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June 4, 1944: The Liberation of Rome

May 31, 2023 by | 0 comments

During WWII, the US Fifth Army liberated Rome on June 4, 1944. Rome had been considered the heart of Fascist Italy under Mussolini’s rule, and the liberation dealt a blow to Nazi Germany’s morale. Rome was one of three Axis capitals and had been under German control since 1943. Not only was the liberation symbolically and strategically important, but defending the city caused Germany to divert resources away from France, further strengthening the Allied position with D-Day landings in Normandy occurring two days later, on June 6, 1944.

Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark

In September 1943, Lt. General Mark W. Clark’s Fifth Army boarded landing crafts and dodged minefields to come ashore at the beaches of Paestum and Salerno. At the time of the invasion, the Fifth Army consisted of the VI American Corps, including the 36th and 45th infantry divisions and the 82nd Airborne Division. It also included the 10 British Corps 46 and 56 divisions, and 7 Armoured Division. Upon landing, the Fifth Army joined forces with the British Eighth Army and endured heavy fighting, advancing north to Naples and capturing the city in October.

The Fifth Army continued the advance northward along the western flank, while the British Eight Army advanced up the country’s eastern side. The winter months brought slow progress with ferocious fighting in rugged terrain as Allied forces crossed swollen rivers and mountain peaks. Relentless rains, snow, and icy winds created a quagmire of mud and made the fierce battle miserable.

By the end of 1943, Allied forces were bogged down at the Gustav Line, with German troops holding Northern Italy and Allied troops holding the southern part of the country. German forces had the advantage of holding the high ground, and they fortified it with land mines, big guns, and concealed artillery to create a solid defense. Allies needed to break through, and Cassino blocked the advance. Monte Cassino, an ancient Benedictine abbey, towered over the city. The Battle of Monte Cassino began in January 1944 and lasted four months with heavy casualties.

To break the stalemate at Cassino, General Clark sent seven divisions to flank the enemy with an amphibious landing at Anzio on January 22, 1944. The landings caught Germany by surprise, and they were forced to bring in reinforcements from their dwindling reserves. Fierce fighting at Anzio continued throughout the spring of 1944. Meanwhile, the rest of the Fifth Army and new reinforcements and equipment, including troops from Poland and France, were contending with German forces at Cassino. With help from the reinforcements, the Allies broke through the Gustav Line in May 1944.  

Soldiers Examine Tank Left Behind as Germans Fled Rome

On May 23, the troops at Anzio broke out of the beachhead and rendezvoused with the rest of the Allied army at Borgo Grappa. At the same time, military officials were in the final planning stages of the D-Day invasion at Normandy. The fighting in Italy had forced Germany to draw away resources which proved advantageous to the Allies along the Western Front.

Back in Italy, the Fifth Army was now just 30 miles outside of Rome. As troops advanced towards the city, they passed the wreckage of German tanks, guns, and equipment left behind as German forces fled.

Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark and the US Fifth Army Enter Rome

On June 4, 1944, the Fifth Army entered Rome from the south. They were the first Allied forces to liberate a capital city from Fascist control on European soil. City residents greeted American soldiers with cheers and hugs as the troops paraded past historic landmarks, including the Colosseum and the Forum. The liberation of Rome marked a turning point in the Italian campaign, giving a morale boost and hope that a defeat of Germany was possible.

If you would like to learn more about the Liberation of Rome, search Fold3® today!

War of 1812 Pension Files Digitization Moves Forward!

May 25, 2023 by | 24 Comments

We have some exciting news to share. Ancestry® and the National Genealogical Society® have recently finalized a contract with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to resume digitization of the War of 1812 Pension Files. Like so many other things, this ongoing project came to a screeching halt during the closure of NARA due to COVID-19.

