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May 8, 1945: V-E Day – Using Fold3 Records to Help Tell the Story of Your WWII Veteran

April 30, 2020 by | 65 Comments

Seventy-five years ago this month, Allied forces declared victory in Europe. V-E Day came at a steep price for American troops with more than 400,000 deaths during WWII. These WWII veterans, often called the Greatest Generation, were everyday men and women who put aside families, schooling, and jobs to answer the call and serve their country.

Canadian Women’s Army Corps celebrate V-E Day in London

It’s more important than ever to preserve their story. Of the 16 million Americans that served in WWII, only an estimated 250,000 veterans are still alive. That number declines with each passing day.

Telling their story is challenging for many because a large number of military personnel files were destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973 (including 80% of WWII Army files). The loss of those valuable records means that researchers need to look deep into military archives to reconstruct a service record. Fold3 is committed to honoring our veterans by providing 55 collections of WWII records containing more than 130 million individual records. You can see our entire WWII collection here, but here are a few of our favorite collections and some research tips:

Aviation Cadet James M. Kokales

US Air Force Photo Collection: This free collection contains thousands of WWII era photos from virtually every theater of war. There are personnel photos, crew photos, aircraft photos, aerial photos, and more. The collection is arranged regionally by war theater, but you can use search terms like name or flight squadron. In this photo, Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart confers with members of the 453rd Bomb Group after returning from a mission over enemy territory. 

War Diaries: If your veteran served in the US Navy, the War Diaries collection covered day-to-day operations from 1942-1946. Most Navy units submitted these reports, along with some Marine Corps commands who submitted diaries for aviation units such as fighter squadrons. For example, the 132nd Mine Sweeping Flotilla filed a report of their involvement in the D-Day invasion. This division was tasked with the important job of clearing the waters of any mines before troops could come ashore. Read their narrative of D-Day here.

Missing Air Crew Reports: If you have an aviator that flew for the Army Air Forces in your family tree, this collection contains more than 16,000 reports for aircraft that were shot down, crashed, or went missing during WWII. The reports include the names of the crew and passengers, witness statements from both the ground and other aircraft, surviving crew member statements, details of bailouts, and notes when survivors were captured and taken POW. This report shares the amazing story of a lone survivor from an airplane shot down off the coast of New Guinea in 1943. 1st Lt. Jose L. Holguin described being severely wounded by flak in an attack that killed the pilot, co-pilot, and other crew members. When the plane began to spin out of control, Holguin was thrown out an open hatch but managed to deploy his chute. His plane crashed into the ground just below him, creating a fireball that burned his body and parachute. His parachute collapsed causing him to fall to earth where he broke his back. Holguin crawled through the jungle with several wounds, burns, and a broken back for three weeks before being captured and taken POW. After 27 months he was finally liberated.

European Theater Army Records: This collection records the logistics and challenges of organizing, supplying, and transporting an army across Europe. Search your veteran’s unit, battalion, company, etc. for insight. You’ll also find a series of monographs, or detailed studies, in this collection that cover multiple subjects. For example, read about the challenges of supplying food to the starving people of Belgium just before the Battle of the Bulge. Do you have someone in your family tree that served in the American Red Cross? Read a report on the Red Cross in Europe here. In this report, the military recorded the challenges faced and the procedures set in place when soldiers requested to get married. Ultimately, soldiers were required to file an application and wait two months before permission was granted.

Our WWII records are not limited to the United States. Some of our favorite UK and Commonwealth record collections include British WWII Commando Gallantry Awards, UK, Allied Prisoners of War collection, UK, Navy Lists, and Australia WWII Service Records.

Dive into these archives and start piecing together the story of your WWII veteran. Search Fold3.com today!

Spotlight Your WWII Veteran on Our Social Media Channels!

April 22, 2020 by | 96 Comments

Do you have a veteran that fought in WWII in your family tree? As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, we want to honor the brave men and women who sacrificed so much. Beginning on Memorial Day and throughout this summer, we are featuring WWII veterans on our social media channels, and we’d love to include your soldier!

How can you participate?

  1. Create a Memorial on our Honor Wall. Search your veteran’s name on our Honor Wall here. If they already have a Memorial, you can add additional details, photos, and stories to it. If they don’t have a Memorial, you can create one. This video tutorial walks you through the process. Creating a Memorial is free and helps preserve your veteran’s military history for future generations. Be sure to include regiment, unit, or battalion, and as many searchable details as you can. You can also attach records, stories, photos, journals, and more. Visit our Honor Wall to see examples of other Memorials.
  2. Next, send us a URL link to your Memorial with a short summary of your veteran’s service. Remember, a social media post has to be BRIEF. Send it to [email protected]. You can write a longer version of your story and attach it to your Memorial. We’ll include your veteran’s photo in our social media post along with a link to your Memorial page.

