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.
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:
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!