Pension File for Hugh Magee

This massive undertaking to digitize some 7.2 million pages in this collection began in 2010. So far, we’ve completed 83% of these records. We’re just finishing up the final files for surnames beginning with ‘R’ and will move on to files with surnames beginning with the letters ‘Sj to U’ next. These digitized records are available to view for free on Fold3®. Our goal is to complete this next phase in about a year. We’ve already added new files to the site and will continue to update this collection regularly.

The War of 1812 Pension Files include full pension application files for soldiers, sailors, and their widows and children, who served in the War of 1812. They can reveal extraordinary details about military service and often include critical genealogical information.

If you’ve already scoured this collection, and have been waiting patiently for new content, here’s how to use our Fold3® Browse feature to filter recently added records. From the top menu bar, select “Browse” and then enter War of 1812 Pension Files under Publications. You can then filter to State and narrow your results to content added in the past month. Here you will see the names of those whose pension files we’ve recently added.

Start exploring the War of 1812 Pension Files today on Fold3®!

Make a Difference This Memorial Day: Help Identify Unknown Sailors from the USS Arizona

May 22, 2023 by | 68 Comments

The telegram arrived on a cold January day in 1942. It read, “After an exhaustive search, it has been found impossible to locate your son, Robert Edwin Kline, gunner’s mate, second class, U.S. Navy.” The sailor’s mother refused to accept the news and continued to hold out hope. How could it be? Bobby was just 22. Robert Edwin Kline was one of 1,177 sailors and Marines killed in the attack on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

Robert Edwin Kline

Most of the sailors killed aboard the Arizona went down with the ship. However, the bodies of 85 (and possibly as many as 150) were buried, their remains unidentified and comingled, in graves at the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. More than eight decades later, Kevin Kline, Robert Kline’s great-nephew, is among those leading an effort to identify the fallen. He is the driving force behind Operation 85 – a civilian effort led by family members of the unrecovered to assist the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) in acquiring DNA samples from surviving family members.

DNA technology did not exist in the 1940s, but more recent advances now make it possible to identify those previously unknown. That’s where Operation 85 comes in. They are facilitating the effort to find surviving family members and connecting them with the DPAA to take a DNA test. The DPAA administers the DNA tests at no cost to participants.

Robert E. Kline’s official training certificate for Gunner’s Mate 3rd Class and GM3c patch and sleeve insignia – photo courtesy Operation 85

Operation 85 hopes to collect at least 643 family DNA samples within the next two years. They hope that by December 7, 2026, the 85th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the project will be classified as a “Working Priority” within the DPAA, leading to proper identification and the reburial of remains in a marked grave.

USS Arizona

How can you help? If you are related to someone who served aboard the Arizona, visit Operation 85 here to learn more. We can’t think of a better way to honor the fallen this Memorial Day than to help provide a properly identified final resting place.

Explore the names on the wall of the USS Arizona Memorial in our free interactive collection on Fold3®. Leave a photograph or story and learn more about those who made the ultimate sacrifice at Pearl Harbor. Visit Operation 85 to learn more about their mission, and search Fold3® today to learn more about the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Dog Tags: Identifying our Deceased Military Veterans

May 1, 2023 by | 98 Comments

Thanks to our special guest contributor Michael Strauss, an Accredited Genealogist from AncestryProGenealogists® for this informative article on military research using dog tags. 

Behind the imposing gates of Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia rests the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Around the clock, active-duty personnel stand as sentinels remembering our fallen veterans. Many cemeteries have remains of soldiers from past wars marked with a single haunting word, “Unknown.” To properly identify each man and woman who have paid the ultimate price for their country, the military created identification tags. Here is a look at how those tags have changed over the years.

Civil War

The Civil War changed how military officials recorded battlefield deaths. On April 3, 1862, the Adjutant General Office (AGO) of the War Department issued General Order No. 33, which in effect read: “To secure as far as possible the decent interment of those who have fallen or may fall in battle…lay off lots of ground in a suitable spot near every battlefield and… register of each burial and will be preserved”. 

