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Shot Down Over France

May 14, 2019 by | 54 Comments

On May 29, 1943, 1st Lt. Theodore “Ted” Melvin Peterson was shot down near St. Quay-Portrieux in German-occupied France. He was rescued by brave villagers and the French resistance, spent two months making his way across France, and then hiked 11 days over the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain and freedom. In a remarkable twist of fate, Peterson and his rescuers would meet again in an emotional reunion 33 years later.

Theodore “Ted” Melvin Peterson

A member of the 8th Army Air Corps, 379th Bomb Group and 526th Bomb Squadron, Peterson was based out of Kimbolton Airbase near London. On the afternoon of May 29th, Peterson and his crew received mission orders. They were to fly their B-17 “Flying Fortress” and bomb the submarine pens at St. Nazaire. As they approached the French coastline, a volley of German anti-aircraft fire riddled Peterson’s plane, blowing a large hole in the wing. Several engines caught fire and they were losing altitude. Peterson ordered everyone to bail out.

As captain, Peterson was the last man out, and just 1,000 feet off the ground when he donned a parachute and jumped. “The ride to the ground took about 30 seconds. I landed by a small tree in an open field. I quickly pulled out my pocket knife and cut the shroud line. One of the procedures in attempting to escape from enemy territory is to destroy the evidence that you have landed,” said Peterson. The plane crashed into the bay moments after Peterson bailed out.

The Germans saw Peterson’s chute descending and were speeding towards his position when villagers quickly came to his rescue. They escorted him to a quiet, wooded ravine. “I had a few moments to contemplate my position. I remember being alone on my knees thanking my Father in Heaven for my life being spared,” he said. Villagers brought him a change of clothes and guided him to the center of a tall wheat field where they directed him to lie down and hide.

As darkness fell, Peterson heard the snapping twigs of someone approaching. To his surprise, a small boy about 2-years-old emerged from the wheat. He presented Peterson with a gift – a rose and a handkerchief. To the French, Peterson was a hero. The boy snuggled up next to Peterson and fell asleep.

Over the next two months, with the aid of the French underground, Peterson made his way to Paris and across France. By August, he arrived at the foothills of the Pyrenees. For 11 days, often without food or water, he was guided over the snow-packed mountains. Finally, on August 16, 1943, he made his way to Barcelona and hitched a ride on a Royal Air Force plane back to England. Peterson had become the 69th Allied aviator to escape occupied France.

Peterson’s French Identification Papers

The passing of time and the trauma of war dimmed some of Peterson’s memories. He’d returned home with the rose and the handkerchief as mementos from the war and kept them carefully stored, but had forgotten where he received them. In 1976, Peterson and his family returned to St. Quay-Portrieux. With the help of local people familiar with the Resistance, Peterson attempted to identify significant landmarks, specifically the field where he landed. Finally, at a loss, the Petersons’ pulled their car to the side of the road and got out to reevaluate. They hailed a passing truck to ask for assistance. The driver got out of the truck and immediately threw his arms around Ted in recognition, despite the many years. He said, “Do you remember my little brother, Gilbert? He came out to visit you in the field the day you were shot down. He fell asleep next to you and we searched frantically for him all night long! Did you get the rose and handkerchief my mother sent for you?” A sudden spark of memory flooded over Peterson as he remembered the boy presenting him with the gift. The two men embraced with tears streaming down both of their cheeks.

Peterson and his wife Ann in front of monument created from the propeller of his plane

As a tribute to young aviators like Peterson, the village of St. Quay-Portrieux salvaged the propeller of Peterson’s plane from the ocean floor and restored it to stand as a monument to Peterson and others who came to save France.

To learn more about WWII and aviators like Peterson, Search Fold3 today.

New States Added to WWII Draft Registration Card Collection!

April 24, 2019 by | 12 Comments

We’ve updated our WWII Draft Registration Card collection and added records from Indiana, Illinois, Kentucky, New Hampshire, Iowa, and Washington! We now have Draft Registration Cards from 38 states or regions in this collection!

There were seven draft registration periods in the United States for World War II service. The first draft registration was held on October 16, 1940—before the United States had entered the war. Men ages 21—36 were required to register at their local draft board. The second draft registration was also held prior to the American entrance into the war, on July 1, 1941. This registration was for men who had turned 21 since the previous registration date nine months earlier.

The third (February 16, 1942) and fifth (June 30, 1942) registration periods expanded the ages required to register; the age ranges for the third were extended to 20–21 and 35–44, while the fifth extended them to ages 18–20. The sixth registration (December 10–31, 1942) was for men who had turned 18 since the fifth registration six months prior. There was also a seventh registration, known as the “Extra Registration,” from November 16 to December 31, 1943, which was for American men ages 18–44 who were living abroad.

