Fold3 HQ

The USS Benevolence Brings Home American POWs from Japan

September 1, 2023 by | 28 Comments

On August 29, 1945, the USS Benevolence sailed into Tokyo Bay. She was the first American hospital ship to arrive in Japan to evacuate American, Allied, and civilian POWs from two internment camps following the end of WWII. After spending the fall onboarding patients and caring for them, the Benevolence set sail for the US on November 27, 1945. She reached San Francisco on December 12, 1945.  

Japanese surrender at Tokyo Bay

After Emperor Hirohito announced that Japan would surrender on August 15, 1945, military officials began moving 300 US Navy ships toward Tokyo Bay, where Japan would sign the official Instrument of Surrender on September 2. Among those ships were three hospital ships: the USAHS Marigold, the USS Rescue, and the USS Benevolence. The Benevolence was a new hospital ship, recently converted from the cargo ship SS Marine Lion. She had over 800 hospital beds, state-of-the-art operating rooms, labs, other medical facilities, and a highly trained medical staff. The ship included another revolutionary feature – air conditioning.

Master Sgt. Oliver C. Thomas, left, and ARM 3-C Alvin Hughes are treated aboard the USS Benevolence. Fort Worth Star-Telegram – September 11, 1945

Soon after entering the harbor, the Benevolence began receiving patients. Among them was Master Sgt. Oliver C. Thomas. Thomas enlisted in 1941 and served in the 421st Squadron, 504th Bomb Group, as a B-29 flight engineer. On May 29, 1945, his plane was hit by flak on a bombing run over Yokohama. Losing altitude, the crew of 12 jumped. Nine ended up in the same POW camp in Japan. Thomas described the conditions of his imprisonment in a newspaper interview following the war. “Sixteen of us were crowded into a cell 8 by 10 feet. Military police beat us on the heads with rifle butts… one crewman was beaten unmercifully with a bamboo rod.” During his imprisonment, Thomas lost 50 pounds. Despite the beatings, he fared better than many others.

Sgt. Harold T. Hedges – bottom row, second from right (no. 10)

Sgt. Harold T. Hedges served in the 500th Bomb Group, 882nd Bomb Squadron, and was the only survivor when a Japanese suicide plane rammed his B-29 over Nagoya on January 3, 1945. He endured horrific torture by his captors and was so severely beaten that he had to be carried aboard the Benevolence on a stretcher. Crew members reported the shock of seeing liberated prisoners’ thin and emaciated bodies.

In November, the Benevolence sailed toward California with 1,000 passengers. Medical personnel worked tirelessly to treat their precious human cargo.

On December 12, 1945, the Benevolence arrived in San Francisco, where all patients and passengers disembarked. Those needing further medical care were transferred to Base Hospitals. During her service in caring for liberated Allied POWs, the crew of the Benevolence screened 1520 prisoners of war and provided them with the best possible care.

To learn more about the USS Benevolence, search Fold3® today.

Escape From Point Lookout POW Camp

August 10, 2023 by | 66 Comments

During the Civil War, more than 400,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were held at prisoner-of-war camps, with a tragic death toll of 56,000. Among these captives was a Confederate soldier with a remarkable tale of escape from Point Lookout POW camp in Maryland. Thirty-six years later, this soldier embarked on a journey to revisit the site of his imprisonment, hoping to meet and reward those who had shown him kindness and aided in his journey. Accompanied by a newspaper correspondent, his story was recorded and later published.

Simon Erastus Vaden Seward (photo courtesy of Wilkie – Find a Grave)

Simon E. V. Seward was born in Surry County, VA, on May 14, 1844. He hailed from a family with a strong military lineage, his second great-grandfather having served in the Revolutionary War. On August 12, 1862, Seward enlisted in Company E of the 13th Regiment Virginia Cavalry, the Confederate States of America, at Petersburg, VA.

Just before the Battle of Gettysburg, Gen. Robert E. Lee dispatched some troops to threaten Washington and draw away Union forces. Seward was among these men, and while reconnoitering in Montgomery County, Maryland, Union soldiers captured him on June 28, 1863. Initially held at the Old Capitol Prison, the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg necessitated the conversion of Point Lookout, a former military hospital complex, into a POW camp. Seward was transferred there, witnessing the rapid increase in prisoners from 1,700 to 9,000 by the end of 1863.

As conditions worsened with the influx of prisoners, scarcity of food and contaminated water caused illnesses like typhoid and malaria. Before the war ended, some 4,000 prisoners died at Point Lookout. Seward began planning his escape.

Simon Seward Service Record: July & August 1863: “Absent -Missing and supposed to be captured.”