Edwin M. Stanton

During the Civil War, large numbers of casualties on both sides prompted soldiers and civilians to consider other ways to identify fallen soldiers. In 1862, New York City resident John Kennedy wrote to the Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. He proposed that the US Army provide a medal identification badge for all officers and enlisted men that soldiers could wear under the clothing. The War Department rejected Kennedy’s proposal.

Civil War soldiers could purchase (at their own expense) identification badges or tags manufactured by military camp suppliers called sutlers. Sutlers were civilian contractors who traveled with the armies selling commonly needed items from photographs to wares. Some of these identification badges and tags were ornate in design.

Civil War soldier Alvin B. Williams
Civil War Identification Tags for Alvin B. Williams

Death became a reality for thousands of soldiers who had no proper identification. During the battle of Cold Harbor on June 3, 1864, soldiers, knowing they might be killed, wrote their names and military units on loose slips of paper, and pinned them to their kepis (caps) or sack coats. They hoped someone would identify their remains after the battle. Another 35 years would pass before the subject of identification tags was brought up again.  

Spanish-American War

The War with Spain began on April 25, 1898, and again required the United States military to turn their attention to how to identify fallen soldiers. With fighting in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines, the American Red Cross (founded in 1881) took up the cause to provide identification tags for soldiers. Neither the United States military nor individual states provided any identification tags at that time. The San Francisco Red Cross Society, one of the strongest advocates of tags, furnished them to thousands of soldiers en route to the Philippines. The tags were smaller than a half-dollar and made of aluminum. 

Spanish American War Identification Tags

The discs were inscribed with the soldier’s company, regiments, and a number corresponding to their eventual Compiled Military Service Record numerical identifier. On the other side of the disc was the visual design of the Red Cross, inscribed with the letters “RED.”

In 1899 United States Army Chaplain Charles C. Pierce was instrumental in establishing the Quartermaster Graves Registration Service. He wrote to the AGO office: “It is better that all men should wear these marks as a military duty than one should fail to be identified.” Pierce, a veteran of the Spanish American War, had witnessed the horrors of war and strongly advocated issuing identification tags for all soldiers in the military. Six more years would pass before the military adopted official tags.

Official Military Tags Introduced

On December 20, 1906, the US Army formally adopted Identification Tags when they issued General Order No. 204. The order read, “An aluminum Identification tag the size of a silver half dollar…stamped with name, rank, company, regiment, or corps of the wearer will be worn by each officer and enlisted man…whenever the field kit is worn.” Each tag had a cord attached through a small hole. The Ordnance Department provided each Army organization and unit with a steel die kit and two sets of dies, one for the alphabet and the other for Arabic numerals.

World War I

Following the entry of the United States into World War I on April 6, 1917, the United States War Department changed regulations on issuing tags. General Order No. 80, issued on June 30, 1917, read, “Gratuitous issues will be limited to two tags to an enlistment.” Soldiers were now issued two matching identification tags. An addendum called, Change of Army Regulations (or CAR) issued with General Order No. 58 on July 6, 1917, added, “These tags are prescribed as part of the uniform and when not worn as directed…will be habitually kept in the possession of the owner”, therefore making the soldier responsible for the care of the tags. They were to be part of their kits and always kept with them.

WWI Soldier Wagoner Rudolph Just

Another significant change to identification tags was issued with General Order No. 21 on August 13, 1917, when the military added, “The tag now prescribed for wear by officers and enlisted men will be worn also by all civilians attached to these forces.” Civilian employees attached to the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) would be authorized to wear identification tags. One final wartime change occurred on February 12, 1918, with the issuing of General Order No. 27. That order authorized service numbers for enlisted army personnel. The numbers were added to the identification tags.  

