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US Air Force Celebrates 75 Years!

September 15, 2022 by | 51 Comments

September 18, 2022, marks the 75th birthday of the United States Air Force. This branch of the United States military was established through the National Security Act, though officials realized the strategic value of air power long before.

Early Wright Flyer

During the Civil War, military balloons provided an eagle-eye view of the battlefield and helped military leaders conduct reconnaissance missions and direct fire over enemy territory. In 1907, the US Army Signal Corps created the Aeronautical Division and contracted with the Wright Brothers to deliver Aeroplane No. 1. Still in its infancy when WWI began, military aviation quickly expanded. In 1918, the government removed aviation from the Signal Corps and established the US Army Air Service. By the time WWI ended, the Air Service had nearly 200,000 officers and men, 45 squadrons, and 740 planes. Following WWI, the Army Reorganization Act in 1920 created the Air Service, and the Air Corps Act of 1926 established the Army Air Corps.

As the United States entered WWII, the Army Air Forces supplanted the Army Air Corps in 1941. By 1942, the Army Air Forces fell under a single command that rapidly expanded to include 16 air forces, 2.4 million officers and men, and some 80,000 aircraft. Nearly 30,000 women served in the Women’s Army Corps during WWII. The Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron was created in September 1942 to allow female pilots who worked as civilians attached to the Army Air Forces to ferry planes, fighters, bombers, and transports within the United States. They also trained male airmen. In 1943, they became the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), an organization that broke ground for later USAF female pilots.

Tuskegee Airmen of the 332d Fighter Group

Two years after WWII ended, the National Security Act of 1947 created the Department of the Air Force, and on September 18, 1947, the United States Air Force was born. As an official branch of the military, the USAF began to diversify. During WWII, most personnel in the Army Air Force were white males. Still, the success of the Black WWII fighter pilots from the 332d Fighter Group (Tuskegee Airmen) in Italy helped pave the way for racial integration in the USAF. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman issued Executive Order 9981 abolishing segregation in the armed forces.

President Truman also signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948. It allowed women to serve in limited roles in the USAF. In 1976, women were accepted into the USAF on an equal basis with men. Jeannie Marie Leavitt became the first female fighter pilot in the USAF in 1993. She later commanded a combat fighter wing.

F-35A Lightning II

Today, as the USAF celebrates 75 years, they continue to adapt to rapid technological changes to make America the leader in airpower. The Air Force’s five core missions include air 1- superiority, 2- global strike, 3- rapid global mobility, 4- intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and 5- command and control.

If you would like to learn more about the critical role played by the USAF and its predecessor organizations in defense of the nation, explore these and other related collections today on Fold3®:

New British Royal Air Force Records!

August 29, 2022 by | 10 Comments

We are pleased to announce a new collection of military records from the United Kingdom. The UK, British Air Force Lists, 1919-1945 contains a list of people who served in the British Royal Air Force between the end of the First and Second World Wars.

Sample page from WWI Air Force List

The Royal Air Force (RAF) was established on April 1, 1918, when the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service merged during the final year of WWI. The Royal Air Force lists in this collection were published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office in London and could be purchased there or at bookstores. The lists were initially produced monthly in pamphlet form beginning in February 1919. The publications were later changed to bi-monthly and then quarterly. The pamphlets contained lists of those serving in the Royal Air Force and were arranged according to role and rank.

You will find lists of officers in order of seniority, retired officers lists, and alphabetized indexes. The lists may also contain information about medical staff, nurses, chaplains, decorations and awards, and holders of the Victoria Cross. An explanation of abbreviations used in the lists can be found here for earlier WWI records and here for later WWII records.

Each name that appears on the lists has been indexed and is searchable, but in many cases, the lists contain initials and last names. When searching for a specific person, try different variations of their name in your search.

Records in this collection may include the following information:

  • Name
  • Rank
  • Date the individual joined the Royal Air Force
  • Military unit or organization
  • Military occupation

If you have an ancestor that served in the Royal Air Force, these lists allow you to trace their military career across time and identify changes in rank or title.

Explore this new collection of RAF records today on Fold3®!

Incredible Stories of Survival

August 15, 2022 by | 27 Comments

Throughout WWII, military personnel displayed uncommon valor and courage. Our record collections contain countless stories of ordinary men and women who serve in extraordinary ways. Here are two remarkable stories of survival.

