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Remembering Pearl Harbor

December 1, 2020 by | 0 comments

Throughout 2020 we have reflected on the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII. As the year comes to a close, we wanted to take a look back at the moment that brought the United States into WWII – the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The attack by Japanese forces occurred 79 years ago this month, and more than 2,400 U.S. personnel lost their lives. There are countless stories of heroism from that day. Here are just a few:

Don Stratton

Navy seaman first class Don Stratton, 19, had just finished breakfast aboard the USS Arizona on December 7, 1941. He put some oranges in his hat to go visit a buddy in sickbay and made his way up on deck. Suddenly a Japanese bomb exploded, destroying a part of the ship. A fireball set his shirt on fire and caused 1st and 2nd-degree burns on his face and ear and 3rd-degree burns on his extremities. Despite his injuries, Stratton took up his station and tried to shoot down enemy planes, but the shells could not reach the Japanese aircraft. As the Arizona started to sink, Stratton grabbed hold of a rope and began to climb hand over hand. His hands were raw and burned, but he was determined to survive as he inched across the rope hanging above flaming water. He finally reached safety. Within 25 minutes, the Arizona sank to the bottom of the harbor.

Frank Emond

Frank Emond was a French horn player in the band aboard the USS Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania was in dry dock at Pearl Harbor at the time. On December 6, 1941, musicians from the Pennsylvania performed with 21 members of the USS Arizona band. The following morning Frank was getting ready to play for the morning flag-raising when the Japanese attacked. Trained as a stretcher-bearer, Emond went to work removing the injured and dead. Later he learned that all 21 members of the USS Arizona band that he’d performed with the previous evening died in the attack.

Vernon M. Matney

Brothers Vernon M. Matney and Claudie A. Matney both served in the Navy and were assigned to two different ships in Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack. Vernon was aboard the USS Arizona and Claudie was nearby on the USS Worden. Vernon served as a fireman first class and died in the attack. Claudie survived. The boys’ parents were not officially notified of Vernon’s death until February 1942, but an earlier letter from Claudie confirmed their fears. Navy censors prevented Claudie from directly telling his parents directly about Vernon’s death, so he relayed the information in a type of code. He wrote, “Tell Mildred (their sister) that she can name her last boy Vernon after Buddy.” In 1944 Vernon was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart.

George W. Blake

George W. Blake was playing basketball with a local team on the morning of December 7th when he noticed an unusual sound, like a plane landing on a corrugated metal roof. He ran outside and realized the sound he was hearing was machine gunfire. “I came out and the air was full of planes,” he said. Pearl Harbor was under attack. Blake ran to the barracks where a sergeant ordered him to grab small arms and make his way to the gun park. He ran a half-mile across the base, taking cover under palm trees while firing his rifle at Japanese fighters. After arriving at the gun station, Blake was put in charge of a .30 caliber machine gun. He tilted it toward the sky and fired at attacking planes. “I didn’t hit anything,” he said. Across the harbor, he saw billowing clouds of black smoke. He later realized it was probably the Arizona. Blake said they expected the attack to be followed by a land invasion and he spent the next 24 hours manning a machine gun on the shores near the entrance to the harbor. Following that, he lived for several months in a sand cave dug out on the steep slopes of the beach, positioned with a machine gun facing the beach, waiting for another attack. Looking back at those that were lost, Blake says, “The first thing that comes to mind is they were kids.”

Lauren Bruner

Lauren Bruner was at his battle station in an anti-aircraft gun director, a metal box on the forward mast of the Arizona, when a Japanese bomb ignited the powder magazine. A fireball engulfed six men in the box and trapped them. A sailor threw them a line and the men crawled down the line. Their skin was charred and falling from their bodies. Bruner was the second to last man to leave the Arizona before she sunk. Burned over two-thirds of his body and shot in the back of his leg, he spent months recovering. After being released, Bruner went to work on another ship, the USS Coghlan. He served in the Aleutian Islands and the Battle of Komandorski before finishing out the war in the South Pacific.

To read more stories, see photographs, or leave a tribute, visit our Interactive USS Arizona Memorial and search Fold3 for additional Pearl Harbor records and Memorials.

They Fought for the Country that Detained Their Families: Japanese American Soldiers in WWII

November 19, 2020 by | 17 Comments

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team is a WWII U.S. Army regiment composed almost entirely of second-generation Japanese Americans, known as Nisei, who answered the call to serve. They fought in Italy and France and were described by more than one commander as, “The finest assault troops he’d ever led.” They volunteered at a time when many Japanese American families lived in internment camps. Some members of the 442nd were serving in the Hawaii National Guard when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The government made them turn their weapons in, but as the war progressed, the War Department permitted them to bear arms in defense of their country. We’ve recently added the Unit History for the 442nd, which consists of the 442nd Infantry Regiment, the 522nd Field Artillery Battalion, and the 232nd Combat Engineer Company. Later the 100th Infantry Battalion joined with the 442nd.

