Alternate Sources of Military Information
Ok, so let’s say you either couldn’t find a copy of your relative’s separation documents, or you could, but still want to learn more. You may be able to piece together information from other sources. Other places to look are:
Genealogy websites like Ancestry
Ancestry.com and other genealogical sites often return military records like,
- Enlistment records (but will not include serial number)
- Draft registration cards
- Navy muster rolls
- Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS death file record, which includes branch of service, enlistment date, and release date
- Prisoner of War records
Fold3 military research website
Fold3.com is a paid site (on its own or with an Ancestry membership) for military information, but does offer a free basic membership so you can see what records are available before deciding whether to purchase a subscription or not. They also offer a 7-day free trial during which you can access everything. In my area, the local Mormon Church research library carries a subscription to Fold3, which I can use for free by visiting their location.
Fold3 does contain a lot of military records, even Missing Air Crew reports from the Army Air Forces, which you may not find on Ancestry.com.
The National Archives online search tool
The online electronic military records in the archival databases of NARA include,
- World War II Army and Army Air Forces enlistment records (including serial number – see Note below)
- World War II prisoner of war records
- Korean War casualties, records of dead and wounded
- Korean War prisoner of war records
- Vietnam Conflict records of dead, missing in action, and prisoners of war
- Vietnam Conflict records of awards and decorations of honor
- Vietnam Conflict Army ground combat operations records, air sorties, and records about hostile fire against US and Australian warships
- Civil War records
- Cold War records
For detail on how to get started with your NARA online search, review the Getting Started Guide.
For information about what you can find in the National Archives’ online military records by era, visit
The NARA online search screen basic search, accessed through https://aad.archives.gov/aad/
If too many records are returned, you may “Search within a field” to narrow down the results. You may narrow results by ASN, Name, Residence State, Residence County, Place of Enlistment, Date of Enlistment Year, Source of Army Personnel, and Year of Birth.
This site describes itself as
The American Air Museum website records the stories of the men and women of the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) who served their country from the UK in the Second World War. It also records the memories of the British people who befriended them. Browse, edit and upload your own photographs and memories to help us build an online memorial to their lives.
Scroll down the home page to the Getting Started article or further down to search the Archives of People, Aircraft, Places, Missions, Units, and Media (photographs). In the People category, you do not have to fill in any search information other than the name in the Keyword field to begin your search.
If you know your relative served in the 8th Air Force in England in WWII, you may find much more information like group and squadron assignments, base location, names of crew mates, and mission detail.
Individual Unit/Group websites
Once you have discovered the exact unit or group of the military in which your relative served, use Google to see if any of the group’s records are shared online. For example, my father’s group, the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII, has a very detailed site dedicated to the group and the individuals who served in it. The site contains extensive records of personnel, missions, aircraft, etc., and a large photo gallery.
Many WWII groups of NexGens have Facebook groups to connect with others whose relatives served in the same group/unit. Group researchers will offer assistance with questions and help with research once you become a member of the group.
Headstones and obituaries sometimes include branch of service or even unit/group information.
- Legacy.com may have an obituary that includes the group or unit of a deceased serviceman or veteran.
- Findagrave.com may have a memorial or photo of the headstone that includes group or unit information.
If your military research takes you into researching unit histories, you may find information at:
- National Archives and Record Administration in College Park, Maryland for Army (and Army Air Force) unit information – textual records, maps, photographs, films, computer records on magnetic tape. Click here for researcher info.
- Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama
- The research center at the Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force near Savannah in Pooler, Georgia. Donald Miller did research here for his book Masters of the Air.
National WWII Memorial Registry
The online registry may provide some information.
Uniform and Insignia/Decoration Clues in Photos
You may be able to determine your relative’s unit or group or at least branch, rank, and specialty through uniforms worn in wartime photos.
Patches top left to bottom: Communications, Armament, Photography, Engineering, and Weather from www.militaryspecialtiesinc.com:
Books and Articles
You can find old and new books with lots of military historical information. Of course, they likely won’t mention your relative specifically, but may fill you in on the history of the unit or group. Other than Amazon and eBay, search for used books on Abebooks and Alibris.
Military Times posted a good article on obtaining missing military records and awards here. And note the photo at the top of the article of a preservation technician restoring military personnel records damaged during the July 12, 1973 fire. More records are recovered every day.