For weeks, he studied the guards’ movements until he found the opportune moment to make his move. He crept past a fence unnoticed but drew attention while trying to steal a horse, triggering alarms. Running through a barrage of gunfire, Seward flung himself into the Chesapeake Bay and swam furiously. He eventually came ashore and made his way south, hiding from pursuing soldiers. Along his arduous journey, he encountered compassionate strangers who provided him with dry clothes, food, money, and lodging.  

Evening Star: July 29, 1899

Finally reaching Richmond, Confederate officials granted Seward a furlough, and he reunited with his family. Post-conflict, he went on to become a wealthy businessman. Despite his achievements, Seward never forgot the kindness extended toward him during his escape. His greatest desire was to repay it. In 1898, at the age of 55, Seward embarked on a poignant return to Point Lookout, accompanied by his brother and a newspaper correspondent eager to document this emotional journey.  

Seward tried to follow his original escape route but rerouted rivers, and roads made it difficult. As they neared Point Lookout, Seward inquired about an old home where he once sought refuge. Locals directed him to John Hewitt, whose father had lived on the land years earlier.

Seward found Hewitt, and when he asked him if he remembered the war, a flicker of recognition passed through Hewitt’s eyes. Suddenly, both men realized that this was not their first meeting. Years earlier, when Hewitt was a teenager, he and his father helped Seward escape. Both men were stunned, then overcome with emotion. The two embraced and wept as they recounted the events from many years earlier.

Hewitt remembered every detail of the night his mother opened the door to find an emaciated 19-year-old soldier. The family took Seward in, fed him, hid him, then helped him escape as Union soldiers closed in.

Seward pressed a substantial sum of money into Hewitt’s hand. Hewitt protested but eventually acquiesced. The journey back to Point Lookout was cathartic for Seward, who expressed gratitude that the war was over, and the Union was preserved.

If you would like to explore our Civil War records collection, visit Fold3® today!

August 18-21, 1864: The Second Battle of Weldon Railroad (Globe Tavern)

August 2, 2023 by | 81 Comments

The Second Battle of Weldon Railroad, also known as the Battle of Globe Tavern, was fought near Petersburg, Virginia, on August 18-21, 1864, as part of the larger Petersburg Campaign. The Weldon Railroad was a Confederate supply line that ran from Richmond, the capital of the Southern States, to Wilmington international seaport in North Carolina. During the battle, Union forces successfully captured the railroad and destroyed sections of the track, cutting off the supply line. The victory came at a cost, with some 2,500 Union soldiers being captured and taken prisoner. Three days of fighting resulted in 4,300 Union casualties and 2,250 Confederate casualties.

Globe Tavern

On August 17, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered the Union Fifth Corps, who were under the command of Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren, to capture a section of the Weldon railroad. The railroad was a major supply line for Lee’s army, which faced shortages and possible starvation without supplies.  

At dawn on August 18, 1864, Warren’s troops, who were entrenched near Jerusalem Plank Road in Petersburg, advanced westward toward the rail line. It was the Union Army’s second attempt to sever the railroad track. Two months earlier, during the Battle of Jerusalem Plank Road on June 21-24, 1864, Union forces tried but failed and were repelled by the Confederates.

Maj. Gen. Gouverneur K. Warren

The Fifth Corps reached the rail line at Globe Tavern by 9:00 a.m. and initially found a relatively weak Confederate defense. They successfully captured the rail line and destroyed sections of the track, heating the metal, and twisting it into the shape of a Maltese Cross, the insignia of Fifth Corps. Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard and Lt. Gen. A. P. Hill sent infantry brigades led by Gen. Henry Heth. They arrived in the afternoon and launched a sharp counterattack.

The next day, August 19, the Confederate brigades led by Maj. Gen. William Mahone launched a massive counterattack when they broke through a gap between Warren’s right flank and Gen. John Parke’s Ninth Corps. The Confederates regained some lost ground but failed to take back the railroad. During fierce fighting, the Confederates took some 2,500 Union prisoners, and another 400 were wounded or killed.

On August 20, both sides regrouped and planned. It was rainy, muddy, and miserable, and no major offensive occurred. On August 21, the skies cleared, and the Confederates launched another counterattack. The offensive failed, and by noon, Confederate troops withdrew to their Petersburg defenses. The capture of the railroad at Globe Tavern was a turning point. It was the first Union victory during the Petersburg siege, and the loss of the railroad had a significant impact on the Confederates. Lee’s army had to create a new supply line. That meant off-loading rail cars and carrying supplies by wagon some 30 miles to Petersburg to keep their troops armed and fed.

If you would like to learn more about the Battle of Weldon Railroad, search Fold3® today.

New Military Records from the United Kingdom!

