Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Requesting US Army WWII Operations Reports

Are you researching your you father's (or grandfather's) WWII service? Well, if you're lucky he served in a famous unit like the 101st Airborne, Patton's 3rd Army, or the 90th Infantry Division. There are many trade books published on these front-line troops, so all you need to do is go to the bookstore to learn more. Some have an official unit history published by the Army. You can search for these at the US Army Military History Institute website.

If you are studying a lesser-known unit, then you'll need to do make a bit more effort. The US National Archives is a great resource. This institution holds historical data / operations reports for Army units in WWII (see my post on WWII Air Force unit records). These reports were internal documents written to educate war planners. After the war ended many were declassified, and are now made available to the public. You can visit the College Park, MD archives in person, or submit a request for photocopies.

The records for my grandfather's 519th Port Bn. included an 8 page history of the unit written in paragraph form, a 2 page time line listing where & when they were, a few issues of a unit newsletter, and about 50 pages of monthly reports from their time in Antwerp. This is all valuable primary information written at the time, or shortly after. Recently, I made another request for 1st Engineer Special Brigade documents. You can use this as an example to follow if you would like to order documents for your own research.

Step 1: Determine the unit
I was fortunate in that my grandfather told me the name of his unit, and he gave me a copy of his discharge papers. If you not sure what unit your dad served in, then you too will want to find his discharge papers. A family member might have them somewhere, sometimes veterans filed copies with the local Veterans Affairs office. You can also request copies from the National Archives website here. An Army unit will appear with the soldier's name. Sometimes a GI was transferred to a different unit other than the one he served with for most of the war. Only the most recent unit was listed on the discharge papers, so it's a good idea to try to find another document or personal account to confirm the. If a soldier died, the next of kin was sent a Individual Personal Death file, which also listed the unit.

Step 2: Email request
Email the National Archives your request for the historical data report or operations report for your chosen unit: You may also mail a written request to: National Archives and Records Administration, Textual Archives Services Division, 8601 Adelphi Rd, College Park, MD 20740-6001 USA.

Provide as much information on the unit hierarchy as possible. So, if you want info on your dad's company, also provide the parent battalion, regiment, division, etc. The Archives prefers to communicate through the US mail, so make sure to include your mailing address. Here is my email I sent on January 11, 2010:

National Archives,

I would like photocopies of the historical reports for two different Army units from WWII:

1. The 1st Engineer Special Brigade, part of the US Army Transportation Corp.
I need only their records from June to November 1944 at Utah Beach, Normandy, France.

2. The 13th Major Port Group, part of US Army Transportation Corp.
October 1944 to January 1946 at the port of Antwerp, Belgium.

Thank You,
Mailing Address

Step 3: Response letter
The Archives will send you a response letter in the mail. In my case, there were numerous possible files, so they wanted me to refine my request. On February 22, 2010 they mailed me a letter which included a list of 40 different file categories corresponding to the 1st Engineer Special Brigade. There were operations plans, orders, monthly reports, histories, even a telephone directory. I was only interested in the unit's time in Normandy, so I requested that single file. The 13th Major Port had only one file. I hand-wrote these two file names/numbers on a piece of paper and mailed back a request for those photocopies on February 26th.

Step 4: Order form
On March 6, 2010 I received a second letter from the Archives. There was a reproduction order form filled out for the 1st ESB records. It explained that there were 75 pages available, it cost $0.75 per page, coming to a total of $56.25. I filled in my credit card info, and faxed it the same day.

As for the other unit the Archives wrote, "The 13th Major Port has several boxes of records. Each box contains approximately 1,000 pages of documents." Obviously, I wasn't going to pay to have them copy 1,000s and 1,000s of pages. If I lived nearby I would visit and go through these boxes myself, but I had to give up on this unit. There wasn't anything specific I needed to find out, I was just curious what the 13th papers might say about their work in Antwerp.

