Case File: WWII
Find my mother's first husband - A. Goodman , Brooklyn, NY
Sifting through the papers of my recently deceased mother, I was stunned to come across her marriage certificate...to a man other than my father! She was married on June 14, 1942, when she was only 18, as was he. You can imagine how surprised I was. She’d spent 54 years married to my dad. We never had a clue this wasn’t her first marriage.
I wanted to learn more, but all I had was the man’s name: Henry Anderson. My mother had lived in Lawton, Oklahoma all of her life, so I figured I’d start with an obituary search of the local records. A few Henry Andersons turned up, but none had the right dates to be our Henry Anderson. The birth certificate listed his place of birth as New York City. A search of those obituaries would be too much.
I asked our local librarian for some help brainstorming my search and they, after a quick look at the date on the certificate, unhesitatingly suggested my mother had married a serviceman from nearby Fort Sill! In 1941, American men and women were fighting overseas and Lawton is next door to Fort Sill, the home of the United States Army Field Artillery School. The librarian suggested I check with National Archives.
I went to the website and downloaded their pages of tips for searching out service records and then printed out a copy of Standard Form 180 (SF-180). As I was not next-of-kin, I would have to be approved to receive this information. It’s the government’s way of protecting both the Freedom of Information Act and the veteran’s privacy. While I didn’t have much information available for Henry Anderson, I did know his place of birth, date of birth and name, and that was enough.
According to the website the National Archives receives over 4,000 requests a day for military records. If my records existed and hadn’t been destroyed by fire, they would be available in about 5 weeks. If they needed to be “reconstructed” due to the fire at the National Records Center in St. Louis, then I would have to wait over 9 weeks.
About 6 weeks later I received a letter in the mail telling me about a Henry Anderson, giving me his serial number and the county he enlisted in. He was a private in the Army, a student and unmarried. That is, of course, until he was sent down to Fort Sill, it seems and met my mom.
I have since contacted the curator at the Field Artillery Museum at Fort Sill and learned more about the life of a young man at Field Artillery School. While there wasn’t much free time, when they did get a break, the local U.S.O hosted dances and teas, with young ladies from the area serving as hostesses. Perhaps my mother had met him there?
Why did the marriage end? I assumed the worst, and was found right. The American Battle Monuments Commission has a searchable database of those interred in foreign graves, and it was there I found our Henry Anderson buried in the Sicily-Rome cemetary. he had died on August 11, 1944. A married man of two years and two months.
As I continue the long search through my mother’s belongings, I hope to find more remnants of this early love – and a sadness so enduring, she felt she never wanted to share it with us.