Wagoner Rudolph Just’s Identification Tags

Identification Tags for other branches

On October 6, 1916, the US Marine Corps issued General Order No 32, which read: Hereafter identification tags will be issued to all officers and enlisted men of the Marine Corps… always be worn when engaged in field service…at all other times they will either be worn or kept in possession of the owner.”  Initially believed to be of little importance, opinions later changed.  

On May 12, 1917, the Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels issued General Order No. 294 stating: “The identification tag for officers and enlisted men of the Navy consists of an oval plate Monel metal…and suspended from the neck by a Monel wire encased in a cotton sleeve”.  The Navy had more information added to the tags, which read, “The tag has on one side the etched fingerprints of the right index finger…the other side the individual’s initials, surname, month and year of enlistment [in numerals] …this side will also bear the letters U.S.N,” with officers it added: “Initials and surname, rank held, and date of appointment.”

The US Coast Guard issued Identification Tags authorized by the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation in Circular Letter No. 152-41 on December 16, 1941, which read, “The Bureau also directs identification tags be prepared and furnished the officers and enlisted men of the Coast Guard…the letters USCG should be stamped or etched on the face of the tag issued to officers and men of the Coast Guard”. In times of war, the Coast Guard operated under orders of the Navy, and they began to discontinue tags in the 1970s.

Between the World Wars

Following the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, the US Army made very few changes to identification tags until December 1, 1928, with Army Regulations 600-40 stating, “Tags are now officially part of the uniform and must be worn at all times.” From 1906 to 1928, tags were not officially considered part of the uniform. By the mid-1930s, identification tags were referred to by their colloquial name, “dog tags,” and were commonly worn by soldiers, sailors, and marines. The Army Historical Foundation wrote that newspaper editor William Randolph Hearst coined the term to undermine support for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Hearst heard that employees of the newly formed Social Security Administration were issued nameplates for personal identification, and he nicknamed them “dog tags.” There are other rumors of how the nickname emerged, but regardless, the history stretches back for decades.

World War II

In 1940, before the United States entered World War II, a major change was made to tags. Four new types were introduced for use during the war.

The first type came in December 1940 in Army Regulations (AR 600-35). It included a new shape and size and was made of Monel metal. It was two inches long by 1 1/8 inch wide and 1/40 inch in thickness. The tags included five lines of information:

  • Name of soldier
  • Serial Number and then added the blood type “A”, “B”, “AB” or “O” blood.
  • Name of emergency contact
  • Street address of contact
  • City and State of contact

The second type, introduced in November 1941, made additional changes, including adding the religious affiliation of the wearer on the fifth line. Those designations were C for Catholic, H for Hebrew, and P for Protestant. This presented a challenge for service members who were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church, not considering itself Protestant, requested that the letters “LDS” be included. They contacted the War Department, but the request was not formally adopted. Some soldiers created their own dog tags that included the LDS designation. Thus, the five lines on this tag were: 

  • Name of soldier
  • Serial Number and Tetanus immunization (Letter T and 2-number year and added 2-number year for when toxoid was completed) and also the blood type of the wearer with the following: “A, “B”, “AB”, or “O” type blood.
  • Name of emergency contact
  • Street address of contact
  • City and State of contact/Religious Designation

The third type, introduced in July 1943, cut the lines down to three and included the following modifications:

  • Name of soldier (with first name, middle initial, and last name)
  • Serial Numbers, Tetanus immunization date, tetanus toxoid date, and blood type abbreviated.
  • Religion of wearer (abbreviated)

The fourth type, introduced in March 1944, also included three lines and lasted until April 1946. It was nearly identical to the previous type, but the last name was listed first, followed by the first name, last.

One additional change occurred when a notch was added to one side of the tag. A myth began circulating that the notch was added for medical reasons, to hold open the mouths of deceased soldiers to prevent the body from gaseous bloating. In reality, the notch was created by the stamping machine.

In the years leading up to the Korean War on July 1, 1947, the tags were further modified and began adding prefixes as part of the serial numbers, with “RA” added for Regular Army.