Step 5: Receive records
Last Friday, March 27, 2010 I received a package from UPS. It contained the stack of papers seen in the above photo. There is a list of units that served under the 1st ESB, discussions of the work on the beach, equipment used, challenges, recommendations for future amphibious landings, records of ships unloaded, maps detailing Utah Beach supply dumps, and more. I haven't read through it all yet, but I have already found lots of useful info for my book.

As you can see, this can be a months' long process. The reproduction fee is more than one would pay for a new history book, but the details found in these reports are really worth the price. There was no book about my grandfather's battalion (that will change soon) or the 1st ESB, so I really appreciated the information made available through the National Archives.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

American Rail in WWII Belgium

My grandfather's 304th Port Company along with the 303rd Port Company served guard duty while in Antwerp, frequently as supply train guards. After the 519th Port Bn. loaded trains in Antwerp a team of 5 or so GIs joined the cargo, riding on open train cars to prevent theft. The black market was an absolutely massive problem for the Allies. It was not uncommon for a train to loose tons of its cargo before reaching its destination. The Allied trains in Belgium were operated the US Army's 708th Railway Grand Division, mentioned in a 1945 TIME magazine article.

Yesterday I got a hold of The Saga of the 708 Railway Grand Division by A. G. Gregory. This book was published in 1947, so it's not easily purchased. My library in Colorado requested it for me using interlibrary loan. My copy came all the way from Illinois. If you are at all interested in supply movement by train, this is a good little book (only 73 pages long). The 708 operated in England, France, Belgium. and Germany. The book includes maps for all of their routes. I knew the 304th Port Co. men rode to Brussels and Li├Ęge. It was interested for me to see all the other possible towns my grandfather may have visited.

After delivering their cargo the train guards did not have a return train ride to Antwerp. It was up to them to find transportation. They relied on finding a truck that happened to be headed to Antwerp. Because this unreliable transport was expected they were not under a tight deadlines to get back. My grandfather and the other guys took their time finding a ride. They would typically stay in town for a few days, staying with a Belgian family that was eager to invite the American liberators in to their home.

Liege was one train destination that could be as dangerous as Antwerp. The 708th Railway Div. had their headquarters there, joined by the 740th Railway Operating Battalion. The Germans attacked the Allies' rail yard with their V-1 and some V-2 rockets. Benjamin King's Impact: The History of Germany's V-Weapons in World War II includes 4 pages describing the V-bomb siege of Liege. These "robot bombs" dropped on Liege from November 20-30, 1944. They started again on December 15th to coincide with the German's Ardennes Offensive, ending in March 1946. Although the railroad was the target, many of these inacurate V-weapons landed within the city itself. By the end of the V-bombardment 92 Allied soldiers were killed and 336 were wounded. 1,158 Belgian citizens were killed or wounded with 82,700 buildings damaged. The German Luftwaffe (air force) had also strafed and bombed the railroad.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Brothers in the Pacific

My grandfather wasn't fighting with the Marines in the Pacific, but he sure wanted to. The day after the Pearl Harbor attack Cortland marched off to his local Navy recruitment office. It was housed in the State Street Post Office in Schenectady, NY. He approached the officer there, but was promptly rejected with, “You’ve got varicose veins and not enough teeth.” “But, I’m not going to bite them,” my grandfather argued, “I’m going to shoot them.” The critical recruiter was not impressed with this skinny, seemingly unfit man standing in front of him. “He didn’t even look at my legs. He just had to write something down on the paper. I guess ‘varicose veins’ was the easiest thing to write.” A small-time gangster was in line for his mail, and oversaw the dispute. They had met back in the Prohibition days when Cortland worked as a Western Union courier. The gangster pressured the recruiter to sign-up my grandfather, but that hardly helped. Cortland wanted to serve, but he would have to wait until 1943 when he was drafted into the Army. Physical requirements has been relaxed by that time.

While Cortland was stuck at home, two of his more robust-looking brothers got in the Navy and shipped out to the Pacific. Eldest brother, James Hopkins, (above photo) joined one of the Naval Construction Battalions (the “CB’s” or “SeaBees”).

