long days, Howarth got the smashed radio working and sent an SOS message. Back at the base, rescuers worked frantically to develop a plan. In the meantime, they dropped supplies when the weather allowed.

Over the next five months, rescuers tried repeatedly to reach the men with multiple attempts using dog teams, motor sleds (a type of snowmobile), and aircraft. Extreme weather and the dangerous crevasses made conditions treacherous. During one rescue attempt, a plane managed to land on the ice and picked up Tucciarone and Puryear. They were flown to safety, but while attempting to rescue Corp. Howarth, the plane went down, killing both crew members and Howarth. Another failed attempt took the life of a rescuer, Lt. Max Demorest, who died after he drove his sled into a deep crevasse.

About one month into the ordeal, six men remained at the crash site. A seventh man, rescuer S/Sgt. Don T. Tetley joined them after reaching the site on a sled. O’Hara’s feet were in bad shape, so Tetley, Spencer, and Wedel loaded O’Hara on a sled and decided to try to make it to the base. As they were crossing the ice, Wedel suddenly broke through and disappeared. He had fallen through a shallow ice bridge over a deep crevasse. The ice had claimed another victim.

The sled’s motor failed a short time later, leaving the men stranded. To make matters worse, O’Hara had developed gangrene in his feet. Rescuers kept both groups resupplied with airdrops when the weather allowed. The men at the sled camp built a snow fort, and the driving snow made further rescue attempts impossible until February.

Dubbed Hotel Imperial, here is where Tetley, Spencer, and O’Hara awaited rescue in a snow cave.

When the weather cleared in February, rescuers landed a pontoon plane on the snow and picked up Tetley, Spencer, and O’Hara. It had been three months, but the men were now safe. All three were hospitalized, and O’Hara had to have both feet amputated. The focus now became the men back in the wreckage.

The glacier was moving at the wreck site, and the plane was slowly slipping into a crevasse. Rescuers decided to land another aircraft at the sled camp, where they would use a dog team to make their way to the wreckage. In late March, rescuers reached the site. The men had been on the glacier for five months. They were taken back to the sled camp and loaded in a pontoon plane. On April 6, 1943, the plane successfully took off from the ice field. With most of their fuel spent, the aircraft made a safe belly landing back at the base.

Consolidated PBY after an unsuccessful take-off from the Greenland ice cap during the rescue attempt.

On May 4, 1943, newspapers across the country published the heroic story of survival. Three of the survivors, Monteverde, Spencer, and Tetley, were invited to the White House to meet President Roosevelt. If you would like to learn more about this incident and the heroic survivors, search Fold3® today.

What Can You Learn From the War of 1812 Pension Files

April 15, 2024 by | 25 Comments

Do you have an ancestor who served in the War of 1812? The digitization of the War of 1812 pension files continues and is now 86% complete. If you find your ancestor’s pension file, here are some tips on using these amazing records to research your military ancestors.

Find the Pension File: From the War of 1812 Pension Files publication page, enter a soldier’s name in the search box OR select Browse to search for files by state. Remember that many War of 1812 veterans received bounty land, so the state where your ancestor died may not be the state from which he served. Try a variety of search parameters until you locate the correct pension file.

The First Page: The file’s first page contains a summary and may include many details.

Spelling Variations for the Soldier’s Name: This pension file shows that the soldier’s records might be found under two different spellings (Alger or Elger). However, as we dive deeper into the manuscripts in this file, a third spelling is also used (Alaer). These are all great clues for further research.

Where the Soldier Served/Enlistment and Discharge Dates: After learning which regiment your ancestor served in, you can do further research on that regiment. Which battles did they participate in? Who commanded the regiment? Sometimes, pension files give details about the regiment’s service, but if your ancestor’s file doesn’t contain those details, search the commanding officer’s pension file or the files of others who served in the same regiment. These can all help build the narrative of your ancestor’s service.

The Veteran’s Residence: Knowing where our ancestors lived is crucial to finding additional records. This pension file shows that the soldier relocated from Virginia to Indiana and that, by 1878, he had passed away, but his widow survived him. Sometimes, these boxes are left blank on the first page, but take the time to read through the manuscripts in the pension file, and you will likely learn more about the soldier’s residence.

The Widow’s Maiden Name and Marriage Date: In the example below, we are lucky to find this information right on the first page. Often, it requires reading through the file very carefully. Researching women can be particularly difficult, so learning that this soldier was married twice and that the file contains the maiden names of both women is extremely valuable. A widow had to prove her marriage to the veteran, so you may find an affidavit from the person who performed or witnessed the marriage. We have even come across pages from the family bible in the pension file as proof of marriage.

Did the Widow Apply for a Pension: When a veteran’s widow applied for a pension, officials created a file and gave it a number. W.O. refers to the Widow’s Original. When the application was granted, it became known as the W.C. or Widow’s Certificate.

Did the Soldier Receive Bounty Land: Various acts of Congress granted bounty land for soldiers who fought in the War of 1812. This pension file reveals that this veteran received 80 acres of bounty land in 1850 (Certificate No. 32478) and 80 acres of bounty land in 1855 (Certificate No. 12346).