Korean War
During the Korean War from 1950-1953, two styles of tags were used. One was for the US Army, and the other for the US Navy. The Army’s tags included these abbreviations:

  • Prefix “RA” Regular Army
  • Prefix “US” Enlisted Draftee
  • Prefix “NG” National Guard
  • Prefix “ER” Enlisted Reserve
  • Prefix “O” Officer

These prefixes came before and were part of the assigned serial number (RA12345678). There were four lines on this tag, with the fifth left blank:

  • Name of soldier
  • Serial Number of soldiers, including prefix used for type of service
  • Tetanus date and blood type
  • Religious preference

The US Navy issued tags with three lines that included:

  • Name of sailor
  • Serial Number of sailors
  • Letters “USN” and religion

Vietnam War

Several variations of identification tags were used during the Vietnam War.  The first type, used through 1967, utilized five lines, and tags were no longer notched. 

  • Surname of soldier
  • First name and middle initial
  • Prefix and Service Number
  • Blood type
  • Religious Preference – Could be spelled out instead of abbreviated.

The second type issued during the Vietnam War was used from 1967-1969 with very little change from the previous type. They included:

  • Surname of soldier
  • First name and initial
  • Prefix and Service Number
  • Blood type (positive or negative could be listed), and number
  • Religious preference – with the word spelled out 

The third type used during the Vietnam War had effective use from 1969.  

  • Surname of soldier
  • First name and initial
  • Social Security Number
  • Blood type – can be shown as negative (neg) or positive (pos).
  • Religious preference – with the wording spelled out

During the Vietnam War, the US Marine Corps issued tags during the same period as the Army. The first type used by the USMC, was similar to the Army’s.

  • Surname of soldier
  • First name and initial
  • Service Number, or if after 1972, the Social Security Number
  • USMC listed, followed by the size of the gas mask worn (S-M-L)
  • Religious preference – with the word spelled out

The US Navy also followed a similar style during the Vietnam War.  

  • Surname of soldier
  • First name and middle initial along with blood type (positive or negative could be abbreviated)
  • Prefix used and Service Number or Social Security Number after 1972
  • Abbreviation of USN listing the branch of service
  • Religious preference – with the word spelled out

Searching for records of burials of military veterans

Fold3® has several collections listing known military dead for different branches from the 19th and 20th centuries, where military tags were used to identify veteran remains. These collections include:

American Battlefield Monuments Commission

U.S. World War I Burial Cards

U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca 1775-2019

World War II Army and Army Air Force Casualty Lists

United States Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists (including deceased repatriated veterans)

This list isn’t exhaustive, and other collections are available on Fold3® and Ancestry® that provide additional records of military dead for several different war periods involving the United States. Learn more about your military ancestors on Fold3® today.

Introducing 28 Million New Records from the UK and other Commonwealth Countries!

April 21, 2023 by | 27 Comments

We’ve been a little busy around here and can’t wait to share some exciting changes to the site. At Fold3®, we’re committed to being the premiere source for military records on the web, providing convenient access to records that honor the military heroes in your family tree and worldwide. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce that we’ve just added 28 million new British military records after acquiring Forces War Records, the leading British military genealogy website.

You will find records dating back to the 1700s. These may even provide clues about your American immigrant ancestors before they arrived in this country. These new collections contain details about regiments, conflicts, military decorations, post assignments, and more. Popular collections include WWI service records and WWI pension cards. WWII researchers will find many new collections detailing the Allied effort during that war.

To access records from specific countries, either select a country from the home page:

Or select from some 200 countries and regions from our search page:

Explore the recently added Forces War Records collections here. For tips on researching British military ancestors, see the Forces War Records blog here. Start searching for your military ancestors today on Fold3®.

Identifying Military Personnel: Decoding Serial Numbers

February 27, 2023 by | 14 Comments

Thanks to our special guest contributor Michael Strauss, an Accredited Genealogist from AncestryProGenealogists® for this informative article on military research using military serial numbers. 