The cards from the fourth registration (April 27, 1942; for men ages 45–64) are not included in the WWII Draft Registration Cards but in Fold3’s WWII “Old Man’s Draft” Registration Cards collection.

Information on the WWII Draft Registration Cards may include the man’s name, address, telephone number, age, place of birth, country of citizenship, name and address of the person who will always know the registrant’s address, employer’s name, place of employment, and a description of the registrant.

Pictured below is the draft card for Army Pfc. Clifford M. Mills. He served in the 319th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, 82nd Airborne Division. In September 1944, Mills was reported MIA in the vicinity of Wyler and Zyfflich, Germany. For more than 75 years, his remains were unaccounted for until January 2019, when they were identified in Belgium. He was returned to his hometown and buried in Troy, Indiana

Search our Fold3 WWII Draft Registration Card collection today!

May 15, 1862: The Battle of Drewry’s Bluff

April 22, 2019 by | 74 Comments

On May 15, 1862, the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, also known as the Battle of Fort Darling, was fought between Union and Confederate forces at a sharp bend on the James River near Richmond, Virginia. Union forces were stationed aboard warships in the river and Confederate forces were high on a fortified bluff.

Richmond was the Confederate capital and vulnerable to attack by the Union Army on land, and by the Union Navy through the navigable James River. In March 1862, Confederate Captain Augustus H. Drewry ordered the construction of fortifications and the installation of large guns on his property, which was on a 90-foot bluff above the James River, and just seven miles from Richmond.

C.S.S. Virginia

Early in May, Norfolk fell to Union forces and the Confederate ship C.S.S. Virginia, took refuge to avoid capture. This left the James River at Hampton Roads exposed and open to Union warships. At Drewry’s Bluff, Confederate forces filled the river with underwater obstructions including debris, sunken steamers, and pilings to prevent Union ships from reaching Richmond. Then they took up defensive positions in the fort and along the banks.

A detachment of Naval vessels took advantage of the open waterway and made a push for Richmond. The USS Monitor and USS Galena, and gunboats Aroostook, Port Royal, and Naugatuck steamed up the James River. As they approached the bend at Drewry’s Bluff, they encountered the obstacles and anchored just below the fort. The Galena opened fire and the Confederates responded. Armor piercing shots penetrated the Galena causing extensive damage. The Monitor’s armor was much thicker, allowing for the shots to ricochet off, but her rotating guns were not able to raise at an angle high enough to fire on the fort. The gunboats encountered problems too. The Port Royal was hit below the water line and the Naugatuck’s gun burst. For more than three hours of intense fire, the Galena took the brunt of the attack.

USS Monitor

U.S. Marine John F. Mackie was aboard the Galena and watched as one by one, the naval gun crew was either wounded or killed. Mackie commanded a dozen Marines on the gun deck and led his men to take over operation of the guns. For his “gallant conduct and services,” President Abraham Lincoln later bestowed the Medal of Honor upon Mackie. He is the first marine to receive that honor.

With Galena’s ammunition running low, the Union fleet eventually retreated. Union troops counted 27 casualties, including 14 dead. Confederate casualties were 15, with seven dead. The Confederates successfully prevented the Union Navy from reaching Richmond. To learn more about the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff and other Civil War battles, search Fold3 today!

Search Updates

April 12, 2019 by | Comments Off on Search Updates

At Fold3, we’ve recently launched powerful new updates to our search engine. Our updates are designed to help you navigate through more than 500 million records with a series of filters including name, date, place, military (including branch, conflict, service number, etc.) and additional filters to help you quickly locate the records you’re looking for.

Search Techniques and Tips:

  1. From the home page, click “Search” on the top bar. Just start typing a name, date, place, or other search term in the search box and see how it gives you hints to guide you along. For example, type a name and select “Name” from the hint box that appears. To enter a date, type “Date” and select the type of date you want to search on, then enter the date itself. Multiple search terms can be added to narrow down your search, and you can always edit the terms you have entered.
  2. Start your search with broad perimeters, and then narrow it down for the best results.
  3. Notice that we also have a list of search filters on the left-hand side of the screen. As you enter search terms this list will shrink as it shows you what is available based upon your current search.
  4. Keep in mind that many of our records are scanned with optical character recognition (OCR) that converts images into encoded text. That means when you perform a search, the highest probably matches appear above a bar, while results less likely to match your search parameters are found below the bar. You might be tempted to ignore the results below the bar, but valuable search results might be available if you dig a little deeper.
  5. To omit a certain publication from your search results, click on the down arrow on the far right of one of these results and click “Exclude all results from this publication.”
  6. After you have located records, you’ll want to keep them easily accessible. Consider creating a Memorial and attach your records to that Memorial. As always, records and/or Memorials can be attached to your Ancestry Tree.
  7. To watch a video tutorial on our new search engine, click here to access the Fold3 Training Center!

