Written by Beth Reuschel
In Part 1, military records researcher Beth Reuschel explained how to use wartime letters to create a timeline of your veteran’s service in World War II. Below, Beth focuses on the next step: delving into military records. Learn more at reuschelresearch.com.
In Part 1, I covered how to read your veteran’s wartime letters to create a timeline of dates and unit numbers.
In this part, I’m going to show how I used letters to locate a veteran in military records.
My case study is my most challenging project, that of Raymond E. Schmidt. Raymond was killed in Germany 14 March 1945.
Because he was KIA, Raymond didn’t have a DD-214 (discharge paper) to help me track him. So, I requested his OMPF (Official Military Personnel File) and learned it was 100% destroyed in the 1973 fire at the St. Louis National Archives building.
However, due to Raymond being a casualty, there was another file I was able to request.
The IDPF, Individual Deceased Personnel File, is created if a veteran’s status is Missing in Action/Never Recovered or Killed in Action.
To obtain the file in Raymond’s case, my request was made to the Army Human Resource Command by sending them a FOIA request (Freedom of Information Request). Currently, they are in possession of the IDPFs for surnames starting with M-Z. IDPFs of surnames A-L are held by the National Archives in St. Louis.
If you order an IDPF, please keep in mind it can contain graphic wartime details of the battle casualty. Raymond’s IDPF was 132 pages and included a “first hand report” of how he was killed. There are several medical charts detailing the physical impacts of his death. Due to its nature, I never shared this file with my grandmother, Raymond’s Sister.
This is the first page of Raymond’s IDPF:
The IDPF contained abundant information surrounding Raymond’s death, but I still wanted to learn more about his life and military service to help tell his story.
Your Timeline is Critical
Since his OMPF was destroyed, the second step was using the timeline I created from Raymond’s wartime letters to guide my research at the National Archives.
Because each NARA location houses different sets of archival records that are not digitized online, I needed to visit two of their locations: the National Archives in St. Louis, MO to search for Company Morning Reports, Pay Roll’s and Unit Rosters as well as National Archives II in College Park, MD, to search within their collection of Military Unit Histories.
You can also hire an independent researcher to visit the sites in lieu of going there yourself. It is essential to have the veteran’s unit numbers and dates of assignment before doing your research at the National Archives.
My travels were a success. I located Raymond within each set of records I researched dating back to a Unit Roster from Fort Custer, MI, in 1941 when he was training with the 5th Infantry Division. The timeline I created using Raymond’s wartime letters was critical to complete my research.
With this research, I was able to create a book about her brother’s service for my Grandmother. She treasured that book, as she’d remained devoted to the memory of the brother she lost in World War II.
The last Morning Report (pictured below) shows when Raymond was dropped from the roster, listed as Missing in Action, the date he was KIA. This is not a part of the IDPF but was found inside the St. Louis NARA collections.
As each servicemember had their own unique journey in World War II, so, too, will you as you research your veteran.
Raymond was my first and most difficult case. He was also what sparked my passion and appreciation for veterans and their service history.
In the next post, I will look at another case study of SSgt Jack R. Perz, a B-24 Tail-Gunner. This research was easier and did not require travel because of the bountiful information that his Unit’s historians had readily available online in addition to the over 60 pages of his OMPF that were partially but not completely burned in the National Archives fire of 1973.