Fold3: Military records online

Fold3 Blog

The official blog of Fold3

Christmas During the Battle of the Bulge

December 1, 2019 by | 46 Comments

On December 16, 1944, German forces surprised American soldiers in the densely forested Ardennes region of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France, with a massive offensive also known as the Battle of the Bulge, or the Ardennes Counteroffensive. Germany pushed through an Allied line, creating a bulge in the Allied defensive lines. The deadly battle, which lasted until January 25, 1945, was the largest on the European western front during WWII and resulted in an estimated 1 in 10 American combat casualties during the entire war. It also meant that thousands of soldiers spent Christmas 1944 in temperatures that hovered around zero, in knee-deep snow, and with limited rations for Christmas dinner. On the home front, their families spent a nervous holiday season, waiting for word of their loved ones.

Cpl. Frank D. Vari spent Christmas Eve huddled in a foxhole as shells exploded around him all night long. “We could hear their guns going off and the shells landing at the same time. They were close. They almost surrounded the whole place. I remember Christmas Day. I got up, and we had a real bad night, with artillery and everything. The first thing I saw was the steeple of a church down in the valley. It was a beautiful day, the sun was just coming up over a little village at the bottom.” The clear skies allowed US planes to reinforce soldiers along the front. The break in the weather saved Vari’s unit.

Sgt. Metro Sikorsky woke up Christmas Day 1944 in a bombed-out building. He was 25-years-old and serving in Company B, 17th Tank Battalion of the 7th Armored Division. It was his first time away from home in Pennsylvania. All around were the bodies of the frozen and his job included picking up the dead. He said it was so cold that when a soldier died, in a short time the body froze where it lay. There were no presents and no Christmas dinner, but Sikorsky felt lucky to be alive. It was so cold that soldiers cut blankets into strips and wound them around their frozen feet.

Tech Sgt. Maurice Glenn Hughs remembered the terrible winter conditions during the battle. “Hundreds of people lost their feet because they were frozen,” he said. Hughs was hospitalized after the battle and doctors in Paris told him that his feet would need to be amputated. “My legs were painted up to my knees to be amputated. And then the doctors checked and said they wouldn’t have to be,” said Hughs.

Mattie Dickenson of Georgetown, Louisiana, remembered Christmas 1944 as a difficult one. She anxiously waited for news from her husband Benjamin F. Dickenson. Benjamin was drafted when he was 38-years-old and found himself fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. “I do remember that was the saddest Christmas I ever spent. For 21 days I didn’t know if he was dead or alive,” said Mattie. Though Benjamin was wounded, he made it home alive. Mattie kept a piece of the parachute that dropped supplies to her husband at Bastogne.

Soldiers from the Third United States Army carried a printed copy of Gen. George Patton’s Christmas Prayer of 1944. Patton had a copy distributed to each soldier before the battle. It petitioned the heavens for good weather and concluded with a Christmas greeting from the General. It read, “To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete the victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.”  

The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler’s last major offensive along the Western Front. Within a month Allied forces pushed the Germans back and closed the bulge. The battle was called “the greatest American battle of the war” by Winston Churchill and it crushed Germany’s hopes for ultimate success in the war. To learn more about the Battle of the Bulge and soldiers who fought in it, search Fold3 today!

Four New States Added to the WWII Draft Registration Card Collection

November 20, 2019 by | 31 Comments

Fold3 has added four more states to our collection of U.S. WWII Draft Registration Cards! The collection now includes cards from New York, New Jersey, North Dakota, and Vermont. We now have Draft Registration Cards from 45 states or regions! The cards in this collection are registration cards and do not necessarily indicate that the individual served in the military.

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.

Pictured below is the draft card for Jacob John Dukart of North Dakota. He registered for the draft during the first registration period in October 1940. He enlisted in 1942, and in 1943, Pvt. Dukart was captured by German soldiers and sent to a POW camp. That Christmas, POWs in the camp sent a short wave broadcast greeting home to their families. It is not clear if the broadcast reached anyone at home during Christmas, but in February 1944 the messages were re-broadcast and listeners in Montana and Florida picked up the voice of Pvt. Dukart. He sent greetings to his wife and parents back in Dickinson, North Dakota, and asked for a photo of his daughter Jacqueline whom he had never seen. Pvt. Dukart was eventually freed and returned home to the United States. He passed away in 2004.

What stories will you uncover using this collection? Get started searching our WWII Draft Registration Cards today on Fold3!

November 12, 1864: The Destruction of Atlanta and Sherman’s March to the Sea

October 31, 2019 by | 192 Comments

On November 12, 1864, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman ordered the destruction of the business district in Atlanta and the Union Army started their March to the Sea which ended just before Christmas in Savannah, Georgia. The march, also known as the Savannah Campaign, bolstered the Union Army and helped lead to the surrender of the Confederacy and the end of the Civil War five months later.

Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman

During the Civil War, Atlanta served as a hub for the Confederacy and a major transportation link for supplies and troops between the eastern seaboard and the west. After a five-month successful campaign from Tennessee through northwest Georgia, Union troops made their way to the doorstep of Atlanta in mid-July. Gen. John B. Hood decided to surrender the city and evacuate his Confederate troops on September 1, 1864. Before leaving, Hood ordered the depots destroyed to prevent them from falling into Union hands.

On September 2nd, Sherman captured the city, but with a tenuous supply line, he knew he couldn’t hold it for long. Sherman divided his army into two, sending half towards Nashville while some 60,000 remaining troops would join him on a march across Georgia.

Ruins of the depot, blown up on Sherman’s departure

Relying on a scorched-earth policy, Sherman ordered that all railroads, factories, and commercial buildings be destroyed before leaving the city. He wanted to obliterate anything that might be of use to the Confederate Army. Sherman also ordered civilians out of their homes and businesses and destroyed them if they contained anything that might aid the Confederates. Before it was over, 40% of the city (an estimated 3,000 buildings) lie in ruins. Much of the destruction was in the business district around Peachtree Street. Pvt. James H. Peterson from the 13th New Jersey Infantry recorded his observations in a pocket diary. “On Sunday November 15 we left Atlanta in going through the city we passed large buildings on fire…”

Sherman and his army, now cut off from any supply lines, headed towards the coast. They lived off the land, taking supplies from fields and farms as they beat a pathway of destruction towards Savannah. Along the way, they encountered pockets of Confederate resistance and destroyed railroad tracks and cut telegraph lines. Pvt. Peterson recorded that on November 26, “while we was skirmishing with the Rebels at Sandersville I was wounded in the leg by a ball.” Peterson ended up in a hospital outside of Savannah where on December 10th he wrote about the approaching Union Army, “The troops burnt the Charleston and Savanna Railroad we lay about 6 miles from Savannah in the Field Hospital we can hear the cannon the savanna River and the broadsides from the big guns very plain.”

Telegram to President Lincoln presenting the city of Savannah as a Christmas gift

On December 21st, after a march of 37 days and some 250 miles, Union troops entered Savannah. Just days before Christmas, Sherman sent a telegram to President Abraham Lincoln, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred fifty guns and plenty of ammunition. Also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”

The destruction of Atlanta and Sherman’s March to the Sea demoralized the Confederacy and contributed to the end of the Civil War in April 1865. To learn more about the destruction of Atlanta and the March to the Sea, search our Civil War records collection on Fold3 today!

Gorrell’s History: A Gripping Narrative of Aviation During WWI

October 23, 2019 by | 26 Comments

World War I was the first major conflict where airplanes were introduced on the battlefield. Recognizing the significant contribution airplanes made to the war effort, the Assistant Chief of Staff of the Air Service, Colonel Edgar S. Gorrell, wrote a history documenting the contributions of aircraft for use in future conflicts. That history now referred to as “Gorrell’s History of the American Expeditionary Forces Air Service 1917-1919” is a 282-bound volume narrative and is available to view on Fold3. It provides valuable historical insight, first-hand accounts, and pages of Weekly Progress Reports, Cablegrams, Squadron Histories, and more.   

As WWI came to a close, the AEF instructed all Air Service Units to send historical information to Gorrell’s office before returning to the United States. Some squadrons fulfilled the request, while others were anxious to get home saying, “Writing history does not appeal to them.”

The 1st and 8th Aero Squadrons complied with the request and sent a gripping report of their involvement in the Battle of Saint Mihiel, fought September 12-16, 1918. The battle was the first US-led offensive during WWI and the first major usage of the US Army Air Service in wartime.

Lt. Harry D. Aldrich of the 1st Aero Squadron was flying over the front on September 12, 1918. He guided American Expeditionary Forces to enemy positions by reconnoitering the area and then dropping messages to those on the ground. That afternoon, Lt. Aldrich received reports of a German battery delivering heavy fire, but their location could not be ascertained from the ground. Aldrich took to the skies with Lt. David Ker acting as Observer. While flying towards the German gun positions, they were attacked by a patrol of six or seven Fokker airplanes. “Lt. Ker opened fire on them while I put our ship into a spiral,” said Aldrich. “I found that my control wires were shot away and smoke and flames began pouring out of the cockpit. The Germans were following us down.” Observers noted that the burning plane was spiraling out of control, but moments before crashing, the fuel tank exploded. The explosion acted as a cushion and broke the fall of the aircraft.