That’s it! We’ll honor as many of these WWII heroes that we possibly can in the upcoming months. Follow Fold3’s social media channels on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and watch for your veteran!

Introducing Civil War Stories!

April 8, 2020 by | 469 Comments

Do you have an ancestor that fought in the Civil War? We are beyond excited to launch the first phase of our new Civil War Stories, an ambitious project that ultimately hopes to create a comprehensive list of every soldier that fought in the Civil War, the company and regiment he belonged to, the battles he fought in, and finally what happened to each soldier following the war.

How can we possibly do this? We have created new technology allowing us to gather data from Ancestry®, Fold3®, Newspapers.com™, Find a Grave®, and other sources. Next, we are teaming up with the American Battlefield Trust and their Civil War experts to integrate their amazing collections of stories, videos, and photographs into our new experience. Stitching all of these collections together, we have created the first of its kind searchable database of Civil War soldiers, regiments and battles. The human cost of the Civil War was astounding. The proportion of deaths to the population was greater than any other conflict in American history. Nearly 3% of the population died – roughly comparable to 6-10 million Americans today.

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This was the last war where companies enlisted from home communities. Soldiers were often related to others in the company, and all shared a sense of connection. If a company endured losses in a battle, there was a dramatic impact back in their hometown. This will also help tell the story of the families left behind. We want to help you paint a picture of how the Civil War impacted your family tree!

How will this rollout? We will begin with the major Civil War battles. Starting today, you can head to our Civil War Stories page and learn details about some of the major Civil War battles, including what regiments fought in each battle.

And then starting with North Carolina Regiments, you will be able to see regiment timelines. When did they muster in? Where did they fight? Who were the officers? Eventually, we will add the ability to refine down to company. By the time this project is complete, you’ll be able to map out your soldier’s movements throughout the war.

Finally, we’ll add individual soldiers state by state beginning with North Carolina, followed by New York. We realize that you may know details about your Civil War soldier that nobody else does. Do you have family records, photographs or journals that have been passed down? We’re going to provide a way for you to contribute to this Civil War Stories collection. Maybe your journal mentions other soldiers in the same company. Now their ancestors will be able to share your data. 

You can see why we’re so excited about Civil War Stories. Watch for updates throughout the year. If you would like to contribute any research/photographs/letters to be included in this project, visit https://www.ancestry.com/civil-war-stories/add-photo. Together, we will make this a powerful research tool! To learn more about this, head to our Civil War Stories page today!

April 29, 1945: The Liberation of Dachau

March 30, 2020 by | 251 Comments

On April 29, 1945, James W. Garner from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, stepped through a freshly blasted hole in the wall of Dachau Concentration Camp. Garner, a provost marshal with the 42nd Infantry Rainbow Division, emotionally recalled it as, “the most searing moment of my life … you can’t imagine what humans can do to humans,” he said. Dachau was liberated 75 years ago this month when the U.S. Seventh Army’s 45th Infantry Division, the 42nd Infantry Rainbow Division, and the 20th Armored Division entered Dachau, rescuing 32,000 prisoners.

Prisoners at Dachau Cheer Approaching American Soldiers

Dachau was the first Nazi concentration camp and was established in 1933. Originally built to house a maximum of 10,000 political prisoners, the population of Dachau and its subcamps swelled to more than 60,000 as prisoners from other camps arrived on transports ahead of advancing Allied armies in 1944. Overcrowded conditions, lack of food and sanitation, and executions led to staggering death rates in the camp. Prisoners were subject to horrific torture and laboratory experiments.

As American soldiers neared the camp on April 29th, they came upon 40 railway cars filled with corpses in various stages of decomposition. The Nazi work of unloading the bodies and sending them to the crematory had been interrupted. Just days earlier as Allied soldiers neared, SS guards had received orders to evacuate the camp. Some 7,000 prisoners set out on a forced death march from Dachau to Tegernsee. Guards shot anyone that couldn’t keep up. When American soldiers arrived on April 29th, more than 30,000 prisoners remained in the camp. After passing the railway cars, American soldiers continued toward the gates.          

Bodies in Railway Cars Outside of Dachau

Prisoner Arnold Shay, Dachau No. 135584, remembered seeing Garner appear through the blasted hole in the wall. He and other prisoners assembled in the compound yard waiting in line for their turn at the gas chambers. The arrival of the Americans brought a flood of relief to Shay and other prisoners, ending a nightmare that began when Nazi soldiers burst into his family’s home in the Jewish ghetto. The soldiers beat his father until Shay could, “hear the bones cracking,” and ran forward to help him. He was struck in the head with a rifle rendering him unconscious. When he awoke, he was en route to Dachau. The arrival of American forces meant his nightmare was finally over.

After a brief battle with a few remaining guards, the Americans took control of the camp. Some Nazi guards were rounded up and killed by American forces so infuriated by what they saw.

