If your family lived in the U.S. when the bombs dropped on Pearl Harbor that early December morning 1941, chances are someone in your family stepped up to serve. Just about every U.S. household was affected in some way by World War II. My dad, David Farrell, joined the Army Air Corps. His brother Stephen joined the Navy.
If you have family members who served, there are several sources you can use to reconstruct some of their stories. This is a sampling.
- Draft Registration: The war officially began in 1939 with the U.S. getting involved after Pearl Harbor. From 1940 to 1946 more than ten million men ages 18-65 registered for the draft. Men born between 28 April 1877 and 16 February 1897 and not currently serving registered during the Fourth Registration or “Old Man’s Registration conducted on 27 April 1942. Because of privacy laws, this is the only registration currently available for viewing. These Draft Registration Cards are available for searching at FamilySearch.org and at Ancestry.com titled “U.S. World War II Draft Registration cards, 1942.”
- Army Enlistment Records: You can search the “World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938–1946″ at Ancestry.com. These records revealed that David Farrell enlisted at March Field Riverside, California, on 14 January 1942. He was born at Minnesota, 1920, ranked as an Aviation Cadet in the Air Corps, had two years’ college, stood 66 inches tall, and weighed 141 pounds.
- Prisoner of War Records: If your ancestor was a prisoner of war, you may find his record in the “World War II Prisoner of War, 1941–1946” database at Ancestry.com. These records revealed that David Farrell was shot down while flying a B-17 on bombing raid over Germany. He was captured and held as a prisoner-of-war in Germany. This database reports he was captured on 7 April 1943, when in fact he was captured 17 April 1943. “World War II Prisoners of the Japanese, 1941-1945”is a new database at Ancestry.com. If your family member was a prisoner of the Japanese, you should also consult Ancestry.com’s “Photographs of Japanese Soldiers and Allied Prisoners of War, 1942-1945.” Taken from NARA’s microfilm publication M1733, this collection contains 46 photos that will help give context to your family member’s experience.
- Missing in Action or Lost at Sea: Eighty thousand persons are listed in the collection “U.S. World War II Military Personnel Missing In Action or Lost At Sea, 1941-1946” found at Ancestry.com.
- Diaries or accounts of men who may have served in the same unit as your family member. Try a Google search for the unit and if you know others he/she served with, search for them as well. When my dad’s B-17 was shot down, several men on the aircraft lost their lives. One was Ball Turret Gunner, Technical Sergeant John E. Barnes. Someone posted online a memorial YouTube of this man’s service and sacrifice. There’s even a picture of my dad in this video. He’s standing behind the men holding a bomb. This video breaks my heart for the loss of so many valiant young men. I appreciate their sacrifice.
Time to go find your family member in the World War II records.
Let me know what you found!