Understanding the use of serial numbers in the military provides genealogists with a way to discover the branch of service, component assignment, and enlistment date of military personnel. The assigned prefixes give clues to occupational specialties and other work performed. Before service numbers were assigned, military personnel were listed by their name, rank, and military unit designation.  

Private John N. CleggWWI

Origins of serial numbers

Serial numbers were first assigned to United States Army enlisted personnel during World War I. On February 12, 1918, the Army issued General Order No. 27, which read: “All soldiers of the United States Army will be numbered by or before February 28, 1918…as soon as a number is assigned to a soldier, it will become a part of his official designation, never changed, never reassigned to another soldier”.

The order further stipulated that the Adjutant General was in charge of issuing the numbers with the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), noting that “Block numbers will be allotted…to the commanding officers of all organizations of the A.E.F…an accurate account will be kept of numbers allotted and assigned and… excess numbers will be listed”. The same order also noted that the number would be stamped on the soldier’s identification tags and appear conspicuous on the military records, rolls, and reports for the individual. Initially, the numbers were designated to enlisted personnel. The first number was assigned to Master Sergeant Arthur B. Crean (issued number R-1) with his service in the regular United States Army.

Honorable discharge papers for John N. Clegg

The first 310,000 numbers were reserved and then distributed to members of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), being sent to France and Belgium. Knowing the serial number will help to determine what component of the AEF a soldier served in. Here is a breakdown of allocations:

1-18,000-Medical Corps

18,000-38,000-Aviation Corps


105,000-112,000-Machine Gun Battalions

114,000- Headquarter personnel and Military Police (no number range provided)

116,000-122,000-United States Marines (before the branch assigned their own numbers)

123,000-146,000-Field Artillery

146,000-147,000-Trench Mortar personnel

147,000-152,000-Coast Artillery Corps personnel

153,000-154,000-Anti Aircraft personnel


196,000-197,000-Engineer Trains

197,000-202,000-Signal Corps

203,000-207,000-Ammunition Trains

207,000-208,000-Ordnance personnel


212,000-214,000-Supply Trains

215,000-217,000-Motar Supply Trains

217,000-219,000-Quartermaster Corps

219,000-235,000-Stevedores and labor battalions

236,000-General Headquarters of the American Expedition Force

The United States Army understood more personnel would be called up. Additional numbers were issued, starting at 310,001 through 2,380,000, based on where recruits were inducted or later at the military training camps. The camps were separated by regular army, national guard, and national army (for men conscripted), with recruits in the latter two having assigned numbers connected to induction camps. The numbering continued through the end of 1918, reaching 5,999,999. Following the war’s end in 1918, another significant change came in June 1921, when commissioned officers were now issued serial numbers. The first number assigned to an officer (O-1) went to General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces in France during the war.

Russell Gerhart Strauss – US Navy WWII

The United States Army would continue to use serial numbers through World War II, Korea, and the Vietnam Wars. Some numbers would be issued for very specific groups. The eight million series from 8,000,000-8,999,999 were issued to female enlisted personnel from 1948-1969. Other numbers would be assigned to specific components. The 20 million series from 20,000,000-20,999,999 covered national guardsmen, with the third digitdetermining where the guardsman was from or inducted.

  • [20 1]-CT, ME, MA, NH, RI, and VT
  • [20 2]-DE, NJ, and NY
  • [20 3]-MD, PA, VA, and DC
  • [20 4]-AL, FL, GA, MS, NC, SC, and TN
  • [20 5]-IN, KY, OH, and WV
  • [20 6]-IL, MI, and WI
  • [20 7]-CO, IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, and WY
  • [20 8]-AR, LA, NM, OK, and TX
  • [20 9]-AK, AZ, CA, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, and WA. 