Dachau Prison Barracks Soon After Liberation

American soldiers began the process of interviewing survivors, caring for the critically ill, and documenting the atrocities in the camp. German soldiers destroyed many of the camp records three weeks before the arrival of the Americans, making an exact accounting difficult.  

An estimated 188,000 prisoners were incarcerated in Dachau between 1933-1945, and approximately 28,000 prisoners died in the camp between 1940-1945. If you would like to learn more about Dachau Concentration Camp, see records from the Dachau Entry Registers, historical records from the U.S. Seventh Army, and an astounding secret diary kept by an inmate at Dachau and later recovered by American soldiers. Search these records and others including our Holocaust Collection on Fold3 today!

Operation Varsity: The Last Airborne Deployment of WWII

March 11, 2020 by | 100 Comments

In the early morning hours of March 24, 1945, a massive WWII airborne operation known as Operation Varsity launched with an attempt to deploy 17,000 American and British Airborne troops across the Rhine River. It was the largest single-day airborne operation in history.

C-47 Transport Planes Release Hundreds of Paratroopers during Operation Varsity

In the final months of WWII, Western Allied Forces advanced east into Germany. This meant crossing numerous rivers, many of which no longer had standing bridges. The Rhine River was especially treacherous, with steep banks and swift currents, providing German forces with a natural defensive barrier.

Planning got underway to deploy airborne forces on the east side of the Rhine. The principal mission was to seize and hold the high ground five miles north of Wesel, Germany, and to facilitate the ground action and establish a bridgehead. The soldiers would then hold the territory until the advancing units of the British 21st Army Group joined them, allowing them to advance to northern Germany. Extensive photo reconnaissance identified suitable drop zones. This operation would be part of Operation Plunder and would involve troops from the 17th Airborne Division and the British 6th Airborne Division.  

On the night of March 23rd, British ground troops crossed the Rhine and launched an intense assault near Wesel, securing nine small bridgeheads. At 6:00 a.m. on March 24th, airborne troops were given the green light. A huge armada consisting of more than 1,500 American aircraft and gliders carrying more than 9,000 soldiers, rendezvoused with the British airborne armada of 1,200 aircraft and gliders carrying 8,000 soldiers. They met in the skies near Brussels, Belgium, and formed a column two-and-a-half hours long. To draw away enemy fighters during the operation, the 15th Air Force consisting of 150 heavy bombers flew one of its longest missions and bombed Berlin.

Glider Troops After Landing Near Wesel, Germany

Paratroopers filed out over the drop site while gliders cut loose over the landing area. Concealed flak positions, sniper and mortar fire caused casualties. After landing, the soldiers fought off German attempts to infiltrate their defensive positions. In the process, they captured German prisoners.

Stuart Stryker served in the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 17th Airborne Division. During Operation Varsity, he parachuted to a landing near Wesel. When his company attacked a strongly defended building, another platoon became pinned down by intense fire. Stryker voluntarily ran to the head of the unit calling for soldiers to follow him. He charged the German position and was killed just 25 yards from the building. His attack provided a diversion that allowed other soldiers to take the position, where they captured over 200 soldiers and freed three American airmen held as prisoners. Stryker was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. In 2002, the US Army named its new armored fighting vehicle “Stryker” in his honor.

Operation Varsity was deemed a success and soldiers captured bridges, strongholds, and secured towns allowing troops to advance to northern Germany. British and American casualties were lower than military experts anticipated but still numbered more than 2,000. The two divisions also captured 3,500 German prisoners. To learn more about Operation Varsity, search Fold3 today!

Solving a WWII Mystery Using Fold3 and Newspapers.com

February 19, 2020 by | 77 Comments

When Erik and Sonni Bornmeier purchased Sonni’s great-grandmother’s home several years ago, they had no idea that the military footlocker stored in the basement would take them on an incredible journey of discovery to find the remains of a WWII pilot shot down in France. The Bornmeiers’ used military records from Fold3, newspaper articles from Newspapers.com, numerous other sources, and some ingenious detective work to piece together the story of Sonni’s great uncle, 2nd Lt. George F. Wilson. He died in France in 1944 and to this day his remains have not been identified. Erik and Sonni are determined to bring him home. We share their journey in hopes that the tips and strategies they’ve learned along the way can help someone else in their research. 

2nd Lt. George F. Wilson

The journey to learn more about Uncle George began on Memorial Day in 2018 when the Bornmeiers’ watched Band of Brothers. Touched by the heroics of so many young soldiers, Erik and Sonni went to the basement and dusted off George’s footlocker. Inside they found a stack of letters from George to his mother. By the time they finished the last letter, they had come to know George and wanted to know what happened to him. 