This Unit History is part of Fold3’s growing collection of Unit Histories, many of which are donated by our users. We can digitize any Unit History or military yearbook and return the original undamaged book to the donor. Fold3 is dedicated to preserving and sharing Unit Histories and make them available for anyone to view free of charge.

After the 442nd was organized, they reported to Camp Shelby in Mississippi for training. Later they headed to the European Theater. In June 1944, the 100th Infantry Battalion met up with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, both having fought through Italy.

Sadao S. Munemori

Among the heroic soldiers in this unit was Sadao S. Munemori. He was born to Japanese immigrants. Just a month before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sadao joined the U.S. Army and was in an Army training center when his family was forced out of their home and to an inland internment camp. Sadao was assigned to the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and sent to Anzio as one of the first group of replacements for the 100th Infantry Battalion, who had already been in combat for nine months.

After Rome fell to Allied hands in June 1944, the 100th and 442nd shifted to France, where they played a heroic role in the forests above Bruyeres. Later, they returned to Italy with a new objective, to break through the Gothic Line. The Gothic Line was a defensive barrier in the northern Apennines mountain range. The 100/442 scaled the mountains and sent a massive artillery barrage down on German forces. The enemy returned fire relentlessly. At one point, Sadao and several other soldiers dove into a shell crater for protection and to avoid heavy fire. Noticing two machine-gun nests, Sadao decided to try and eliminate them. He crawled from the hole and attacked the machine-gun nests with hand grenades, knocking them both out. While crawling back to safety, a live grenade bounced off his helmet and fell into the hole. Knowing there wasn’t time to throw the grenade out, Sadao threw his body over it and absorbed the impact as it exploded. Sadao died instantly, but his comrades survived. Sadao Munemori became the only Japanese American to be awarded the Medal of Honor during the war (other Japanese Americans received the medal long after the war ended.)

To learn more about these heroic Nisei soldiers, search the Unit History of the 442nd Infantry Regiment. If you have a Unit History or a military yearbook that you are willing to share, please contact us at [email protected]. We’ll make arrangements to digitize your book and return it safely and undamaged to you. Others will then be able to view that Unit History or yearbook for free. See more Unit Histories at Fold3 today.

Native American Contributions in the U.S. Military

November 11, 2020 by | 54 Comments

Throughout American History, Native Americans have distinguished themselves with bravery and courage in military service to their country, often without enjoying the same rights and privileges afforded other soldiers. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we’d like to highlight the contributions of just a few of the many Native American soldiers who have served with honor.

Pvt. John Elk, WWI Soldier

During WWI, more than 10,000 Native Americans served in the American Expeditionary Force. The majority were volunteers, and most were not considered U.S. citizens. Only U.S. citizens were eligible for the draft. Despite this, the government required Native American men to register for the draft, causing frustration and sometimes rebellion. Many hoped their service would lead to the government granting them full U.S. citizenship. At the time, only Native Americans who accepted an allotment of land under the Dawes Act of 1887 received citizenship. As a result, thousands of Native Americans served before they even won the right to vote. It was during WWI that military officials realized the value of Native languages to transmit sensitive information. German officials were not able to decipher coded instructions passed by telephone, radio, or telegraph using these Native languages. Code Talkers, as they came to be known, played a critical role in both WWI and WWII.

Native American soldiers participated in the WWI Meuse-Argonne offensive. William S. Harjo, a Creek Indian, was killed in France and awarded the Croix de Guerre military medal for his actions during that offensive. He served in the 142nd Infantry, 36th Division. An Oklahoma reporter accompanying the regiment spoke of the contributions of Harjo and other Native Americans who “gave their all” as German shells exploded all around them. “Among these men who gave their lives for the sake of all we hold sacred in the name of democracy are to be found numerous men of the original Americans. These Indians have borne their part all the way through,” he said.  

Samuel Holiday, WWII Code Talker

Native Americans also made remarkable contributions during WWII. In 1942, the first 29 Navajo Code Talkers were sworn in. Before the war ended, more than 400 Code Talkers participated, creating an unbreakable code that helped win the war. Samuel Holiday served in an elite Marine unit of Code Talkers. He went behind enemy lines on Iwo Jima to locate a Japanese artillery unit advancing on American forces. After locating the artillery unit, Holiday sent a coded message directing Marine artillery fire. With his help, U.S. forces eliminated the threat, and Holiday replied with a coded message saying, “Right on Target!” Code Talkers were a key factor in military victories at Iwo Jima, Saipan, and several other major battles in the Pacific Theater.