April 4, 1945: The Liberation of Ohrdruf

April 1, 2019 by | 135 Comments

As a member of the Fold3 team, I’m always looking for ways to personalize a story to show how our military records are much more than just records. They represent lives, sacrifice, and service. When I started researching this month’s blog post, I had no idea the personal angle I would find would be my own. This is the story of how I learned that my grandfather helped liberate Ohrdruf concentration camp.

Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Patton and Omar Bradley visit Ohrdruf

On April 4, 1945, Ohrdruf concentration camp became the first camp liberated by U.S. troops during WWII. Ohrdruf was a subcamp of Buchenwald and was located near the town of Gotha, Germany. As the 4th Armored Division and the 89th Infantry of the Third US Army approached the gates at Ohrdruf, the sights that greeted soldiers shocked them and defied description.

Don Timmer, an 18-year-old private in the 89th Infantry Division described his experience. “We drove in and between the gate and the barracks were 30 dead…the blood still wet from departing German guards.” Bodies were piled in a shed and others partially incinerated on pyres. Timmer had taken German in high school and acted as an interpreter as prisoners shared tales of unspeakable horror. General George S. Patton arrived at Ohrdruf and was so sickened by what he saw that he threw up. General Dwight D. Eisenhower flew from Belgium to witness the carnage firsthand. According to Timmer, “Even Ike looked pale, and he wasn’t a pale guy.”

The sights and smells of the camp left indelible marks on the soldiers who were there. I know, because my grandfather LaMar Norton was one of the liberators and his experiences were so difficult to share, that most of the family wasn’t aware of this remarkable fact. He was unable to talk about the war without his eyes brimming with tears. LaMar served in the Fourth Armoured Division, Third Army, Company C, during the Battle of the Bulge. He suffered from PTSD after the war and was known to duck and cover during a clap of thunder or when a balloon popped. We knew he’d seen atrocities, but he never shared the details, and everyone learned not to ask. He passed away in 1996 leaving us with unanswered questions.

Pfc. LaMar Norton

To honor his service, I’ve recently been curating content to create a Memorial for him on Fold3. I reached out to extended family asking for any photographs or stories that could be included. At the same time, I was simultaneously researching the liberation of Ohrdruf. One morning I woke to a message from a second cousin. She had an old, typed history of my grandfather’s service that his brother had compiled. I anxiously read it and my heart skipped a beat when I came to the paragraph where he described helping to liberate Ohrdruf. I suddenly realized that the story I had spent hours researching, was my really my story and my history.

According to LaMar, the Americans could smell Ohrdruf before they saw it. The approaching Army had prompted the Germans to flee, but not before shooting as many prisoners as possible. When the Americans arrived, the ground was still wet with blood. LaMar said there were 27 bodies out in the yard and a few more by the gate and at least one body was that of an American. “This American pilot had been carried outside on a stretcher and shot in the head,” he said. As US Soldiers tried to process what they were seeing, military officials told them to leave everything untouched. General Patton wanted the scene documented for possible future war crimes trials.

General Patton insisted that the mayor of the town of Ohrdruf and his wife tour the camp to see for themselves the atrocities committed by their countrymen. The next morning, they were both found hanging from an apparent suicide. A note left nearby said, “We didn’t know. But we knew.”

Though Ohrdruf was the first concentration camp liberated in April 1945, it wasn’t the last. Before the month was through, at least eight other concentration camps were liberated by Allied forces including Buchenwald, Dora-Mittelbau, Westerbork, Bergen-Belsen, Sachsenhausen, Flossenburg, Ravensbruck, and Dachau. On May 7, 1945, Germany unconditionally surrendered to Allied forces clearing the way to bring an end to WWII. My grandfather was discharged in October and came home a changed man. Along with many others, he spent the rest of his life trying to make sense of what he’d seen and experienced at Ohrdruf.

If you would like to learn more about the liberation of concentration camps during WWII, search Fold3 today.

New Confederate Records

March 22, 2019 by | 38 Comments

Do you have an ancestor that fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War? Our Confederate Letters, 1861-1865, is a collection of letters received in the Office of the Confederate Adjutant and Inspector General from April 1861 – April 1865. The collection is organized first by date, and then by the last name. The letters are 150-year-old manuscripts, but a little digging can unearth historical gold!