Attend Military Historical Association Reunions, Connect with Veterans, and Connect with Other NexGens and Researchers
Many questions about a relative’s military history just can’t be answered through military records or information found online. Reach out to the historical association and attend one of their reunions. You will be able to talk face to face with veterans of the group. Their numbers are dwindling, so the sooner the better. By listening to the experiences of those who served in the same group as your relative, you will better understand the experiences of your relative.
You may even find yourself on the cover of the association’s magazine!
Start a Blog
If you can’t find enough information, let it find you. Start a blog – I suggest WordPress.com – and start writing about and posting all the information and names you have. Make sure to tag the information for which you think someone else might search. Include “Contact Me” information, specifically an e-mail address, and allow comments so it’s easy to be reached. I have had tremendous success connecting with relatives of airmen I write about in my blog. With every connection, my picture of my dad’s WWII service becomes a bit more complete.
Home page of TheArrowheadClub.com
A note about the Army Serial Number (ASN). At the time of enlistment, an 8-digit ASN was assigned. However, if your relative became an officer, he/she would have been reassigned a new ASN beginning with O- and followed by 6 digits. The enlistment record will include only the original serial number, not the reassigned officer serial number.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
Military Research, continued from Part 1
Most of my military research experience is WWII-related, primarily Army Air Forces and secondarily Navy research, and therefore it will be the focus of my suggestions here. If you are researching a different timeframe or branch, hopefully you will be able to apply some of my methods to your own search.
Researching Military History – Where to Start
Who are you researching?
Gather copies of the information you have – documents, letters, and military photos – on the person you want to research. Write down the stories you remember hearing. Every bit of biographical data you can record – full name, parents’ names, birth date, birth place, state of residence when joining the service, military service/serial number (see note below regarding ASN), and branch and location of service, if known – will become helpful in finding out more.
What do you want to learn?
Are you looking for basic information like branch and dates of service, or do you want to dig deeper and learn about training and military occupations, the exact unit and location, battles, awards, and decorations?
What do you want to do with this knowledge?
Just something to think about, but your answer will probably determine just how much research you want to do…
- It’s personal? Maybe you just wanted to know and that’s enough.
- Do you want to record your family history for future generations?
- Do you want to connect with other next generation members (NexGens), share your knowledge, and learn more about your common family history?
Resources – Where to Look
There are several places to start that will likely just scratch the surface of the information you can find. If you already have an interest in genealogical research, once you get going, you may find yourself digging deeper and deeper for more knowledge.
First things first
If you have separation papers, you are way ahead of the game. Known today as the DD 214, the separation document before 1950 was form WD AGO, so if you’re looking for WWII Army or Army Air Forces records, look for an Honorable Discharge certificate and Enlisted Record and Report of Separation WD AGO Form 53-55. Accompanying this form for the Army and Army Air Force branch should be the Army of the United States Separation Qualification Record, indicated as WD AGO Form 100. Here’s the information I found on each form:
Honorable Discharge certificate
- Army Serial Number (ASN)
- Branch of Service
- Place and Date of discharge
Enlisted Record and Report of Separation includes above and adds
- Home address
- Date of birth
- Identifying features
- Civilian occupation (prior to service)
- Military history including enlistment date and place
- Military occupational specialty
- Battles and campaigns
- Decorations and citations
- Wounds received in action (date)
- Dates of service outside the United States
- Service schools attended
The Separation Qualification Record offers more detail on
- Military occupational assignments
- Military education
- Civilian education
- Civilian occupation
I have never found these documents available online. If you don’t have this document for the relative you’re researching, it may be obtained two ways. Separation documents can be ordered through the National Archives or possibly through the county courthouse records of the home county of the veteran.
WWII Navy separation records were a bit different. A handwritten record may be found in the seaman’s Naval Reserve Service Record booklet. The Navy Notice of Separation from the U.S. Naval Service form is NAVPERS-553. WWII Navy separation papers listed rate and class, Navy service number, place and date of separation from active service, and length of foreign or sea service in WWII.
Keep in mind, though, if you are researching a relative killed in WWII, there won’t be a separation document, and all of its detailed information in one place, for that serviceman/woman.
What kind of information is available through the National Archives?
For an overview and answers to general questions regarding Research Using Military Records, visit https://www.archives.gov/veterans, or specifically,
Obtaining Military Service Records from the National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center (NPRC)
You can search for military personnel records stored at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri by mail or in person. I have done both.
