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Christmas in a Japanese Prison Camp

November 29, 2023 by | 0 comments

On December 8, 1941, hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan launched an attack on the Philippines. In the following days, Japanese troops advanced rapidly towards Manila, the capital city. The US Army, under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur, decided to vacate Manila and move their forces, consisting of US soldiers and Filipino fighters, to the Bataan Peninsula. When the military left, thousands of American and British civilians, including men, women, and children, were left in the city. Many of them became POWs at Santo Tomas Internment Camp. Conditions at Santo Tomas were dire, but as Christmas 1942 neared, internees realized they could band together to create a holiday celebration for children at the camp. One of those prisoners was Associated Press correspondent Raymond P. Cronin. He recorded his experience and published it following his liberation.

Areal photograph of the Old Hospital (Engineering building) of Santo Tomas University in Manilla in 1945. Surrounding the buildings are shanties built by internees at the camp.

With their military protectors gone and Japanese forces occupying Manila, Allied civilians (considered enemy aliens) were transported to the University of Santo Tomas. The university was a walled compound containing various buildings on roughly 50 acres. Prisoners arrived with meager possessions; some had only the clothes on their backs. Internees worked together to establish living quarters, plant gardens to provide food, establish medical facilities, and construct additional latrines.  

Civilian prisoners at Santo Tomas

In late September, the prisoners from diverse backgrounds with various skills gathered to discuss the upcoming holiday season. They decided to organize their own Santa’s workshop. They were determined to provide Christmas gifts for every child in the camp. They built new toys out of wood scraps and painted them bright colors. They repaired old and broken toys donated to the camp by Filipino friends. With meager materials, prisoners carved, crafted, and created the gifts. Soon, internees had built cars, scooters, and rag dolls, complete with doll wardrobes. Shortly before Christmas, internees learned that a group of children had just arrived from the Iloilo Internment Camp. There were no gifts for the new arrivals, so the internees worked feverishly to construct 100 more presents.

Christmas morning arrived, and Santa came to the guard gate at Santo Tomas. For a moment, Japanese soldiers seemed to get in the spirit of things and let Santa in without a pass. Internees gathered around a giant Christmas tree brought in from the Baguio Mountains. There, Santa distributed hundreds of gifts. Every child in the camp received presents and words of cheer. Compassionate friends on the outside donated roasted turkeys, pigs, ice cream, cakes, and candy.

For 3,500 internees at Santo Tomas Internment Camp, the Christmas of 1942 was never to be forgotten. Except for a few prisoners released on exchange, those interred at Santo Tomas spent three years as POWs. They were liberated in February 1945.

If you would like to learn more about the Fall of the Philippines and the Battle of Manila during WWII, search Fold3® today.

Eight Brothers All Serve in the Civil War

November 13, 2023 by | 85 Comments

During the Civil War, regiments were often raised in communities where soldiers knew one another. It was common for brothers, cousins, and even fathers and sons to serve in the same company. Recently, we came across an 1883 newspaper article about the extraordinary sacrifice of the Moore family from Pennsylvania. Dr. James and Harriet Barton Moore’s eight sons enlisted in the Union Army. We examined their service records and found a remarkable story of one family’s military service. All eight sons survived the war, though some were wounded and suffered from the injuries for the rest of their lives.

Kimber A. Moore, courtesy of JohnnE from Find a Grave

Kimber A. Moore was the oldest Moore son. He was born in 1817 and enlisted in October 1861 at age 43 in the Pennsylvania 77th Infantry, Company F. At the time, Kimber was married with seven children of his own. Kimber was the oldest man in his company and was greatly respected. Both officers and enlisted men often sought his counsel. He fought in many battles, including Shiloh, Corinth, Stones River, and Chickamauga. According to his obituary, he was seriously wounded and endured years of suffering. The effects of his injury eventually led to his death in 1889 at the age of 72.

John C. Moore, courtesy of JohnnE from Find a Grave

John C. Moore was the second son. He was born in March 1824. When the call for volunteers came in 1861, John wanted to take up arms, but physical limitations prevented him from doing so. Instead, he enlisted to serve in the quartermaster’s department and served throughout the entire war. John died in 1895 at age 71.

Dr. Charles W. Moore, photo courtesy of JohnnE from Find a Grave

Charles W. Moore was born in 1826. He was married with three children and was a respected physician when he left his practice to enlist in the Thirteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry. Charles served first as an assistant surgeon and later as a head surgeon. He tenderly bound the wounds and cared for injured soldiers, often amidst heavy fighting. He died in Nebraska in 1902 at 75.