“I remember nothing more until I woke up in the hospital,” said Aldrich. Lt. Ker was killed in the crash, but Aldrich spent months recovering from two gunshot wounds and severe burns from the crash.

In addition to first-hand accounts from fighter pilots, Gorrell’s History also includes information from the Balloon sections and Photographic sections, where military aerial photography first started during WWI. The AEF also formed a Radio Section to take advantage of this new experimental wartime form of communication.

If you would like to learn more about the history of aviation and other technological advances during WWI, search Gorrell’s History on Fold3 today!

The Sullivan Brothers and the Sinking of the USS Juneau

October 15, 2019 by | 119 Comments

In September 1940, as Nazi bombs rained down on London during the Blitz, America began the first-ever peacetime conscription and enacted the Selective Training and Service Act. The country was moving closer to war and the Sullivan family of Waterloo, Iowa, answered the call. That fall, Joseph Sullivan, 22, registered for the draft. By the following summer, the other four Sullivan brothers – Albert, 19; Madison, 21; Francis, 25; and George, 26; also made the trip to the Federal Building in Waterloo and filled out their registration cards. The Sullivan brothers insisted they serve together. Weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, they enlisted in the US Navy.

The Sullivan Brothers

All five brothers were assigned to the USS Juneau. Juneau was part of Task Force 67 and sent to escort a resupply convoy to Guadalcanal. The Battle of Guadalcanal (codenamed Operation Watchtower) was an offensive aimed to protect critical supply and transportation links between the United States and Allies in Australia and New Zealand. It was the first major offensive against Japanese forces.

On the night of November 12, 1942, after hours of fighting off Japanese torpedo bombers, a Japanese destroyer launched a torpedo that struck Juneau on the port side. She began to list and retreated from the battle. Operating on one screw, the Juneau steamed towards Espiritu Santo for repairs. The following morning, a Japanese submarine fired another torpedo hitting Juneau in the same spot she was hit the night before. Following a loud explosion, the USS Juneau broke in two and sank in just 20 seconds. Concerned about the possibility of another submarine attack, the American task force left the scene. The USS Helena messaged a nearby B-17 search plane to report survivors in the water. Unfortunately, Helena’s message did not reach command headquarters, delaying rescue efforts for days. More than 100 men did survive the initial attack. Francis, Joseph and Madison Sullivan died instantly, but Albert may have survived until the second day before drowning. George lived for four or five days in a raft before succumbing, according to a letter from a shipmate to his parents. Eight days after sinking, ten survivors were plucked from the water. The tragedy claimed the lives of 687 men.

USS Juneau

Back in Iowa, the Sullivan family received word that all five sons were missing. As a result of their deaths, the US War Department adopted the Sole Survivor Policy. This policy protected family members from the draft or combat duty if they already lost family members in military service. The parents of the Sullivan boys, Thomas and Alleta Sullivan, toured the country promoting war bonds and visiting shipyards and manufacturing plants to motivate workers. The only surviving Sullivan child, daughter Genevieve, 24, joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and served for 21 months before being granted an honorable discharge. The US Navy later named two destroyers after the Sullivan brothers, and the Iowa Veterans Museum is named in their honor.

For 76 years, the wreckage of the USS Juneau rested undiscovered on the ocean floor. On March 17, 2018, an expedition funded by billionaire Paul Allen discovered the Juneau lying on her side about 2.6 miles below the surface of the ocean in the Solomon Islands. There are no plans to raise the ship.

If you would like to read multiple survivor accounts from the Juneau, or learn more about the Battle of Guadalcanal, search Fold3 today!  

The Hesse Crown Jewels Case

October 1, 2019 by | 125 Comments

In November 1945, three American Army officers stationed in Germany pulled off a dramatic jewel heist when they stole the Hesse crown jewels that were concealed in a German castle occupied by US troops. When evidence of the crime came to light, the soldiers were court-martialed, found guilty, and sentenced to prison. Less than half of the jewels, valued at $2.5 million in 1945 were recovered.

Princess Margaret wearing some of the Hesse crown jewels

In 1944, with the Allies closing in, Prince Wolfgang of Germany’s House of Hesse abandoned the family’s castle in Kronberg, north of Frankfurt, Germany. Before leaving, he secretly placed the Hesse crown jewels, which included over 500 carats of loose diamonds, a 116-carat sapphire, tiaras, packets of rings, pendants, bracelets, and more into a large zinc-lined wooden box. He dug a hole in the cellar of the castle and lowered the box down, then covered it with concrete. To further ensure the safety of the jewels, he built a fake wall, creating a secret room that held the treasure.

In April 1945, US troops took over the castle to use as an officers’ club. They relegated the Hesse family to several guest cottages on the castle grounds. WAC Capt. Kathleen Nash was assigned to have “full charge of the castle and to operate it as a club and recreation center.”

