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Hollywood Goes to War

May 13, 2024 by | 76 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®!

Korean War Hero: Missing But Not Forgotten

March 12, 2024 by | 19 Comments

On July 17, 1951, SFC Milton Wesley Bailey was patrolling with his unit near the 38th Parallel in Korea. While on this reconnaissance mission, Bailey’s unit came under heavy enemy fire on an exposed ridgeline. Bailey was the Rear Guard on this mission and shouted for his team to retreat while he provided cover. When the squad regrouped, Bailey was missing. He died heroically that day, and 73 years later, his sacrifice has not been forgotten. Efforts are underway advocating for Bailey to receive a posthumous Medal of Honor, and hope remains for his one-day recovery and return home.

Milton Wesley Bailey

Milton W. Bailey was born in 1931 and grew up in Milford, Pike County, Pennsylvania. He was the only child of his fiercely devoted mother, Beatrice Bailey. He grew up performing in school plays, playing basketball, and running track for the Milford high school team. Bailey lived with his mother and grandmother at 308 High Street in a home acquired with a pension provided for the Civil War service of his great-grandfather.

Back in 1896, a representative of the Afro-American Emancipation League came to Milford, seeking out widows of Civil War veterans who had served in the United States Colored Troops (USCT). He hoped to make them aware of their right to receive pension benefits. Bailey’s great-grandfather, Abraham Davis, was a veteran but had already passed away. His widow, Sarah Davis, applied for the pension. In 1906, she was awarded nearly $650 in back benefits and a pension of $8 per month. Bailey was the fourth generation to live in a home that was a physical reminder of dedicated military service and sacrifice throughout his family lineage.

Milton W. Bailey with his mother Beatrice Bailey

Following high school graduation, Bailey got a job in Wilkes-Barre, returning often to visit his mother. In May 1950, at age 19, Milton enlisted in the US Army. Just one month later, on June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea. The US officially entered the Korean War two days later, on June 27, 1950.

After completing training at Fort Knox in Kentucky and Fort Lawton in Washington, the 5’8”, 133 lb. Bailey shipped out for Korea. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division, Company G – America’s last Buffalo Soldier regiment to be integrated. His Civil War great-grandfather served in the first. Bailey wrote home to his mother and grandmother nearly daily, sharing his experiences in hand-written letters preserved in his Milford hometown. He was respected by his fellow soldiers and a natural leader.

On July 17, 1951, Bailey was on patrol near the 38th Parallel in Korea, in the vicinity of Komsang-Gol, North Korea. His fellow soldier, Curtis Morrow, was the Squad Leader. He was rear guard, charged with allowing his unit a safe retreat. Their mission was to leave the patrol base on Hill 477, make contact with the enemy at Hill 344, and return. It was a familiar mission and something they had repeated several times previously.

While traveling along a ridge, the squad became embroiled in an intense gun battle. Bailey yelled for his team to retreat, providing cover as they fled. While evacuating, Morrow – as written in a book dedicated to Bailey – glanced back and saw Bailey firing his carbine at the enemy and shouting at his men to move. When the unit regrouped back at their patrol base on Hill 477, they realized Bailey was missing. 

A return to the area where he was last seen yielded no signs of Bailey, and the Pike County hero – now nearly 73 years later – remains missing. That mountain ridge is located just over the DMZ, in an off-limits North Korean landscape.

Bailey’s mother, Beatrice, learned via telegram that her son was MIA. He was officially declared dead in 1953. Around that time, hostilities ceased, and opposing forces agreed to allow search and recovery operations in the DMZ for 45 days. While some remains were recovered, Bailey’s remains were not among them. In 1954, the United Nations Military Armistice Commission negotiated an agreement where opposing forces would conduct search and recovery operations in territory under their control and then exchange remains. At that time, North Korea turned over the remains of some 4000 UN deceased personnel. Bailey’s remains were not among them, and he was deemed nonrecoverable.