Lori Piestewa

During the Iraq War, Pfc. Lori Piestewa became the first Native American woman in the military to die as a result of combat. She was killed in 2003 after her convoy was hit by a bomb in Nasiriyah. Piestewa, a single mother of two small children, was first reported missing. She became a household name and the adopted daughter of many Native American tribes as a worried nation awaited word of her fate. When military officials confirmed Piestewa’s death, the nation mourned with her family. She was 23-years-old, the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, and the granddaughter of a WWII veteran.

To learn more about the contributions of many more Native Americans in the U.S. military, search military records, Memorials, and our Native American collection on Fold3 today.

The 100th Anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior

November 2, 2020 by | 29 Comments

During the Great War, the Reverend David Railton witnessed first-hand the brutality of combat. As a British Military Chaplain along the Western Front, he officiated at the burials of countless unidentified soldiers. It was a chance encounter passing a soldier’s grave in France, however, that sparked an idea that would eventually lead to the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey in London.

Rev. David Railton

In 1916, Railton was walking through a back garden at Erkingham, near Armentières in France, when he saw a rough cross on which were penciled the words, “An Unknown British Soldier.” Knowing that many other graves held the remains of young soldiers whose final resting place would never be known, Railton had an idea. After the war, he returned home and wrote to Herbert Ryle, the Dean of Westminster Abbey. He suggested a permanent memorial to those who had fallen in the Great War. Through his determination and persistence, Railton’s idea started to take root.

In November 1920, as the second anniversary of the signing of the Armistice approached, plans got underway to honor the unknown war dead by burying one unidentified soldier at a special memorial in Westminster Abbey. He would represent all those who died for their country, but whose burial place was not known, or whose body remained unidentified. Although accounts vary, it is generally believed that on November 7, 1920, between four and six bodies were exhumed from battlefields along the Western Front and transported to a church in northern France. The commander of British troops in France chose one soldier, and his body was placed in a coffin and covered with a flag that Railton had used as an altar cloth during the war. That same flag, known as the Ypres or Padre’s flag, now hangs in St. George’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey. The other bodies were reburied.

In a show of respect, Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Allied Commander during the war, offered a long and solemn salute as the coffin left the shores of France. The HMS Verdun transported the casket to Dover. From Dover, the casket was placed in a railcar and ceremoniously transported to London. Large and solemn crowds greeted the train as it arrived at Victoria Station.

The coffin of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, November 1920

On November 11, 1920, a procession followed the coffin of the Unknown Warrior. They first went to the Cenotaph, where King George V unveiled the new war memorial on Whitehall in London. Then, with the King joining the procession, they followed the coffin to Westminster Abbey, where the unknown soldier was ceremoniously laid to rest. Within a week, more than a million people visited the site to pay their respects. The Guardian, a London newspaper, noted that every mourner envisioned the unknown soldier as his or her family member. The tomb is inscribed with the following text, “They buried him among the kings, because he had done good toward God and toward his house.”

Remembrance Day 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. If you would like to search our international WWI military records, see collections from the United Kingdom; United States; Canada; Australia; and New Zealand on Fold3.

New German WWII Records Added

October 26, 2020 by | 29 Comments

We’ve added a new collection of WWII records from Germany. The Germany, Military Killed in Action 1939-1948 collection contains index cards for about 2 million German soldiers killed during WWII.

Researching German WWII soldiers can be tricky because many service records were destroyed during the war. 1939, the High Command of the German Wehrmacht began operating an information center for war casualties and prisoners of war. Initially, the agency was called WASt (short for Wehrmachtsauskunftstelle für Kriegsverluste und Kriegsgefangene). In 1946, it was renamed Deutsche Dienststelle für die Benachrichtigung der nächsten Angehörigen von Gefallenen der ehemaligen deutschen Wehrmacht (German Office for the Notification of Next-of-Kin of Members of the Former German Armed Forces who were Killed in Action). The name is commonly shortened as Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt). In 2019, that service became part of the German Federal Archives as the newly established Department PA (Information on Personal Data related to World Wars I and II) and is based in Berlin-Reinickendorf.

The index cards in this collection contain information that can help research German soldiers who were killed in WWII including:

  • Name
  • Birthdate and Birthplace
  • Unit, Reserve Unit, Identification Number, Rank
  • Date of Death, Time of Death, Place of Death, and Type of Casualty
  • Burial Date, Location, and Grave Number (if known)

These records are written in German but can be interpreted using the following example:

Explore these index cards in the Germany, Military Killed in Action 1939-1948 collection on Fold3 today!