For example, this letter dated May 23, 1862, is from Samuel Morgan of Spartanburg, South Carolina. He owned a tannery and was requesting that his employee, John Barry, be excused from the mandatory conscription law. At the time, male citizens between the ages of 18-35 were required to register. Said Morgan, “John Barry is a Tanner by trade and is in my Employ at the head of an extensive Tannery and cannot be sepperated from it without material Injury to the success.” He further argued, “The successful opperation of this yard is of great importance to the country and especially to the army as a great many soldiers are now being supplied.” The letter contained the signatures of nine additional men certifying the truth of Morgan’s argument.

In this letter from Tallahassee, Florida, dated June 20, 1862, Capt. E. C. Simpkins outlined charges against Maj. John G. Barnwell for abandoning his post at New Smyrna, Georgia. According to the charges, Barnwell sailed to New Smyrna aboard the steamers Kate and Cecile and ordered troops to leave their post. He then traveled towards Tallahassee inviting everyone he saw to “Take what they could carry off in their hands. That there were Splendid Guns, Swords, and Pistols, Shoes, Blankets, which could be had for the taking…” Interestingly, a newspaper clipping from 1861, noted that Maj. Barnwell had “Devoted much of his life to the artillery service, having commanded a volunteer corps in his native parish for twenty odd years; he is a planter of great experience, and enjoys the entire confidence of his section.” Barnwell must have been found innocent because in a subsequent newspaper clipping from 1864, Maj. Barnwell is working as an ordinance officer.

Braxton Bragg was a senior officer in the Confederate States Army. In June 1862, he wrote a letter to General Samuel Cooper expressing the urgent need to complete a rail line between Meridian, Mississippi and Selma, Alabama. “That connexion is one of such vital military necessity and so immediately affecting military operations, in the Department entrusted to me, that I feel it my duty to Communicate frankly my views, for the information and Consideration of the Department,” Braxton wrote.

About two months before the war came to an end, letters show the Confederate defense beginning to unravel. In this letter dated February 15, 1865, the mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, wrote to the Secretary of War asking that a group of paroled Union soldiers be removed from their city. “We have now deposited here for safety some millions of specie*, the property of the Gov’t., and the specie and money of the Banks. A regt. of paroled Yankees called the Foreign Legion has been quartered here and have to day pillaged several houses and committed robbery in open day. Will you order them to be removed, or shall they destroy the public property,” wrote Mayor S. A. Harris.  

This collection of Confederate Letters between 1861-1865 is a great way to research ancestors that served in the Confederacy and to document the history of the Civil War. Start searching the collection today on Fold3!

* Specie is money in the form of coins rather than notes.

Tips for Advanced Military Records Research on Fold3

March 14, 2019 by | 168 Comments

Military records are a rich resource for genealogical and historical research. They are advanced records, meaning that unlike vital records that push the door wide open with a neatly packaged birth and death dates, military records sometimes require you enter through the side window! Once you find records, they provide a rich and powerful narrative of military service. At Fold3, we find similar questions posed repeatedly by researchers and hope to answer a few of them here:

Sam Carlson, US Navy – WWI

Military Records for Service After 1957: Due to the Privacy Act, these records are only available to the veteran or next-of-kin from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). On Fold3, we have selected records and photographs from recent wars along with powerful content available on personal Memorials.

The 1973 Fire at the NPRC: On July 12, 1973, a massive fire broke out at the NPRC in St. Louis, MO. It burned for 22 hours and destroyed 16-18 million military files. Records affected included 80% of Army files for Personnel discharged between November 1912 – January 1960; and 75% of Air Force files for Personnel discharged September 1947 – January 1964. No duplicate copies of these records were ever maintained. These lost records certainly present a roadblock, but other available record sets can help you construct a military history.

Widow’s Pension File
Benjamin W. Hallett – War of 1812

For example, if you are searching for a WWII veteran, you might search for records like Unit Histories, Missing Air Crew Reports, Draft Registration Cards, WWII Diaries or Air Force photos. Keep in mind that until 1947, the US Air Force was part of the US Army (United States Army Air Force – USAAF).

Navy Muster Rolls recorded the movements of troops on transport ships even if they didn’t serve in Navy; and if you know the infantry regiment or battalion your ancestor served in, that information can also open research avenues.

Amazing records are available in our collections of Casualty Lists, European Theater Army Records or user-contributed information found on Memorial pages among others. In addition, soldiers were asked to file discharge documents in the county where they resided. Contacting county records departments might also unlock a roadblock. Good luck with your military records research! Fold3 has over five hundred million military records available online to help. Visit Fold3 today!

Do you have a Unit History or a military yearbook? At Fold3, we love to collect these records. They are a rich, detailed source of military service. If you have one, we can digitize it and return it to you intact. Please reach out to us at [email protected].