Joseph Addison Moore, photo courtesy of Westshore Genealogy from Find a Grave

Joseph Addison Moore was born in 1833 and enlisted in the Fifth Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. After three months, he reenlisted as a Lieutenant in the 28th Pennsylvania Infantry. Joseph commanded his company during the Battle of Antietam and lost one-third of his company when they were either captured or killed. In 1863, he returned to the 147th with a commission as captain in Company B. This was the same company his brother James served in. During the Battle of New Hope Church, He was wounded in both legs and discharged with a disability. He was also suffering from chronic diarrhea throughout his service. Following the war, Joseph served as principal of one of Pennsylvania’s soldier’s orphans’ schools, where he helped educate nearly 1,000 of his lost comrade’s children. Joseph died in 1911

James M. Moore, photo courtesy of JohnnE from Find a Grave

James M. Moore was born in 1835 and enlisted in 1861. James was severely injured during the Battle of Chancellorsville, suffering multiple gunshot wounds. He was also wounded at New Hope Church and was discharged with a disability. He suffered the effects of his service for the remainder of his life. Some of the battles James fought in included Gettysburg, Cedar Mountain, and Resaca. James died in 1915 in Nebraska.

Benjamin F. Moore, photo courtesy of JohnnE from Find a Grave

Benjamin F. Moore was born in 1838 and enlisted on April 19, 1861, in Chambersburg, PA, in the Independent Light Artillery Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company D, under Capt. Charles Thomas Campbell. He also served in the Maryland 12 Infantry and the Pennsylvania 6th Cavalry. Benjamin fought in 37 different engagements during the war. His military record contains a letter dated September 1864, in which Benjamin requested five days leave to return home following the death of his mother and the severe illness of his father. Benjamin died in 1925 in Nebraska.

William Henry Harrison Moore, photo courtesy of JohnnE from Find a Grave

William Henry Harrison Moore was born in 1840. He enlisted in the Pennsylvania 126th Regiment, Company B. When he had fulfilled the term of his enlistment, he re-enlisted in the Third Artillery and was discharged along with the rest of the regiment at the war’s end. Moore fought at Antietam and Chancellorsville and died in 1886 in Nebraska.

Curran E. Moore, photo courtesy of JohnnE from Find a Grave

Curran E. Moore was born in 1843 and enlisted in the Pennsylvania 202nd Regiment, Company K, in 1864. He also served in the 20th Pennsylvania Regiment, Company I. He mustered out on August 3, 1865. He also suffered health challenges from his service, including chronic diarrhea during the war. Curran died in 1926 in Nebraska.

The Moore brothers were descended from a long tradition of military service, beginning with their grandfather, who served in the Revolutionary War. To learn more about the Moore family or to discover more about your family’s military service, search Fold3® today!

Discover Your WWII Veteran with Fold3® Military Records

November 1, 2023 by | 37 Comments

Nationwide, descendants of America’s Greatest Generation are clamoring to learn more about their ancestor’s military service. Less than 1 percent of the 16.1 million Americans who served during WWII are still alive today. In honor of Veterans Day, we wanted to provide a few pointers for those who would like to learn more about your ancestor’s WWII military experiences.