The numbered series would continue to be issued for all components of regular army, national guard, and draftees through 69,999,999, with the last series of ten million issued to draftees for the Vietnam War. The Army didn’t issue numbers in the 70-80 million series but did include limited numbers from 90,000,000 for members of the Philippine Army during World War II. The United States Army also used lettered prefixes attached to serial numbers. During World War I, “R” indicated service in the regular army, “F” was used for field clerks, and “O” for officers. During World War II, other prefixes were added, accounting for personnel assigned to the Woman’s Auxiliary Corps (WACs), warrant officers, and other military occupational specialties issued during the 1950s and 1960s.

Other branches follow

The United States Air Force was formed on September 18, 1947, as a separate military branch due to the passage of the National Security Act of 1947, which restructured the military. The numbers assigned were then divided into series for officers (from 1-3,999,999) and enlisted personnel (from 8,000,000-69,999,999) until 1969. Numbers were broken down with specific date ranges for reservists, air national guard, and personnel who crossed over from the United States Army still on active duty in 1947. The Air Force used prefixes (one and two letters) and suffixes. The prefixes were two-lettered, with the first letter of “F” indicating Air Force. The second letter provided the assigned component. One-lettered suffix codes were assigned to male and female officers, with two letters to other personnel.

The United States Navy began issuing serial numbers by 1920 in a circular from the Department of the Navy. The early numbers were retroactive for active service dating back to 1885 for career sailors who served during the Spanish American War, Philippine Insurrection, and World War I. By the start of World War II, the Navy was regularly issuing enlisted service numbers from the two through nine hundred series. This number now specified a recruiting district code.

For example,872,74,00-874,74-99 would record the inclusive number for Naval Recruiting Station (NRS) in St. Louis, Missouri, which opened on December 15, 1942. The Navy Department book called the Master Service Number Book lists the NRS by serial number and date. 

In 1965 the Navy began adding two-lettered prefixes. The “B” series was issued to enlisted personnel covering 10,001-999,999 from 1965-1971. The “D” series was issued covering 10,001-999,999 from 1965-1971.

The United States Navy used prefixes separated into two codes.  The first O-Codes (numbered 1-2) were for officers. The second, called V-Codes (numbered 1-12), was for Navy reservists with issued numbers for officers and enlisted personnel.

The United States Marine Corps authorized the assigning of serial numbers as part of their identification on February 15, 1941. They started assigning numbers for all enlisted personnel on March 1, 1941. This change in regulations followed an earlier July 1, 1905, circular that assigned a number to each enlisted case file that was organized numerically. From 1905 to 1941, the numbers were not identification based but created for the purposes of the organization. On May 3, 1950, a memorandum was issued directing the term serial number would be replaced with the term service number until 1972.  For commissioned officers, the Marine Corps in the early 1920s started to assign numbers alphabetically, later adding the prefix “O” to distinguish enlisted from officers.

The United States Coast Guard began to record serial numbers for personnel by 1921. The numbers assigned were divided into two different series for officers (from 1-99,999) and enlisted personnel (from 100,000 to 999,999) until 1974. Numbers were broken down with specific date ranges for reservists, warrants, and members of the Coast Guard woman’s Reserve (SPARS) during war and peacetime. The Coast Guard was the only branch not to utilize any form of prefixes.

Moving away from serial numbers  

The terms ‘service numbers’ and ‘serial numbers’ are often intertwined. By November 1948, each military branch began to settle on using the term service numbers. Nearly twenty years later, changes occurred in the issuing of numbers. Newspaper reporter Douglas C. Campbell reported on the changes in the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa, California, on May 18, 1969. He wrote, “Old Service Numbers Don’t Die, They Just Fade Away.” The military began moving away from service numbers, and soon each branch began adopting social security numbers.  

