Knox, Debra Johnson. World War II Military Records: A Family Historian’s Guide.

Spartanburg, SC: MIE Publishing, 2003. 360p., softcover. Index, illus. $23.95. ISBN 1-877639-91-5. (PO Box 17118, Spartanburg, SC 29301 / Web: <www.militaryusa.com>)

Knox is a professional private investigator and the author of two previous and well-regarded books, Find Anyone Fast and How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military. In this volume, she attempts a comprehensive guide for both the novice and the experienced researcher attempting to discover information on a veteran of the Second World War. (Though the realization that WWII is now not only history but “genealogy” may be a little unsettling to some of us.) Like the author, I’m an army brat, the son a career officer who saw service in three wars as well as several decades of peacetime assignments. And, as an historian, librarian, and archivist, I naturally went looking for what had been omitted or misinterpreted in this volume.

I’m pleased to say that if there are omissions, they’re so obscure as to be beyond my own wide experience. She begins by explaining the origins and bureaucratic nature of personal military service records (such as the personnel “jacket,” medical file, and discharge papers) vs. organization records (unit and ship histories, company rosters, morning reports, etc.), where to find them, who’s entitled to them, how to request copies, and the facts of the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center. Another chapter discusses the six draft registrations that took place during the war (not all of them with the same purpose), and which contain a wealth of non-military personal information. Like military personnel records, most of these are protected under federal privacy acts, so access is still limited. More than 400,000 Americans died in the war, but in this case there is no all-in-one resource; some states and universities have published extensive “casualty books,” though, commemorating their residents or graduates, and additional information may be available from the Department of Veterans Affairs and other public and private agencies. For many researchers, an interest in ancestral war service begins with the discovery or inheritance of medals and campaign ribbons (and Knox understands and explains the distinction). Because there was a brass shortage at the end of the war, campaign medals were not issued until much later and required application by the returned veteran or his surviving family — which created yet more paperwork of interest to genealogists. The individual awards are illustrated, as well as their added devices (such as oak leaves for subsequent awards), and the sort of action or service they imply. There are chapters dealing with later deaths of veterans and qualification for a military grave marker or for burial in a National Cemetery, how to locate living retirees (usually those who stayed in for twenty years or more) and veterans, and finding records of those who were entitled to pensions and annuities. Another chapter explains the significance of the digits in the military serial number; like Social Security numbers, each grouping of digits has a specific meaning. Then Knox tackles the huge subject of state records: adjutant generals’ files, state bonuses, National Guard records, official honor rolls, and relevant collections of family papers in state and local libraries and archives. Finally, there are what appear to be very complete directories of military museums, national cemeteries (with contact persons noted), and veterans reunion associations (nearly all of which now have Web pages). This book shows an impressive degree and depth of knowledge expressed clearly and succinctly, and I recommend it without reservation.

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Published in: on 21 June 2010 at 4:56 am  Leave a Comment  
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