S/Sgt. Eugene P. Moran

Eugene P. Moran enlisted in the US Army Air Corps on October 21, 1942. The Wisconsin native served as a Staff Sergeant in the 339th Bomb Squadron, 96th Bomb Group, 8th Air Force. On November 29, 1943, while serving as a tail gunner in a bombing mission over Bremen, Germany, Moran’s B-17 Flying Fortress was hit by German flak. The B-17 was cut in two, sending Moran hurtling toward earth in the tail section. A bail-out was impossible because Moran was wounded in both arms, and his parachute was riddled with bullets. The damaged vertical fin and horizontal stabilizers fluttered and flapped, helping to slow his fall. After falling 24,000 feet (more than four miles), one of the tail’s stabilizers stabbed into a tree, and Moran abruptly stopped. He was severely injured, suffering wounds, back injuries, and head injuries.

Out of the crew of ten, Moran was one of two survivors. He was captured by German soldiers and taken POW. His captors denied him medical attention, but a Serbian doctor, also a POW, rendered aid and likely saved his life. Over the next 17 months, Moran was held prisoner at POW camps in Germany, Prussia, and Poland. He spent time on a “hell ship” on the Baltic (so-called for the horrific conditions Allied prisoners endured while on board). He also survived a forced 600-mile march. Moran endured his time as a POW and was liberated on April 26, 1945, by the 104th Infantry Division. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, an Air Medal with Gold Leaf Cluster, the European Theater Medal, and a Good Conduct Medal. In 2007, Moran became the first recipient of the Veteran Lifetime Achievement Award in Wisconsin. He passed away in 2014 at the age of 89.

B-17E in Flight
Sgt. James A. Raley

Sgt. James A. Raley of Henderson, KY, served as a tail gunner in the 353rd Bomb Squadron, 301st Bomb Group, Fifteenth Air Force. He was on a bombing mission to Piraeus, Greece, on January 11, 1944, when his aircraft collided mid-air with another B-17 in heavy cloud cover. The tail section was severed, and Raley was caught in the wreckage. In a 1944 newspaper interview, Raley said, “When the crash occurred 19,000 feet in the air, there was a terrific impact, and I was thrown face down on the floor toward the rear of the fort. I had an immediate sensation of falling as the plane spiraled downward, twisting to the right in a tight circle. My first thought was to grab my parachute and get out of the plane, but the spinning made it impossible for me to move.”

Raley recited prayers during the descent. “I must have been spiraling downward for 10 to 15 minutes,” he said. The tail came to rest in a clump of treetops. Raley realized he had just survived a fall from 19,000 feet. He was worried the aircraft might catch fire or explode and was anxious to clear the wreckage. He made his way to the bulkhead door, but the rest of the aircraft was gone when he opened it. Eight members of the crew died in the tragic accident.

Raley suffered back injuries and a small cut on the chin but miraculously survived. He was awarded an Air Medal and a Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster. Despite his near-death experience, Raley continued to serve in the military. He served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War, attaining the rank of Lt. Col. in the US Air Force. Raley passed away in 1999.

There are many more stories of survival in our archives. If you would like to explore our collections for more amazing but true stories, search Fold3® today.

August 21, 1863: The Lawrence Massacre

August 1, 2022 by | 171 Comments

On August 21, 1863, a Confederate guerilla group led by William Quantrill attacked citizens in the town of Lawrence, Kansas, during the American Civil War. Guerillas killed more than 150 boys and men and burned much of the town. The Lawrence Massacre, also known as Quantrill’s raid, was a culmination of tension between local abolitionists and pro-slavery partisans along the Missouri-Kansas border.

William Quantrill

These border tensions had been brewing for some time. Beginning in 1855, pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers engaged in a series of violent confrontations and political killings over whether Kansas would be a free state or a slave state, leading to a border war known as “Bleeding Kansas.” Lawrence was founded along the Oregon Trail on the homelands of the Kaw, Lakota, Osage, and Kikapoo by New Englanders. Considered the anti-slavery capital, Lawrence was well-known as a stronghold for abolitionists and the Free-State movement. When Kansas was admitted to the Union at the start of the Civil War, the town became a gathering place for pro-Unionists and Jayhawkers, Free-State militiamen known for attacking plantations, freeing enslaved Black people, and confiscating Confederate supplies in nearby Missouri.

In April 1863, Union General Thomas Ewing, Jr. issued General Order No. 10, which called for the arrest of anyone “giving aid or comfort” to Confederate guerillas. A number of women and girls, most of them relatives of the guerillas, were arrested and incarcerated in squalid conditions in a women’s prison in Kansas City. A week before the Lawrence Massacre, the prison collapsed, killing four and leaving others with severe injuries.