July 25, 2023 by | 8 Comments

Do you have ancestors that served in the British military? We are pleased to announce that we’ve added nearly half a million new military records from the United Kingdom. Here are some of our new collections:

UK, WWI, 5th London General Hospital, 1917. This hospital on the banks of the River Thames was incorporated within St. Thomas’s Hospital as a Territorial Force military hospital. This collection contains indexed records for 6,972 men and reveals their regiment and rank.

British, French, and Italian wounded soldiers during WWI: Courtesy of the National Library of Scotland

UK, Ireland Army Census, 1911. This collection contains rich details, including birthplace, residence, literacy, religion, employment before enlisting, regiment, and more, for soldiers serving in Ireland in 1911.

UK, Worldwide Army Census, 1911. This census was enumerated in April 1911 and collected information for people living in the British Isles, including the Channel Islands, and those serving overseas. For the first time, this census also enumerated those serving aboard Royal Navy ships.

UK, Rolls of Honour, 1914-1920. This collection contains WWI Rolls of Honour for various cities, towns, villages, and parishes. The rolls might reveal enlistment dates, dates of service, rank, residence, and more.

UK, Highland Light Infantry Chronicle – Index 1908-1920. This indexed list comes from names published in the Highland Light Infantry Chronicle. The list often includes service number, publication date, issue, volume, and rank and service number.

UK, The Times – Index of Casualties, 1914. This collection contains names of British Army non-fatal casualties as reported in The Times. The index includes wounded men, those who returned sick, those who were reported missing, or who became a prisoner of war. This list does not include fatalities.

UK, Princess Mary’s Gift Box POW list, 1914. In 1914, Her Royal Highness Princess Mary, daughter of King George V, and his wife, Queen Mary, appealed to raise funds to send each soldier and sailor a Christmas gift. Men who were prisoners of war did not receive the gift. Following the cessation of hostilities, Princes Mary asked for a list of those who did not initially receive her gift. This collection contains that list of 21,000 names.

UK, University Rolls of Honour, 1914-1918. The First World War interrupted the studies of thousands of young men and women, many of whom served in His Majesty’s forces. This collection contains the names of students from various universities who served in some capacity. It also includes the names of students who died in the service of their country.

Explore these new UK collections today on Fold3® and watch for additional UK records coming soon.

Search Tips for Researching Military Records on Fold3®

July 18, 2023 by | 34 Comments

Military records are a rich resource for genealogical and historical research. These records provide a treasure trove of information and shed light on the details of service personnel and their family members. Many US military records were lost in a 1973 fire, and Fold3® record collections can help recreate the military history of your ancestors. Following are some search tips to help you make the most of records on Fold3®.

From our WWII Missing Air Crew Reports Collection

Use Search Filters: Begin your search on Fold3® by using our search filters. As you enter a search term, a pop-up asks if this is a keyword, name, or place. Selecting a filter will dramatically reduce your results, making it easier to access your desired records. Additional filters like conflict/war, military service number, dates, etc., allow you to narrow your results further.   Military records differ from vital records, and the record you seek may not use a full legal name. Be sure to try name variations like first initial and last name, for example. Researchers can also toggle back and forth between searching collections and our patent-pending Browse experience. To learn more about Browse, click here.

The 1973 Fire at the NPRC: On July 12, 1973, a massive fire broke out at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO. It burned for 22 hours and destroyed 16-18 million military files. Records affected included 80% of Army files for Personnel discharged between November 1912 – January 1960; and 75% of Air Force files for Personnel discharged from September 1947 – January 1964. No duplicate copies of these records were ever maintained. These lost records present a roadblock, but other available record sets can help you construct a military history.

For example, if you are searching for a WWII veteran, you might search for records like Unit Histories, Missing Air Crew Reports, Draft Registration Cards, WWII Diaries, or Air Force Photos. Remember that until 1947, the US Air Force was part of the US Army (United States Army Air Force – USAAF). Navy Muster Rolls recorded the movements of troops on transport ships even if they didn’t serve in the Navy, and if your ancestor was sick or injured during their service, the military recorded hospital admissions (though many hospital admissions used only a military service number on the record instead of a name). If you know the infantry regiment or battalion your ancestor served in, that information can also open research avenues.

From our WWII US Air Force Photo Collection

Finding Your Ancestor in Indexed Manuscript Records: Some of our oldest records are handwritten letters, pension files, and other manuscripts from the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and Civil War. You’ll often find that names appearing within these manuscripts have been indexed.

As you scroll through a manuscript, click ‘Contributions’ to see the indexed names in that record. You can quickly advance to any name mentioned in the record by clicking on that name in the left column, and Fold3® will take you directly to where that individual is mentioned.