  1. Gather any records you have at home. Collect discharge records, military yearbooks, photographs, diaries, etc. Search these records for clues that may shed light on your ancestor’s service (which military branch they served in, regiment details, military service number, newspaper clippings, etc.) A devastating fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973 destroyed 17 million personnel files. The loss of those files presents a challenge, but we have records to help bridge the gap.
  2. Find your ancestor’s WWII Draft Registration Card. We have nearly 36 million WWII Draft cards available to search here. Among other details, these cards will tell you where the registrant lived and their birthplace.
  3. US Army Enlistment Records. If your ancestor served in the Army, you can cross-reference enlistment records with the draft card. Army Enlistment Records include the enlisted’s birth year and enlistment place. They also have another big clue – the Army Serial Number. This military service number can open new research possibilities.
  4. Military Service Number. Using Fold3® search filters, search your ancestor’s military service number like this: Search – Filter – Military – Service Number. In some military records like WWII Hospital Admission Card Files, military officials recorded a soldier’s military service number but not a name (or they may have used initials) when generating a record. Thus, a name search may not return all available results. When conducting name searches on Fold3®, use all variations of the veteran’s name. The military did not have a uniform system; one record may contain the full legal name, while another may use an initial and last name.
  5. Search Unit Histories: Each unit kept a regimental history. Some are very detailed with day-to-day movements, injuries, awards, and medals. Even if your ancestor is not mentioned by name, a unit history can help you track their service and experiences. Search our collection of Unit Histories here.
  6. Marine Corps. Explore our Marine Corps Muster Rolls collection if your ancestor served in the Marines. For those who died while serving, the Marine Corps Casualty Indexes can provide information about their military unit, cause of death, and military service number. The Marine Corps also recorded War Diaries for aviation units. These give detailed accounts of engagements.
  7. US Army Air Forces. If your ancestor served in the Army Air Forces (the US Air Force was created following WWII in 1947), we have several collections that might provide helpful information. The WWII US Air Force Photos collection has photos from all theaters of operation. You will find personnel photos, aircrew photos, photos of bombing operations, and more. If a plane went missing, authorities filed a Missing Air Crew Report. These reports recorded who was on the aircraft and their military service number, witness statements, crash details, and more.
  8. US Navy. Even if your ancestor didn’t serve in the Navy, you might find them listed on muster rolls because they boarded troop ships to travel to and from overseas postings. If they did serve in the Navy, explore our Navy Support Books collection, WWII Navy Muster Rolls collection, Navy Cruise Books, and Submarine War Patrol Reports collection. Our WWII War Diaries collection includes daily operational reports and can provide detailed accounts of engagements.
  9. Women in WWII. Women served critical roles during WWII. Explore our Women’s Army Corps (WAAC or WAC) unit history and a collection of WWII Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files to learn more about their valuable contributions.
  10. Fold3® Memorials. Millions of families have honored the military service of their loved ones by creating Memorials for the Fold3® Honor Wall. These Memorials are a valuable collaboration tool and may include photographs, journal entries, and more. Your ancestor may not have recorded their personal experience, but maybe a soldier who fought alongside them did. If you want to create a Fold3® Memorial, click here for simple instructions.

These research tips are just the beginning. We have 160 WWII record collections from the United States to explore (and more from other countries). This Veterans Day, honor the military heroes in your family by learning more about their service on  Fold3®.

October 1, 1942: The USS Grouper Sinks the Lisbon Maru

October 4, 2023 by | 34 Comments

On October 1, 1942, the USS Grouper torpedoed the Lisbon Maru, a Japanese ship traveling through the South China Sea. Unbeknownst to US military officials, the Lisbon Maru was carrying 1,816 British prisoners of war captured after the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941. The ship began to sink, and Japanese troops evacuated, but not before battening down the hatches and trapping the POWs below deck. The prisoners finally broke through the hatch covers and attempted to escape. More than 800, however, perished in the disaster.

Lisbon Maru

The USS Grouper was a Gato-class submarine and part of the Pacific Submarine Force in WWII. During her second patrol, the Grouper encountered the Lisbon Maru in the South China Sea. The 7,000-ton freighter turned armed troop ship was carrying some 800 Japanese troops and bore no flags or markings indicating that she also carried POWs. The prisoners had been captured at the Battle of Hong Kong, and many were sick and weak, having spent nearly a year in POW camps. They were being transported to provide slave labor to benefit Japan’s war effort.

USS Grouper

The Grouper tracked the ship in the early morning of October 1, 1942, but bright moonlight prevented a surface attack. Instead, the Grouper dove and waited for the right moment. Just after 7:00 a.m., the sub fired three torpedoes at the Lisbon Maru. They all missed, but a fourth torpedo collided with the ship’s engine room at the stern. The Grouper raised the periscope and noted that the vessel had stopped and was returning fire. At 8:45 a.m., the Grouper’s crew reported that Lisbon Maru was listing. They also recorded that an enemy plane flying overhead dropped depth charges. The sub cleared the area, still having no idea Allied POWs were aboard the ship.

Report from the USS Grouper found in WWII War Diaries

On board the Lisbon Maru, the POWs were kept below deck, in dark, overcrowded, sweltering holds and without access to food or water. Throughout the day, the ship continued to list, and by the evening, Japanese troops began evacuating, leaving a small contingent of guards to prevent an escape.

Conditions below the deck were deteriorating. Exhausted prisoners tried desperately to keep the holds from filling with water using hand pumps. The following morning, the ship lurched, and water began pouring in. The POWs panicked and attempted to break through the hatches.  Lt. Hargraves Milne Howell finally opened a hatch, and prisoners rushed to the deck. The remaining Japanese guards fired upon the first men to surface, but they were soon outnumbered. Prisoners jumped in the water, hoping to swim to a nearby island, but many drowned. Nearby Japanese boats refused to rescue prisoners flailing in the water and even fired upon them.