The Leavenworth Times – August 15, 1863

In the predawn hours on August 21, Quantrill led a group of about 450 Confederate guerillas, also called “Bushwhackers,” into Lawrence. They surprised the town’s sleeping residents and began to execute civilians and loot valuables. Panicked residents tried to hide in cornfields or along the Kansas and Wakarusa rivers, though some surrendered only to be shot later. For over four hours, Quantrill’s raiders pillaged and burned the town, killing at least 150 men and boys.

The Lawrence Massacre was one of the bloodiest events of the Kansas-Missouri border war. Following the attack, Gen. Ewing issued General Order No. 11, ordering all citizens of four counties on the Missouri side of the border to relocate to Kansas City. Ewing intended to cut off supplies and support to the guerillas, and under his orders, Jayhawkers burned everything remaining to the ground.

Although Quantrill was a field-commissioned officer under the Partisan Ranger Act, Confederate leadership was outraged by his tactics and withdrew official support for his Bushwhackers. Quantrill led his men south towards Texas and continued to wreak havoc. Infamous members of Quantrill’s raiders included Bloody Bill Anderson, outlaw Jesse James, and his older brother Frank James. On May 10, 1865, William Quantrill was shot by Union troops in Kentucky in one of the last engagements of the Civil War. He died of his wounds on June 6, 1865.

Jesse and Frank James

If you would like to learn more about the Lawrence Massacre or William Quantrill, search Fold3® today.

WWII Research and the Missing Air Crew Reports Collection

July 18, 2022 by | 40 Comments

During WWII, the United States Army adopted a form to document the fate of missing air crews. Missing Air Crew Reports (MACRs) are a valuable resource that provides details, witness statements, survivor accounts, and more. The reports tell the story of aircraft that went down for various reasons, including enemy fire, bad weather, or mechanical difficulties.      

A glance through the MACR collection reveals a rich collection of stories of bravery, sacrifice, and survival. Army rules dictated that a MACR be filed within 48 hours after an aircraft was officially reported as missing. While this allowed for fresh witness testimony, it also meant that the outcome for some crew members was unknown. The reports include each soldier’s military ID number. This information allows researchers to explore additional records such as the POW collection, hospital admissions, or death records.

WWII Draft Registration Card for Evarist V. Albers

Here are a few stories from the MACR Collection:

On November 1, 1943, S/Sgt. Evarist V. Albers and his crew from the 47th Bomb Squadron, 97th Bomb Group, took off for a bombing mission over Italy. As they neared their target, the formation encountered enemy flak. Moments later, the aircraft lurched. They had been hit and were going down! An explosion took a wing off and burned Albers’s face. They began to roll, but Albers managed to bail out. He searched for other survivors as he floated to the ground but didn’t see any other sign of life. A nearby gunner testified that he saw two chutes, one fully opened, but the other one was trailing. Albers was the only survivor of the crash and returned to service four days later.

On August 7, 1942, a B-26 Marauder loaded with seven crew and Associated Press reporter Vernon Haugland encountered a severe storm and drifted off-course over New Guinea. With fuel running low, the crew bailed out at 13,000 feet and landed in the jungle. The crew became separated and spent the next several weeks trying to escape. Haugland kept a journal of his 43 days in the wilderness. He nearly starved to death and weighed just 95 pounds when he was rescued. Haugland became the first civilian recipient of the Silver Star medal for heroism. He later published a book, Letter from New Guinea, about his experiences. Co-pilot James A. Michael and 1st. Lt. Carroll W. Casteel did not survive the ordeal. Pilot Duncan A. Seffern spent two weeks in the jungle before being rescued but died months later in another airplane crash.

1st Lt. Carroll W. Casteel died in the New Guinea jungle

Lawrence H. Lancashire served in the 93rd Bomb Group, 409th Bomb Squad, and participated in Operation Tidal Wave – the bombing of oil refineries around Ploiesti, Romania, in 1943. Lancashire was co-piloting a B-24 Bomber with a crew of 10. They were flying at tree-top level when enemy fire hit the aircraft’s engines, and they crash-landed. Lancashire was captured and spent three months as a prisoner of war. Others in the crew were not so lucky. Pilot Hubert H. Womble lost a foot and was also taken POW. William K. Little broke his leg and was trapped in the plane. While waiting hours for extrication, airplane fuel ran over his body. He died eight days later from untreated injuries and the poisoning effects of gasoline vapor. Details about other crew members are also contained in the report.