  • United States Army-on 1 July 1969
  • United States Air Force-on 1 July 1969
  • United States Navy-on 1 January 1972
  • United States Marine Corps-on 1 January 1972
  • United States Coast Guard-on 1 October 1974

Another change in identification numbers

On June 1, 2011, the branches of the United States military stopped using Social Security Numbers (SSN) to identify service members. The Department of Defense issued a unique ten-digit number that would be used on all forms and records for members of the military.

Searching for records with serial or service numbers

Fold3® has several collections listing serial and service numbers for different branches of the military in the twentieth century. The following collections can prove very helpful in finding that information:

Other sources cover the United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, and the Army Air Forces (during World War II) that, after September 15, 1947, would be part of the United States Air Force.

This list isn’t exhaustive, and other collections are available on Fold3® and Ancestry® that provide issued numbers for multiple wars and military branches. Digging into your ancestors’ military history and decoding their service numbers will provide valuable clues about our veteran ancestors. These same numbers were soon to be made a permanent part of the identification tags referred to by their colloquial name of “Dog Tags.” In a future blog post, we’ll break down historical details about dog tags.

Did you know you can search Fold3® records by service number? Just use the filter and enter the service number to see records related to your service person.

Start searching Fold3® today!

Buried Treasure: The Shanghai Bowl

January 11, 2023 by | 65 Comments

In 1942, as Japanese forces advanced on Corregidor, soldiers from the US Army’s 31st Infantry Regiment burned the regimental battle standards and buried a silver bowl and cups. The bowl was a prized Army heirloom known as the Shanghai Bowl, and the soldiers didn’t want it to fall into enemy hands. When the war was over, a contingent, including one who helped bury the bowl, returned to Corregidor to retrieve it. It took two months of digging, but they eventually unearthed it. Today, the Shanghai Bowl remains a symbol of the heritage of the 31st Infantry Regiment and is housed at Fort Drum, New York.

The 31st Infantry Regiment Shanghai Bowl has figured prominently in the regiment’s ceremonies and social functions for nearly a century. Photo courtesy of Fort Drum.

In 1932, the 31st Infantry “Polar Bear” Regiment arrived in Shanghai. The Polar Bear nickname came from the regiment’s service in eastern Siberia during the Russian Revolution from 1918-1920. The regiment aimed to protect American citizens and property after hostilities erupted between Chinese and Japanese forces. While in Shanghai, officers of the 31st collected $1,600 in silver dollars and commissioned a Chinese silversmith to create a silver punch bowl and cups to commemorate the unit’s service. The bowl is 30 inches across by 21 inches deep and was used for special occasions, including ceremonies to commemorate the anniversary of the regiment’s founding.

The 31st kept the Shanghai Bowl at regimental headquarters overseas, so as WWII approached, it was in the Philippines. On the night of May 2, 1942, with enemy shells falling nearby, Capt. Earl R. Short led a small detail and buried the bowl and cups on a hillside on Corregidor. Shortly after, Corregidor fell to the Japanese on May 6, 1942, and Short was captured and taken POW.

Some 1,600 soldiers from the 31st participated in the infamous Bataan Death March. They were already weakened and emaciated from four months of fierce fighting without replacements or resupply. Now, as POWs, they endured torture, starvation, and horrific conditions. More than 1,000 soldiers from the 31st Infantry Regiment died in captivity.

Following the war, Capt. Short (who was promoted to major after his release) went to Maj. Gen. Robert J. Marshall and told him about the buried bowl. Marshall ordered Short to find the bowl and sent a small detail of ten men with shovels to accompany him. After arriving at the hill where he’d buried the bowl, Short found the landscape transformed from heavy shelling. After a week of digging, he called for additional heavy equipment. After a two-month search, they finally found the Shanghai Bowl.

The Shanghai Bowl is still an important symbol for the US Army. The bowl remained with the regiment while they served in Korea, and after 55 years overseas, the Army transported the Shanghai Bowl back to the United States in 1987. Today, the Shanghai Bowl is a distinguished part of Fort Drum’s collection and is still brought out for special occasions.

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