Cortland's younger brother, Francis, served in the Pacific as a signalman aboard the USS LCS(L)(3)-112. (see above photo). His ship is discussed on the NavSource site and on a tribute website run by the son of one of the other sailors.

Cortland's future brother-in-law, Leonard Bulow, was also in the Pacific. I'm not sure what kind of outfit he was in. Leonard sent the above photo to his family with a note on the back, "My home in the Pacific. Boy, the States sure will look swell after this."

I'm sad to say I'll be missing HBO's Pacific series. We haven't been watching much TV, and the shows we do like can be watched online the next day. So, we cut our cable this past summer. I guess I'll have to wait for the series to show up on DVD. Watching HBO's Band of Bothers is what got me interested in interviewing my grandfather, which then lead to writing my book. I hope this new show will encourage others to research their fathers or grandfathers who served in the Pacific.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Finding WWII Port Company Veterans

(Don Hartung posing with a molotov cocktail left by the fleeing Germans in Normandy, June 1944)

A major purpose of this blog is to find other 519th Port Bn. veterans or their families. Last month the son of Don Hartung emailed me. He found this site after researching his dad's WWII service online. I was able to share a few photos of Don that my grandfather took. Don passed away a few years back, but his son was able to share the addresses of some of Don's Army buddies. Today I mailed letters to Wallace Gilbert, Herbert Koller, John O'Connor, Melvin Schon, and John Stonestreet. Maybe some of these guys are still there, some might have moved, maybe their families are still at these addresses. We'll see!

The son of Benjamin "Benny" Papapietro got in touch with me this month. Benny was in the 279th Port Company, 519th Port Bn. I'm going to mail him a copy of the roster that lists his dad. Meanwhile, he gave me a link to a an article about a port company guy who served on Omah Beach. I'm interested in talking to any WWII port company men, so I'll be sending Gaetano Benza a letter too.

Last week I found the blog of a port company veteran who served in the 518th Port Battalion. Solomon Fein was on Utah Beach doing the same work as my grandfather's battalion. I've talked to him a few times, and we're exchanging photos and documents.

Irving Sugarman found my blog last year, as did the daughter-in-law of Mike DeLaura. Both of these guys were in the 304th Port Company. We have talked quite a bit since then. The first veterans I found were Bruce Kramlich and Dave Weaver. I found them listed on the 519th Transportation Association website. They then put me in touch with all their Army buddies.

So! If you are interested in researching your dad or grandfather's WWII service. I highly recommend starting a blog. By discussing the unit and where it served, vets or other resourceful people will find you. I don't know how I would have done this research in pre-internet days!

Monday, March 8, 2010

305th Port Company roster WWII

This partial roster of the US Army's 305th Port Company, 519th Port Battalion is based on an August 1944 list of Good Conduct medal recipients. The men were working on Utah Beach at the time. Officers were not eligible for this award, so they are not included in the list. If you recognize one of these guys, please get in touch.

Charles Mercuric
William F. Sheehan

Herbert E. Crampton, Jr.
William M. Foyle
Charles C. Maxwell, Jr.

Tec 4
Roy E. Carter
Robert M. Dawson
Lester S. Faine
James F. Golembowski
Sol Hoffman
Robert B. Holmgren
Edwin Lornson
Charles J. Mahoney
Kenneth D. McDaniel
James M. Oldani
Howard S. Pinkston
Joseph A. Rosenberger
Gerald T. Smith
David Spartz
Joseph J. Toscano (this name comes from a 1945 document)
Frederick T. ???war?
James C. Trudeau
John Zaher

Floyd H. Coles (this name comes from a 1945 document)
Rayond Gagnon (this name comes from a 1945 document)
Raymond Goodson
Henry Kaiser
Emil H. Krueger
Robert B. Nelson

