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Advice on seeking info about soldier who served in Normandy

I am planning on visiting the D Day beaches this summer. I recently learned that my uncle who passed away long long ago was at Normandy in 1944, but I want to know more. I have a copy of his discharge papers that I got from another relative who is now deceased. I want to know more about this uncle and where he was, and whether he was part of the D Day invasion, etc. Since I never met him, I would like to pay my respects in some fashion while I'm there.

I know that he was the recipient of a Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, but I do not know anything other than the info. on the discharge papers. I tried to hire a private guide that was supposed to be able to research this info., but he was full for the dates I'll be there. Any advice on how to get more info about this uncle's service while in Normandy?

Posted by
4656 posts

Yes, I suspect that the records you need will be in the USA rather than France. Do your research at home, and then you can visit any significant places in Normandy.

Posted by
5124 posts

C.M., unless he was buried there, its unlikely they would have records there. Try this: archives veterans if the other link doesnt help. You will need info from the discharge papers. There were thousands and thousands of GIs who passed through there, on D-Day and after. If you want to pay respects, plan on being at the American cemetery for the daily flag lowering ceremony.

Posted by
256 posts

I believe that 80% of Army military and personnel records from 1912 to 1960
were destroyed in the 1973 fire in Missouri. Also 75% of Air Force records. We had to get folks that served at DDay with my father to attest in an affidavit in order to have Army issue his medals and recognition of service during D Day....fortunately he survived WWII....

We had his discharge papers too but wasn’t enough for honoring his service at D Day on 50th anniversary

Posted by
7736 posts

You can also search for information if you have his unit information. Some have had active reunion groups and some also have Unit histories available either in book form or online. My Dad's Fighter Squadron used to have reunions altho the last big one was in 2013 as they rapidly dying or unable to travel. They also had a Group History published.

IF you wind up needing to access genealogy information from the National Archives, there are people you can pay to do that for you who will get a lot more information than you might. There is apparently quite a trick to getting the most out of those files even if you go in person to DC.

I would also take a look at the website Fold3 for records.

https://www.fold3.com/

Here is a link with some tips on how to search Fold3.

https://www.dummies.com/relationships/genealogy/how-to-conduct-a-genealogical-search-of-fold3/

You may also be able to get help locally if there is an LDS Family History library in your area. You do not have to be a church member but you can make an appointment and there may be someone there who can help you figure out the best tactics for search. It is free and my experience is the helpers do not proselytize.

editing to add: Sometime genealogy websites are subscription sites so you can't get the good stuff unless you join. The local Family History Library may also have access to those sites so you could utilize them without charge.

Definitely do your research here. The more you can tell your guide about what unit he was with the easier it will be for the guide to lead you to the area where he might have landed.

Posted by
452 posts

What Chris says is unfortunately true. There was a massive warehouse fire (I thought it was in Maryland) that destroyed most paper records in the early 70's (this was before any of them were digitized). When I submitted a request for info on my uncle, who died in the Marshall Islands, I was officially told as much. I seem to remember that it included a huge date range covering all of WWII, and for those whose last names started with "A" to "R"—or something like that. My Uncle—Charles F. DeMetz Jr.—was KIA from wounds suffered on Kawajalein Atoll on Feb. 4, 1944.

Posted by
12123 posts

@ Pharmerphil....It sounds as if your uncle was attached the 7th Inf Div....Stilwell's original outfit. If so, which regiment?

Posted by
235 posts

Thank you to everyone who for the information you provided. It is very much appreciated and I appreciate the service of the other soldiers mentioned in your posts.

Posted by
452 posts

Fred: Yes, my uncle was in the 7th Infantry Div., 32 Infantry (according to his head stone in Arlington National Cemetery). He had previously gone to Attu with the 7th as part of Captain Willoughby's Scout Company (according to his obit). He got frozen feet there and had to recuperate in Hawaii before going to Kwajalein Atoll where he was mortally wounded. He died on a hospital ship shortly thereafter. He had been in the army less than fifteen months, and never got leave. If you have more info on the 7th, or his unit, please send me a PM. I would love to learn more.

Posted by
182 posts

I took an Overlord tour of the D-Day beaches. The guide's first question was: did any of us have any relatives who took part? If you had the unit, he would then make sure to give you more information about that unit, and what it was doing. Hope this helps.

Posted by
20688 posts

Generally around major veterans dates -- Memorial Day, Veterans Day, etc., Ancestry will allow free access to military records. If you know his unit on D-day there will be a record of that unit's movement through WWII. The unit's history. His military record, if available, will tell his role in that unit. Since he survived D-day and is not buried anywhere in Europe, then all of his records will be state side. If you don't understand or have trouble understanding all of the jargon in his discharge papers, take them to a local VFW posts and someone there should be able to translate for you. The first requirement is to obtain as much as possible of his military record. That is the focus.

Some of the questions you want to know is -- What was his unit? What was his unit role on D day. When did his unit come ashore, etc. Remember only about 1 in 10 were on the front line shooting. Could easily have been in a support capacity -- supply (quartermaster), communications, transportation, medical, grave registration, construction, etc.

I don't think a private guide in Normandy would be useful other in a very general way. Without a unit designation you know nothing and the guide is only guessing.

If it is a bronze oak leaf cluster that would mean a second awarding of the purple heart. So most likely wounded twice. The service record should indicate when and where.

PS. Just had some further thoughts. This might get very complicated for you. If he was wounded enough to be taking out of action for any period of time, most likely his unit would have moved on. So, on recovery, he probably would have been assigned to another unit in the area as a replacement. If severe enough he could have returned to England or another area for recovery and then reassign. You need that record.

Another thought -- Contact the WWII museum in New Orleans. They have some terrific resources and records. And if close, visit before you go.

Posted by
12123 posts

@ PharmerPhil... The 7th Inf. Div. was what you call a tri-angular Division, which meant it was composed of 3 regiments. I know of two guys, presumably both decreased by now, who were vets of the 7th, both here in SF but not in the same regiment. One was in the 17th Regiment and also at Kwajalein.

Posted by
20688 posts

@ CM - My interested in hyped. When you say you have discharge papers - what exactly do you have. I just pulled my uncle's papers. Never looked too closely at his discharge papers before. He was a Marine Sgt bouncing through the islands in the Pacific. It is three pages long and actually called officially -- Report of Separation with a Navy code number. I would assume that forms would be similar -- On the second page in the middle is a listing of every island he was on and the dates -- for example -- Iwo Jima 24 Feb to 12 Apr 45. Six months later he is in Sasebo, etc. The list is long but what is interesting is that there is no indication of his unit. Only the unit he was in at the time of discharge is listed. Of course, that is in San Diego a year later. So maybe unit info is not on the discharge papers. Somewhere in his records there has to be a list of his duty assignments. Maybe I should look at my own discharge papers. I would like to see a US Army discharge paper in that time period.

Posted by
671 posts

Have you contacted the National WW2 Museum in New Orleans? The National WW1 Museum in Kansas City provided some helpful information regarding my grandfather’s Regiment in the Muese-Argonne Offensive when I wrote to them. I am sure that the National WW2 Museum would have some helpful archivists.

Posted by
235 posts

Thanks to everyone again for the wonderful information. I have no doubt it will prove very helpful as I begin this search.

Posted by
12123 posts

@ Pharmerphil...I would suggest also looking up "The Center for Military History" as another source to see if more information on his regiment in the 7th can be found. The 7th Inf Div also published their unit history, just about the Division. That was a long time ago, don't know if that book is still in print. Its base was in Monterey, a few hours south of SF, ie Fort Ord.