Pike County Dispatch: March 4, 1954

In 1954, an official memorial service was conducted at the Milford Methodist Church, where Bailey had attended services. A large flag adorned the front of the church, and many local community members came to honor Bailey’s memory.

Beatrice Bailey, now a Gold Star Mother, remained active in military matters. She was the president of her local chapter of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Veterans of Foreign Affairs and was active in the American Legion’s auxiliary unit. She died in 1991 without ever seeing her son’s remains returned home.

A search for descendants and YDNA submissions led to a connection with Bailey’s paternal family lineage and successful mitochondrial submission in recent years. Others who are also hopeful for Bailey’s recovery and touched by his heroic service are working to have his valor recognized with a posthumous Medal of Honor. If successful, Bailey would join 146 other Americans who received Medals of Honor for valor in combat during the Korean War.

To learn more about Milton W. Bailey, see his Fold3® Memorial and explore additional Korean War records today on Fold3®

March 2-4, 1943: Battle of the Bismarck Sea

March 1, 2024 by | 27 Comments

The Battle of the Bismarck Sea was a pivotal WWII battle fought March 2-4, 1943, in the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA). Allied aircraft from the US Fifth Airforce and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) attacked a convoy of Japanese ships transporting troop reinforcements to Lae, New Guinea. The Allies destroyed most of the convoy, and Japan suffered heavy losses, abandoning their plan to land more troops at Lae.

In January 1943, Japan launched a convoy of five destroyers and five transport ships to New Guinea to reinforce the Japanese hold in the SWPA. Allied aircraft attacked the convoy, but only two transports were lost. Some 4,000 Japanese troops successfully made it to New Guinea.

This Japanese transport ship was highly camouflaged with trees and foliage as it traveled through the Bismarck Sea. A US Army plane carrying a combat cameraman flew low to capture this shot. The ship has been hit, and smoke is rising as it burns.

Emboldened by their success, Japan began planning a more extensive transport to bring 6,900 troops, ammunition, fuel, and supplies to reinforce New Guinea. They knew the convoy was risky because of strong Allied air power, but the alternative was landing the troops much further away, where they would be required to hike through rugged terrain to reach Lae.

The second Japanese convoy consisted of eight destroyers, eight transports, and 100 Japanese aircraft to provide air cover. The convoy departed Simpson Harbour in Rabaul on February 28, 1943.

Allied intelligence officials, however, had intercepted coded Japanese messages and were aware of the plans for a convoy. Under the direction of US Army Lt. Gen. George C. Kenney and RAAF Group Captain William H. Garing, the Allies planned and rehearsed a highly coordinated air attack. Reconnaissance planes began sweeping the sea, looking for enemy ships. On March 2, they spotted the enemy convoy and launched the first of several waves of attacks.

The multi-pronged attacks involved 16 Allied squadrons that attacked from different altitudes. Some bombers flew just a few feet above the ground, dropping skip bombs (bombs that skipped across the water before slamming into the sides of ships). Others from medium altitude and some from as high as 10,000 feet.

An enemy Japanese ship is bombed with a low-level skip bomb during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea.

Over the next two days, the Allies sank all eight transports and four destroyers. The remaining four destroyers were damaged. They also shot down numerous Japanese fighter planes. Japanese survivors from the ships were adrift in the sea. On March 4, the Allies sent torpedo boats and aircraft to patrol the area. They strafed Japanese survivors and rescue vessels. They also engaged with a Japanese submarine, assisting in the rescue operation. The controversial strafing decision was defended as a way to prevent enemy soldiers from returning to active service.

At least 3,000 Japanese soldiers died. Some 2,700 were rescued from the water and returned to Rabaul, and 1,200 made it ashore to Lai. In contrast, just 13 Allied airmen died. The losses were devastating for Japan, and they made no further attempt to reinforce Lai.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of the Bismarck Sea, search Fold3® today.