We’ve Updated our Fold3 Browse

October 14, 2020 by | 26 Comments

You may have noticed some changes to our site recently. Our engineers have been working hard behind the scenes to update our Fold3 browse experience. We know that change can be a little uncomfortable at first, but we think you’ll find the new browse will offer easy access to the nearly 600 million records available on Fold3.

What is the difference between Browse and Search? Browse simply allows you to browse all the collections (we call them publications) available in your desired research area. We’ve increased the number of filters offered allowing you to drill down to a specific conflict, country, available collections, military branch, and content provider. For example, if you’re searching WWII records, you can browse all WWII collections and then start to narrow the results by adding filters. Simply stated, “browse” is a great way to see what collections are available, and “search” is the best way to look for individual records.

How does it work?  On the top bar of our home page, you’ll see an option called “Browse”. When you click on browse, you’ll see a column on your left. This is where you’ll add filters. You can then scroll down through the column on the right to see any collection available that contains relevant records. Browse is a great way to explore less familiar collections.

Can I still use search? Yes! Search is still the quickest way to drill down to the desired results and our search remains unchanged. You can search right from the home page or click “search” on the top bar and add filters like name, date, keyword, or even military ID number. 

We hope you enjoy our new browse experience on Fold3. You might even discover a collection you’ve never explored before. To watch a short video tutorial on browsing Fold3 records, click here. To explore our new browse feature, visit Fold3 today!

October 19 – November 22, 1914: The First Battle of Ypres

October 1, 2020 by | 50 Comments

The First Battle of Ypres was a bloody WWI Battle fought October 19 – November 22, 1914, around the city of Ypres in West Flanders, Belgium. It was the climactic fight of the “Race to the Sea,” an attempt by the German army to break through Allied lines and capture French ports on the English Channel which opened access to the North Sea and beyond. The battle was extraordinarily costly in terms of casualties. Allied losses included 54,000 British soldiers, 50,000 French soldiers, and 20,000 Belgian soldiers either killed, wounded, or missing. German casualties numbered more than 130,000. The battle was an attempt by both sides to advance past the northern flank of their opponents, but neither achieved significant breakthroughs leading to an indecisive win. During the battle, both sides settled into trench warfare which became commonplace all along the Western Front for the remainder of the war. 

German soldiers in a trench near Ypres in 1914

In September 1914, German forces advanced through Belgium and eastern France but were stopped by Allied troops in the Battle of Marne. Both Armies then began the “Race to the Sea,” an attempt to outflank each other as they headed northward. The armies came face to face near Ypres, the gateway to the English Channel and key ports including Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Fighting began on October 19, 1914, and with the real possibility of losing the Channel ports, Allied soldiers were ordered to entrench and hold their position to prevent German soldiers from pushing through.

Pvt. Thomas H. Evans is one of many soldiers reported missing at Ypres

On October 25, Belgium’s King Albert took drastic action to prevent a German incursion north of the Lys River. He ordered Belgians to manipulate the canals and floodgates in the Yser valley. As the tide came in, they opened the floodgates, then closed them before the water could recede. On October 29, Albert ordered the sluices opened and a rush of water destroyed the town of Nieuport. It also flooded the battlefield occupied by three German divisions, forcing them to retreat. With this action, the Allies secured the left flank.

Meanwhile, German forces continued their assault southeast of Ypres pushing back British troops. On October 31st, German troops broke through the line and captured Gheluvelt but a counterattack pushed them back out of the village.

British heavy artillery gun is transported into position in Ypres

In early November, Germany captured Messines and Wytschaete, but fresh French reinforcements stopped the advance. As temperatures fell, the onset of winter brought miserable conditions. Soldiers were holed up in trenches half-filled with freezing water. After a lull of several days, German troops planned one final assault with plans to break through into Ypres. On November 11, after an intense bombardment on Messines Ridge, they broke through and penetrated Nonne Bosschen. Once again, counterattacks drove the Germans back. After a final attack at Herentage Wood on November 17th, German forces moved into a defensive mode and sent available troops to the Russian front. Sporadic fighting continued until November 22nd when the arrival of winter forced the battle to end. Both sides suffered appalling casualties and the city of Ypres would be the scene of two more battles before the end of the war. To research your ancestors that fought in the First Battle of Ypres, search WWI collections including British Army Lists, British Army WWI Pension Records; British WWI Wounded and Missing; Airmen Died in the Great War; and Biographies of Fallen British Officers. Search Fold3 today to learn more about the First Battle of Ypres.