The Pantagraph 11.19.1943

If you want to be inspired by more incredible stories of heroism, explore the Missing Air Crew Reports collection today on Fold3®.

80th Anniversary of the Battle of Midway: June 4-7, 1942

June 8, 2022 by | 56 Comments

Eighty years ago, on June 4-7, 1942, the United States defeated Japan in a decisive naval and air battle known as the Battle of Midway. The battle came after a Japanese attack on a US base on Midway Atoll, a tiny island in the Pacific. Japan never recovered from its losses, and the battle is known as a turning point in the Pacific Theater during WWII.

Following the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in April 1942 and the Battle of the Coral Sea in May, Japan began planning the attack at Midway in hopes of destroying the US Pacific Fleet. They wanted military dominance in the region and a base for future military operations.

Burning oil tanks on Sand Island, Midway Atoll, following Japanese air attack on June 4, 1942.

Unbeknownst to Japanese forces, US cryptanalysts had broken Japanese codes and were aware of the impending attack plans. This gave officials time to prepare a counteroffensive. On June 4, 108 Japanese aircraft took off from four Japanese aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu. They attacked the US base on Midway, inflicting heavy damage.

US Navy Torpedo Squadron 6 prepare to launch from the USS Enterprise. June 4, 1942

American Admiral Chester Nimitz, commander of the Pacific Fleet, had sent two task forces to meet the Japanese. Task Force 16, which included the Hornet and Enterprise, under Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance; and Task Force 17, with the carrier Yorktown, under Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher. The Yorktown was damaged but had undergone hasty repairs at Pearl Harbor and was ready for the fight.

Bombers took off from the US fleet and attacked Japanese carriers Akagi, Kaga, and Soryu, causing devastating damage. The ships were set ablaze and abandoned. The Hiryu launched counterattacks and bombed the Yorktown, disabling the ship. Though it managed to stay afloat, the captain ordered the ship abandoned. A Japanese torpedo finished off the Yorktown two days later, and she sank.

Scene on board the USS Yorktown after she was hit by three Japanese bombers on June 4, 1942

With only the Hiryu remaining, a scout plane from the Yorktown located the Japanese ship and sent dive-bombers from the Enterprise to attack. At least four bombs hit the Hiryu, and she sank.

During the Battle of Midway, the Japanese sustained heavy losses, including 3,000 men and four carriers. American casualties included 300 men and one carrier. The battle set the stage for landings on Guadalcanal and the Solomon Islands and prevented Japan from launching a major offensive in the Pacific again.

Our friends at Stories Behind the Stars have headed up a special project to write the story of each American torpedo bomber that participated in the Battle of Midway. Learn about their efforts on this Facebook page. To learn more about the Battle of Midway, search Fold3® today!

Memorial Day Tips for Documenting Veterans’ Graves from Find a Grave®

May 23, 2022 by | 41 Comments

Memorial Day is a time to remember and honor the men and women who died in the service of our country. Since many of us will be visiting graveyards and cemeteries in the coming weeks, we’ve invited our friends at Find a Grave® to provide tips on how to properly clean and photograph the graves of our country’s veterans. We are grateful for their time and expertise.

. . . . .

When planning your trip to the cemetery, you’ll want to go prepared. Our goal is to have every veteran remembered with a memorial on Find a Grave®. Before you head out, here are some items you might consider taking along.

  • Camera/phone with GPS turned on– Smartphones and Digital cameras are great for capturing photos of tombstones because you can see in real-time whether you’ve captured the image you want. Take high-resolution photographs. Be sure to bring plenty of memory, extra batteries, or chargers.
  • If using a smartphoneDownload the Find a Grave® app where you can search for memorials, easily add GPS for gravesites, and create memorials from the headstones in the cemetery you are visiting.
  • Sun Protection– A hat and sunscreen, whatever you need for your area.
  • Small towel, old clothes, and shoes– Towel to help gently wipe dirt off a stone.
  • Spray bottle with plain water– Wetting tombstones can make them more readable. 
  • Small sweeping brush– Paintbrushes work well to brush loose dirt off without harming fragile stones. 
  • Mirror– Use the mirror to reflect the sunshine and throw shadows off inscriptions. Foil-covered flat surfaces are less breakable and can help when mirrors aren’t available. 
  • Scissors or clippers– You’ll need these to trim away grass that has grown over the gravestone. 
  • Small kneeling pad– You may need to kneel or even lay down while taking eye-level shots of smaller stones. 
  • Notepad and pencil – You may want to take some notes.