A contingent of Chinese fishermen risked their lives to rescue the POWs and bring them back to shore. However, Japanese soldiers soon recaptured them. At least 825 men died. Survivors were rounded up and transported to other POW camps, where many later perished. Lt. Howell was sent to Fukuoka POW camp, where he remained until his liberation on September 20, 1945. For his efforts to help free the POWs stuck below deck, he was awarded the MBE (The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for gallantry.

To learn more about the Lisbon Maru tragedy, search Fold3® today.

Hero From the Heartland: The Story of Bombardier David W. Fisher

September 25, 2023 by | 4 Comments

How can Fold3® records help tell the story of your military ancestor? We came across an interesting Missing Air Crew Report for a WWII bombardier. That single record led us to additional Fold3® records,™ clippings, and a Find a Grave™ memorial. Using these combined sources, we’ve pieced together the remarkable service history of David Willard Fisher. This is his story.

Missing Air Crew Report for David W. Fisher

On May 18, 1944, David W. Fisher and a crew of nine boarded a B-24H for a bombing run over Ploesti, Romania. Their aircraft never landed. After engine trouble, the plane crashed. Two crew members were killed instantly, five were captured and taken POW, and three, including Fisher, made their way to freedom with the help of partisans.

David W. Fisher was born in 1916 in Iowa, the son of James E. and Sophia Raymond Fisher. Raised in Iowa City, Fisher excelled in athletics, lettering in football at Iowa City High School. Following graduation, he married Marguerite Schrader on August 11, 1940. That same year, Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, and by October 1940, all men between the ages of 21 and 35 were required to register with their local draft board. Fisher registered on October 16, 1940.

WWII Draft Registration Card for David Willard Fisher

After Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, the United States entered WWII, and Fisher was called up to serve. He was selected for training as a bombardier in the Army Air Corps and, in December 1943, was commissioned as Second Lieutenant. One day, during a two-mile training run with fellow cadets in Midland, Texas, Fisher impressed fellow airmen with his athletic prowess. A large West Texas jackrabbit lit out in front of the group, and Fisher took off on a sprint in hot pursuit of the rabbit. By the time the other cadets caught up to him, they found he’d outrun the rabbit.

Fisher was assigned to serve in the 459th Bombardment Group, 756th Bomb Squad, and 15th Air Force. He left for Europe on April 17, 1944. His unit participated in a bombing campaign to destroy enemy oil production facilities at Ploesti. Between April and August 1944, the 15th Air Force bombed Ploesti 23 times. More than 200 heavy bombers were downed, and 1,100 bombers became POWs.

On the afternoon of May 18, 1944, Fisher and his crew boarded a B-24 at Giulia Airbase in Italy. Fisher had been in Italy for six months, and this was his fifth mission. After a successful bombing run over Ploesti, the aircraft headed for home but soon developed engine trouble. Pilot Harold W. Helfrich lost sight of his formation and was losing altitude when he sent a distress call. Moments later, the aircraft went into a violent spin.

Crew members struggled to escape, and Fisher was one of the first to jump. He immediately encountered problems when his chute failed to open, and he went into a 5000-foot free fall. In a newspaper interview, Fisher recalled, “I was in a bunched position, my head down, falling headlong with my knees drawn up. With a terrible shock, the chute opened. Blood spurted from my mouth and nose, and I felt like a giant hand had torn me in two.”

Fisher and Helfrich landed close together but didn’t know the fate of the other crew members. Fisher was injured, but local partisans arrived on the scene quickly and ushered the two men to safety. Back home, Fisher’s wife received word that he was missing.

David W. Fisher – courtesy of Find a Grave and Ellen Bishop

For 89 days, Fisher and Helfrich crossed through enemy territory. They received help from a group of partisan fighters led by Josip Broz Tito, a leader of Yugoslav Partisans who would later serve as President of Yugoslavia. The partisans guided them through Yugoslavia and Albania with the enemy in close pursuit – so close that they shot off the heel of Helfrich’s boot. During the three-month ordeal, Fisher developed dysentery and lost almost 50 pounds. In August 1944, Fisher and Helfrich reached Peshkopi, Albania, and were turned over to an English liaison officer. Military officials then evacuated Fisher and Helfrich to a military hospital in Bari, Italy.

After recovering, Fisher returned to the US in October 1944 and was honorably discharged on February 7, 1946. He was awarded the Air Medal with four Oak Leaf Clusters. He lived a long life and passed away in 2010 at age 93.

Fold3® contains countless stories of ordinary men and women who served in extraordinary ways. To research the story of your military hero, search Fold3® today!

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!