Affidavits: Proper military records were not kept during the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Consequently, soldiers had to provide proof of their service. Pension files contain affidavits of individuals who hope to provide that proof. The affidavits may be from fellow soldiers, acquaintances, family members, etc. These are written in quill and ink and may be difficult to read, but they can reveal amazing details. Take advantage of Fold3’s® Viewer Tools along the right margin to enlarge, rotate, and adjust the contrast to make these manuscripts easier to read. You can also transcribe these records using the ‘Annotate’ feature and then select ‘Transcription.’

Children and Dependents: Pension files may contain the names and birthdates of the veteran’s children.

Death Date of the Soldier: Pension files usually contain the death date of the veteran.

Use these helpful tips and dive into our War of 1812 Pension Files to learn more about your ancestors’ military service. Search the free War of 1812 Pension Files collection today on Fold3®.

April 27, 1865: The Sinking of Sultana

April 2, 2024 by | 91 Comments

In April 1865, some 2,000 passengers, mostly Union soldiers, boarded the Sultana in Vicksburg, MS. The soldiers had recently been released from prison camps, including Andersonville and Cahaba. Weary and tired, they had begun the arduous trek home following the end of the Civil War. The 260-foot-long wooden, side-wheel steamboat, designed to hold 376 passengers, was dangerously overloaded as it made its way up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. In the early morning hours of April 27, 1865, near Memphis, three of Sultana’s boilers exploded, and the vessel sank, killing more than 1,100 people.

The Courier-Journal: April 30, 1865

The Sultana was launched in 1863 and was powered by four large boilers. It regularly ran along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and St. Louis. Designed for the cotton trade, Sultana carried cotton and goods, along with civilian and military passengers, between ports.

On April 23, 1865, the Sultana was docked at Vicksburg to repair leaky boilers when Capt. James Cass Mason learned that the U.S. government would pay between $5 and $10 per passenger to transport released prisoners north. Amid accusations of backroom bribes and kickbacks, Mason hastily patched the malfunctioning boilers, then loaded more than 2,000 Union soldiers aboard. The soldiers joined other regular passengers, including men, women, and children.

Photograph of the overcrowded Sultana captured the day before the disaster

On April 27, 1865, at about 2:00 a.m., the Sultana was a few miles north of Memphis when three of the four boilers exploded. Some passengers were killed instantly, while others flung themselves into the water as flames engulfed the vessel. The released prisoners, many weak and emaciated, lacked the strength to swim to safety in the strong current.  

William Crisp served in the Michigan 18th Volunteer Infantry, Company D. He was taken prisoner in September 1864 and sent to Cahaba Prison Camp. In March 1865, torrential rains flooded the camp, leaving prisoners standing in cold, knee-deep water for twelve days. Along with other prisoners, Crisp was moved around, eventually ending up in Vicksburg. While there, he heard the news of General Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Crisp joined other prisoners aboard the Sultana for his return home to Hillsdale, Michigan. On the night of the disaster, he was sleeping on the main deck when the ship exploded. Shards of debris and heavy, broken timbers rained down on the men below, breaking Crisp’s shoulder and three ribs. He also received severe burns on his arms and head. Dazed and confused, Crisp climbed out from under the debris before jumping overboard as flames consumed the ship.

The swift currents carried Crisp downstream for about three miles until he grasped a tree and pulled himself from the cold water. There, he hung for nearly seven hours until a Confederate soldier rescued him in an old dugout canoe. Crisp was one of 65 men rescued that morning by this same soldier, a former enemy turned friend.  

Crisp spent six weeks in a Memphis hospital before he was well enough to travel home. Even then, the severity of his injuries required that he stop at several hospitals along the way for treatment. His family, assuming he was lost, were shocked when Crisp arrived home, bandaged and burned but alive.

The Sultana disaster claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people, including Capt. James Cass Mason. It remains the deadliest maritime incident in American history. In contrast, the sinking of the Titanic claimed 1,503 lives. Investigators later determined that faulty boilers, mismanagement of water levels in the boilers, and the strain from the overcrowded conditions likely led to the explosion. Nobody was ever held responsible for the Sultana disaster.

If you would like to learn more about the Sultana, search Fold3® today.

New Massachusetts Revolutionary War Records

March 25, 2024 by | 22 Comments

Do you have ancestors from Massachusetts who served in the Revolutionary War? We have added a new collection, Massachusetts, Soldiers and Sailors in the Revolutionary War, 1775-1801.

This collection contains an alphabetized index created by the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from primary historical sources. More than 620,000 cards containing service information for Revolutionary War soldiers and sailors were compiled into a 17-volume series, originally published in the 1800s.

Records in this collection may include the following:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Residence
  • Rank
  • Date and location of enlistment
  • Areas and length of service
  • Date of Discharge
  • Physical description

This collection can provide service details for heroes of the Revolution like Anselm Tupper. Tupper enlisted in the Revolutionary War at age 11. He served alongside his father, Benjamin Tupper, and achieved the rank of Lieutenant by the time he was 17. Following the war, Anselm helped settle Marietta, Ohio, where he lived until his death in 1808. What will you discover about your ancestor’s story?

Explore this new collection of Revolutionary War records today on Fold3®!