For example, this War of 1812 Pension File belongs to Henry Bacon, but Thomas W. Ralph’s name also appears in a letter within the file. By clicking on Ralph’s name, Fold3® will take you directly to where he is mentioned on the record.

You may add additional annotations or transcribe the entire manuscript if you choose. See this short video for instructions on how to annotate Fold3® records.

For more Fold3® search tips and video tutorials, check out our updated Fold3® Help Center. Start searching Fold3® today.

Julius Robert Oppenheimer

July 10, 2023 by | 88 Comments

J. Robert Oppenheimer was an American physicist known for his groundbreaking work in quantum mechanics and theoretical physics. Oppenheimer was tasked with organizing the Manhattan Project, a top-secret program to develop nuclear energy for military purposes during WWII. The project resulted in the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Following the war, Oppenheimer came under intense scrutiny for possible atomic espionage. He was found not guilty of treason but was exiled from the nuclear establishment. Sixty years later, in 2014, declassified reports revealed he’d been a victim of bias and unfairness.

Oppenheimer’s ID badge from the Los Alamos Laboratory

Julius Robert Oppenheimer was born in New York City on April 22, 1904, the son of a German immigrant father and an American mother. He attended Harvard University and earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. He was accepted at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, where groundbreaking research on atomic structure was underway. He later attended the University of Gottingen in Germany and received a Ph.D. in Physics. After returning to the United States, Oppenheimer worked as a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

During the 1930s, Oppenheimer belonged to groups known to have communist ties. Though he never joined the Communist Party, he supported some left-wing philosophies. As Hitler and his Nazi party came to power, Oppenheimer withdrew his associations from communism.

When the US became embroiled in WWII, military officials recruited Oppenheimer to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project. Oppenheimer chose Los Alamos, New Mexico, as the location for the research laboratory. He had long admired New Mexico’s stark beauty, having spent time there recovering from an illness. Oppenheimer was appointed the laboratory’s first director.

Los Alamos Laboratory presented an award to J. Robert Oppenheimer at the end of WWII

While working at Los Alamos, Oppenheimer and other prominent scientists learned to harness the power of nuclear fission. They successfully created and tested atomic bombs, ultimately leading to the development of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, marking the dawn of the nuclear age.

Following the war, rumors of Oppenheimer’s ties to communism emerged. Still, he always flatly denied sympathizing with or supporting communism, saying that what he believed 14 years ago now seems “complete nonsense.” In 1953, Oppenheimer learned federal officials were probing his communist ties. It was the height of the McCarthy era, and officials were concerned that Oppenheimer might be a Soviet spy. The probe led the Atomic Energy Commission to conduct secret hearings in 1954, and though he was declared not guilty, Oppenheimer’s access to military secrets was revoked. Oppenheimer continued his scientific research and lectured around the world.

The Enrico Fermi Award presented to J. Robert Oppenheimer in 1963

In 1963, in a White House ceremony, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Oppenheimer with the Enrico Fermi Award. The award, the highest honor bestowed by the Atomic Energy Commission, came through the efforts of the late President John F. Kennedy to restore Oppenheimer’s public name.

In 2014, the records from Oppenheimer’s 1954 hearings were declassified. After their release, historians and military experts found no sign of espionage or other evidence that questioned Oppenheimer’s loyalty to the United States.

J. Robert Oppenheimer died of throat cancer in 1967 at age 62. In 2022, the Department of Energy formally vacated the revocation of Oppenheimer’s security clearance. If you would like to learn more about J. Robert Oppenheimer, search Fold3® today.

New Military Records from Washington State

June 28, 2023 by | 15 Comments

If you have ancestors who have served at a military base in Washington State, you’ll love our new collection of US, Washington State Military Records, 1855-1950. This collection contains more than 140 thousand records for servicemembers in Washington State. These records reveal rich details, including birthdate, occupation, family members, military service, and more. The collection dates to 1855, some 30 years before Washington became a state. Here are a few examples of what you might find:

In 1855, the Washington Territorial Legislature passed a law to create the first organized militia. This collection contains muster rolls like this one for the Puget Sound Mounted Volunteers in 1855.

After Washington became a state, the territorial militia became the National Guard. This collection includes the Enlistment Registers for the National Guard in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The register provides information like occupation, age, enlistment date, and regiment.

In 1919, the Department of War ordered states to compile a summary of each WWI veteran’s service. These cards, called WWI Service Statement Cards, include each veteran’s name, age, details of their military service and the rank they attained, serial number, the place of induction, and more.

Veterans who served in the Korean War Era were eligible for a bonus. The Washington Veterans Bonus Claims cards in this collection record the veteran’s name, how long they served, and their bonus amount.

Start exploring our new collection of Washington State Military Records today on Fold3®!