The first answers came when Erik found a Missing Air Crew Report (MACR) on Fold3. The MACR revealed that George served in the 8th Air Force, 398th Bomb Group, 601st Squadron. On July 8, 1944, George was piloting a B-17 when enemy flak hit the plane severely wounding George. The plane was losing altitude and George ordered his crew of eight to bail out.

2nd Lt. George F. Wilson and Crew

Seven crew members were captured and taken POW, and one escaped with the help of the French Resistance. All eight returned home after the war and all reported that George was gravely injured, never bailed out, and went down with the plane.

Using the witness statements from the MACR, Erik learned that the German Army created a similar report to track all planes shot down. Those reports, called Kampf Flugzeuge (KU) reports, were captured by the US military after the war. Erik also learned French priests kept detailed reports of what they witnessed during the war. Using the information in the MACR, the KU report, and a French repository, Erik triangulated potential crash sites.

Page From MACR Identifying Crew Members

One witness in the MACR described that George avoided a small town and a castle before crashing into a field. The next step for Erik was to head to France and try to find the crash site.

Erik’s quest led him to the small town of Monchy-Cayeux. The town matched the criteria in the witness statement (town, castle and nearby fields). Erik met a local journalist and with his help, they started questioning the town’s older residents. They found three eyewitnesses who were young children during the war but remembered seeing a plane crash. One said, “I remember it as if it were yesterday.” They guided Erik to a field and before long Erik started to find pieces of debris. Word traveled and the town united to help Erik. A young man showed up with a metal detector. Before long, they found parts of a fuselage, gauges, bullets, and plexiglass from a windshield. They found a crash site!

Debris From Crash Site

Erik’s time in France was short, but he has since returned several more times. Each time he pieces together more of the story. The residents of Monchy-Cayeux have rallied behind Erik and are anxious to help him find answers. Two brothers who still live close to the crash site gave a detailed account of locals gathering up weapons from the plane and throwing them in the river. A local diver explored the river but failed to find anything. Another report said George’s body was moved to a nearby family graveyard. A third witness remembered a priest coming to bless a grave on the edge of the field. The search to find George’s remains continues.

In the meantime, back home in the US, Erik and Sonni started searching Newspapers.com to find information on George’s crew. They found clippings for many of the crew members, and before long, they learned that two of George’s crew members were still alive! Erik hopped on a plane and had a wonderful meeting with them. They provided Erik with personal accounts of that day and filled in many of the gaps.

Erik and Sonni Bornmeier

The Bornmeiers’ are working with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA), the government agency charged with bringing home the remains of Americans unaccounted for. They continue to research and are anxious to return to France. Residents of Monchy-Cayeux have taken ownership of this project and have begun holding town meetings to research the town’s history and the role it played in WWII. George is one of more than 72,000 Americans that remain unaccounted for from WWII. Each day, efforts are being made to bring those soldiers home. To learn the story of your WWII soldier, start your search today using Fold3 and Newspapers.com!

Colored Troops During the Civil War

January 31, 2020 by | 7 Comments

The United States Colored Troops (USCT) was a branch of the United States Army during the Civil War. The USCT was founded in 1863 and composed primarily of African-American soldiers. Before the war ended in 1865, approximately 185,000 black men served in the USCT. Nearly 40,000 lost their lives. They played a crucial role in helping the United States Army to ultimate victory.

When the Civil War started in 1861, African-Americans were initially turned away when they tried to enlist. As the war progressed, attitudes shifted. The first official authorization allowing African-Americans to employ in federal service came in July 1862. Following the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, President Lincoln authorized the use of African-Americans in combat. Before the war was over, African-Americans accounted for 10 percent of the Union army.

Jordan Wallace of Boyle County, Kentucky, was a 52-year-old farmer when he enlisted in the USCT, 123rd Infantry, Company D,  in 1864. Three of his six sons, Allen, Thomas, and Jordan Jr., also registered. The Wallaces were enslaved and owned by Magdalen Wallace. All four Wallace family members served in the Civil War and gained freedom from slavery in exchange for their service in the Union Army. After the war, Magdalen attempted to get the federal government to pay her $300 for Jordan, saying she maintained her allegiance to the government and was loyal to the Union, but she never got the money.

Sergeant-Major Christian A. Fleetwood

On Fold3, we have compiled service records for soldiers who fought in the USCT. These soldiers displayed courage and resiliency, earning awards for their mettle and heroism, often while still enduring prejudices. Christian A. Fleetwood served as a Sergeant in the 4th Regiment of the USCT, Company G. During the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm outside Richmond, Virginia. When two flag bearers received wounds, Fleetwood secured the American flag before it could touch the ground and continued to charge the enemy fortifications. When it became clear that the unit could not penetrate the enemy line, Fleetwood retreated and rallied a small group of men to continue the fight. He was awarded the Medal of Honor.

To learn more about soldiers like Christian Fleetwood, search our record collections and Memorials relating to African-Americans in the Civil War on Fold3 today!