We suggest using “no harm methods” when reading a headstone and photographing it. There are several no harm methods available. The first has to do with light and shadow. It is easier to read the inscription on a stone in the morning or evening because shadows tend to accentuate the lettering. You can also use a reflector to reflect light onto the stone to produce the same effect. A second no harm method involves photographing the headstone using a remote flash. In the example below, a Find a Grave® member placed a remote flash to the side of the stone and timed it to go off at the same moment he snapped the photograph. An alternative method is to carry a high lumens flashlight, shine it on the stone, and test different angles to read the lettering.

Photo credit: Krista Al Qirim

The Cemetery Conservator for United Standards website has a page on reading weathered headstones called Reading Stone Basics. This website discusses other no harm methods such as a foil impression, adding snow to the lettering, or gravestone rubbings. Before doing any rubbings, the gravestone should be evaluated for safety and durability. These methods are also available to download as a PDF, so you can print it and take it with you. We suggest exploring their website as there is so much to learn about cemetery and headstone conservation. Always contact a professional or take training courses for anything other than no harm methods for reading a headstone.

The inscription on a headstone holds valuable information that can tell us more about the person and about the relationships of those they left behind. It is extremely important to document and record these relationships. Inscriptions fade, and a stone itself can be damaged or decay over time.

An example of this is the memorial for Edwin A. Turner, who died in 1865. Turner and his father were traders in the mid-19th Century. They were traveling through Utah with another man named Holland when an argument broke out between Turner and Holland. Their disagreement turned into a scuffle, and Holland stabbed Turner. Turner died at just twenty-six years old. The inscription on the headstone included words from his mother.

My darling boy, I little thought that

When I last saw thy manly form

And fondly kissed thy noble brow

That death would dash thy life away


A photograph of Turner’s headstone taken in the 1970s shows the inscription was clearly visible. A subsequent photo taken in 2009 shows it had nearly crumbled away, and a new stone had been placed in front of the old stone. By 2021, the original headstone no longer existed, and the new headstone did not include the inscription from Turner’s mother.

Photo credits: KC and Judie Latshaw Huff

An inscription on a headstone usually contains genealogical information such as name and dates. It can also include other information like names of family members, unique inscriptions, symbols or icons, and other clues to religion, military service, fraternal organizations, and more. This information helps others in their genealogical research.

Photo credit: Elaine Clark

As the inscription on a stone contains so much information, you’ll want to be sure when photographing a headstone that the stone is readable. Remove any debris or dirt from the front of the stone, or that has gathered around the edges. You can see in the photos below how the uncut grass covers part of the inscription, which reads:

“We can safely leave our boy

Our darling in Thy trust.”

Photo credit: KC

Our Find a Grave® team has compiled some helpful tips to consider when photographing a headstone and documenting its surroundings.

  • Use a camera or cellphone with GPS enabled to add the grave’s location. 
  • Make sure your lens is clean and avoid including your fingers, feet, or shadow in the photograph. 
  • Make sure the stone is readable; remove debris such as soil, leaves, or twigs.
  • Take multiple photos. This will give you more choices when uploading photos to the site. 
  • Photograph the entire headstone straight on so that it nearly fills the frame. If the stone is upright, you may need to kneel to get the best shot. You can photograph at different readable angles as well. 
  • If the headstone has multiple sides with text, then photograph each side. 
  • Capture a close-up of text on the headstone. 
  • Capture an area photo of the stone, giving context and showing the surroundings of the grave. 
  • A shadow can help text be more pronounced. Morning or evening may be best. 
  • Consider using reflective material (such as a mirror or foil on a flat surface) to cast light on the stone. 
  • If there is not a marker for the grave, take photos of the grave location in context to the surrounding stones. Add to the caption that the grave is unmarked. 

You can use the Find a Grave® app (iOS or Android) to upload the headstone photos directly to the memorial or upload them to the specific cemetery page to transcribe later.

Thank you in advance for your efforts to honor veterans this Memorial Day. We hope that every member of the Armed Forces will have their final resting place remembered and documented on Find a Grave®. To explore military records for our country’s veterans, search Fold3® today. To see Find a Grave® memorials for veterans and others, search Find a Grave® today.