Military History - WWII

How to

Research a World War II veteran’s military record

Mission

Get the score on records of war

Briefing

With the youngest of those who served in World War II now heading into their eighties, the often unfortunate truth is that archives have become the best resource for information on a veteran’s military service.

The National Archives is the place to turn first for general information about a soldier. Although the archive burned in 1973 and with it 80 percent of the Army records (1912-59) and 75 percent of the Air Force records (1947-63) alternative resources were used in many cases to recreate information. Records can be requested online or in person. Consider a local search, as well: State veteran’s affairs departments are a good resource.

Research can usually be done from the comforts of your own home computer. Once you have uncovered the basics about your soldier, you can begin to dig deeper with records of foreign cemetary internments, veteran pensions and medals. Access to these can be found in the links below.  

History Detectives Tips

  • Start your search with a trip to the National Archives website for helpful tips and useful links.
  • Many military divisions have strong alumni groups on the web. It's worth posting an email to see if anyone knew your relative or can tell you more about their wartime situation.
  • Check with a nearby library for a copy of the comprehensive resource: How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military, by Richard S. Johnson and Debra Johnson Knox.
  • If you are searching the records of a deceased soldier it helps to be next of kin, but non-relatives can still do a search by filing a special form, available online.
  • Military history museums, historical societies and similar organizations are dedicated to preserving letters and other memorabilia. You can learn more about a soldier's experience through these first-person materials. If you are in possession of primary source materials, consider donating them to such an organization (You can keep a copy for yourself and family.)

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