On November 5, 1945, Roy C. Carlton, a member of Nash’s staff, heard from a German informant that something valuable was buried in the basement of the castle. Carlton reported this to Nash who ordered him to conduct a search. While exploring the basement, they noticed fresh concrete and started to attack the area with a sledgehammer. They ultimately unearthed the box filled with treasure. Nash ordered it taken to her room.

Nash was romantically involved with Col. Jack W. Durant (they later married). After seeing the treasure, she called him and soon Nash, Durant, and Maj. David J. Watson were snipping apart elaborate settings and pocketing gems.

In February 1946, Princess Sophie of Greece was preparing to marry Prince George Wilhelm of Hanover. Tradition stated that the royal bride would wear the crown jewels. When a servant went to retrieve the jewels, he discovered them missing. The Hesse family complained to military authorities who started an investigation.

The investigation revealed some of the jewels were already gone – having been sold in Switzerland and Ireland. Others were mailed or smuggled back to the US. Nash sent items to her sister in Wisconsin including a 36-piece solid gold cutlery set with handles of semi-precious stones. When army agents burst into the Wisconsin home, they observed the cutlery being used as everyday kitchenware. Col. Durant took some of his smuggled gems and buried them in fruit jars near Falls Church, VA. Police dug up three jars filled with diamonds and cash.

Jewels from the Hesse collection

Nash, Durant, and Watson were court-martialed, convicted and sentenced to prison. More than half of the gems removed from their settings were never recovered.

To see the original documents from the Hesse Crown Jewel Court Martial case, including Kathleen Nash’s statement to the court, photos, additional court testimony, numerous pleas for clemency like this one for Maj. Watson, a Hesse family pedigree chart, and more, see our Hesse Crown Jewels Court-Martial Collection on Fold3!

Stories from the Pacific Theatre: Documenting a Hero on Fold3’s Honor Wall

September 20, 2019 by | 28 Comments

Have you ever visited the Fold3 Honor Wall? The Honor Wall is comprised of thousands of Memorials created by our users to pay tribute to America’s veterans. Memorials can contain memories, diaries, stories, photos, and more! They are a wonderful way to share, collaborate, and even learn things about your loved one’s service based upon the histories contributed by others. These pages are a great way to keep our veterans’ stories alive.

For example, the children of Willis H. Bell created this Memorial in his honor. Bell enlisted in the Marine Corps the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed when he was just 17-years-old. He was stationed aboard the USS Chicago when the ship was hit with torpedoes during the Battle of Rennell Island. Bell remembered, “When the first torpedo hit the ship, I was blown through an open hatch down to the next deck, which really did a number on my back. In a later explosion that same night I sustained flash burns about the ankles.” The USS Chicago sank, and Bell ended up in the water for two hours before being rescued. The Navy dropped depth charges to keep the sharks away. Bell received treatment for his injuries though it took about a month before he could stand up straight.

Willis H. Bell

After being released, Bell volunteered for the Raider Battalion 6th Marine Division where he landed at Bougainville in the Solomon Islands. While on Bougainville, Bell was plagued by jungle rot. Jungle rot was a tropical disease that occurred when skin lesions caused by microbes became infected and ulcerated. The painful disease eroded muscles and tendons, and sometimes even bone. Bell’s treatment consisted of putting his legs in a metal basin of water with an electrical current flowing through to clean out the ulcerated sores. Bell remembered that he and other soldiers would have contests to squeeze the sores and see who could hit the top of the tent first. He remembers being able to see right down to the bone in his wounds. Bell also contracted Dengue Fever on the islands.

Several months later, Bell’s regiment came ashore at Guam. One night while hunkered down after dark, Bell heard movement. The regiment followed a hard and fast rule that nobody was allowed above ground after dark without letting fellow soldiers know. Bell had not received word that anyone would be out, so when he sensed movement, he fired. Horrified, Bell learned that he shot and killed his squadron leader. Within 24 hours Bell also lost two more good friends and a third received serious wounds. Devastated both mentally and physically, Bell continued fighting until he came down with a severe case of cerebral malaria. He was so ill that he was found raving incomprehensibly and shipped to a hospital in San Diego. He eventually recovered, but his wartime maladies bothered him throughout his life.

Bell’s family recalls that later in life, Bell did not consider his life a success. Sometimes he displayed irrational anger but understanding his story helped Bell’s family to overlook his weaknesses and imperfections. To them, their father is a hero!

Do you or your loved ones have military stories, photos or diaries? Creating a Memorial is easy to do! Follow the instructions in this video tutorial. Be sure to include regiment, unit, or battalion and as many searchable details as you can. Don’t forget to search other existing Memorial pages and you may learn more about the service of your veteran! Visit Fold3 and get started today!