Tec 5
Ervie Anderson
Trygve Benson
David Bolton, Jr.
Bernard J. Brown
Abraham M. Chudnow
Theodore E. Darrow
Albert J. DeSimone
Aaron Dorfman
Charles H. Eichenberg
Joseph R. Farina
Leonard J. Giordano
Herman W. Gorsky
Morris Greenberg
Leonard Henigson
Eliot L. Hirsch
Bertram L. Kime
Deane A. Knapp
Henry E. Lee
Farrell E. Lykins
Leroy J. Markgraf
Biagio A. Masturzo
Waldron G. Meyers
Wayne O. Neff
LaVErne Olsen
Arthur H. Opsahl
Edward D. Ryan
Frank A. Sacco
Herman A. Schneider
Abraham A. Siegel
Gordon A. Spitzer
Robert M. Stift (this name comes from a 1945 document)
Albert M. Trapp
John C. Trione
Norman R. Will

Wallace L. Blodgett
Timothy J. Cavey
Michael A. Coleman
William H. Draeger, Jr.
Harold G. Ehlers
Cleo I. Foster
Kurt Fuld
Joseph Grosso
Michael Haberern, Jr.
Lawrence E. Hull (this name comes from a 1945 document)
George Immekus
Clifford R. Johnson
Melvin Kaplan (this name comes from a 1945 document)
Murray Kimler
John P. Macukas
Raymond E. Mallard
Michael M. Mangini
Arthur J. McMullen
Erwin L. Miller
William G. Oberlander
Wallace J. Oden
William L. Page
Frank Pasore
Meyer Penn
Loyd B. Pitts
Raymond A. Rappa
James A. Read
Joseph A. Rogan
Stanley J. Roicki, Jr.
Eldor A. Rosenow
George J. Sciascia
Ernest Sokel (this name comes from a 1945 document)
John T. Swaim
Steve A. Talaski
Martin F. Whetsell

Raymond L. Boyd
Harold E. Britton
Duane I. Brockway
Chester E. Cordts
Thomas Desmond
Andrew J. Feliton, Jr.
Jacob Fox
Edgar A. Griefendorf
William P. Groth
Russell W. Hess
Walter J. Holston
Sam Lerner
Jack R. Leskey
James J. Lyons
Stanley Manilow
Max Margolis
Frank McKenna
Gerald E. McLin
Walter Mensinger
Jack Pierce
Rupert J. Pomper
Orlando Rodriguez, Fr.
Leon Rosenfeld
Norman Rosenzweig
Conrad F. Schneider
Arthur E. Tewes
Harris J. Winkelstein

Friday, March 5, 2010

Requesting Photos from the US Navy

My chapter about the dangers of Utah Beach will include a photo of the USS Charles Morgan. [See my post about the attack on the Morgan. Also see the account of Solomon Fein. He watched the Morgan sinking from a nearby ship.]

The US Naval Historical Foundation maintains an archive of ship photographs. The Morgan is not famous enough to appear in their online catalog, so I emailed them with a request. I sent an email to their "photos@" email address on September 30, 2009. That same day a representative notified me that he forwarded my request to the Naval History & Heritage Command’s Photographic Department. On October 5th their photo curator sent me a message to inform me they had three photos, and they were mailing me photocopies with an order form.

The envelope arrived a few days later. I then sat on the order for a while. On February 8, 2010 I finally got around to sending in a check to order an 8 x 10 in. glossy print. The printed photograph arrived this past Monday, March 1st. Now I can scan the photo and place it in my book layout. As a book designer I regularly work with a lot of stock photo websites. The Naval Historical Foundation doesn't compare to the speed and ease of those professional sites, but its process is better than other government institutions. I suspect that they do not handle the same volume of requests as do the Library of Congress or the National Archives. Far from an anonymous bureaucratic department, the Naval History people offer personal service.

The pricing is good too. Editorial photos from might run from $300 to $600 for reproduction on the front of a book. With the Naval Historical Foundation you're only paying for the prinitng, shipping and handling. There is no licensing fee. A 5 x 7 in black & white photo from the Navy costs $22. For $3 more you can get an 8 x 10 print (which is what I did).