Alternately, you could hire an independent researcher at the NPRC. A list of researchers is available on the website.
You may or may not find the records you seek at the St. Louis NPRC. A fire in 1973 destroyed the majority of Army and Air Force personnel records, so no or very few documents could still be available for your search. Navy records were not affected by the fire.
If you opt to visit the NPRC in St. Louis, you can make your own copies by photographing available records for free. You must schedule an appointment and request records well in advance, though, so records can be made ready for your visit.
Camera stands are available for your use and the research staff at the center is very helpful. The quality of photographic images can be much better than copy machine copies if you have a good camera to use for the task. Even cell phone cameras can record high quality images, but I found the cell phone stands the NPRC had available at the time not to work very well. I would take a cell phone camera tripod mount attachment if I were to return to gather more records, although it may not be allowed in the records room.
Other than a personal visit to the NPRC in St. Louis, records may be requested online, by mail, or by fax. Available records are separation documents, personnel records, replacement medals, and medical/health records.
The online process of requesting records is accomplished using the eVetRecs process and is not completely digital. Once you request records through eVetRecs, you must either mail or fax your written signature. From
begin by clicking “Start Form Online (then Print and Mail).” If you prefer to completely fill out a paper form by hand to mail or fax, click “Mail or Fax Form.” The link will direct you to a page to print out the SF-180 Form. Or you can order the form through the mail by sending a request to National Personnel Records Center, 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138.
Generally, archival records of military personnel are open to the public 62 years after the serviceperson has left the military, which includes most WWII veterans unless they pursued military careers after the war. But if the person you’re researching did have a long military career and/or separated from the military less than 62 years ago, their non-archival records are only open to the veteran and the veteran’s next-of-kin. See this further explanation from the NPRC.
While most requests from the NPRC are for only a copy of the separation documents, about ten percent request a copy of the entire file, as I did. Since the 1970’s the center’s standard procedure for requests for entire files has been to provide only copies of key documents and vital information. However, for files more than sixty-two years old – as are the archival files of WWII veterans – all documents are provided if requested.
Some of the information contained in a personnel file could include separation documents, military service dates, character of service, promotions and reductions, duty stations and assignments, foreign or sea service, military schooling and training, awards and letters of commendation, disciplinary actions, lost time, enlistment contract, entry and separation physical exams, immunizations, dental examinations, and clinical summaries.
I already had a copy of my dad’s separation documents. My interest in obtaining his entire file was mainly to see medical records and his physical condition after his liberation as a prisoner of war. I had read that the prisoners that were liberated on the Black March were not weighed or their deteriorated conditions recorded in their medical records. I had some unanswered questions and hoped to find some of those answers in his service record.
I started, like many others, with an online request through eVetRecs for my dad’s entire service file.
My Personal Experience Obtaining Military Records
I requested my dad’s records online through eVetRecs and mailed the signature verification on September 10, 2014. Maximum wait time was supposed to be ninety days, by December 9, 2014.
I received a letter on January 21, 2015 from an NPRC archives technician. Unfortunately,
The complete Official Military Personnel File for the veteran named above is not in our files. If the record were here on July 12, 1973, it would have been in the area that suffered the most damage in the fire on that date and may have been destroyed.
However, the letter stated that the NPRC had reconstructed some of my dad’s service record which I could obtain for $70. I only had thirty days to decide and opted to order the reconstructed records.
To read more detail about my personal experience obtaining military records, read this previous post.
Military Records Received
I received fifteen pages of copies from the NPRC shortly after they mailed them on February 18, 2015, in addition to a letter noting that “the copy quality is the best that can be obtained.”
The documents included copies of:
- Informal Information Reply (a reply for information requested by my mother, dated October 31, 1994)
- A copy of the envelope in which my mother mailed a request for records on September 28, 1994 (exactly 50 years after my dad’s mid-air collision).
- Request Pertaining to Military Records (filled out by my mother, her request for my father’s “Military history, where trained and where sent overseas, also record of being a Prisoner of War in Germany, dates and camps, and what battles.” She noted her purpose for the request was “Since he is deceased, we would like to have the Military history to include in our Family history and for the benefit of me and our children. Also what medals issued.”)
- Two National Archives and Records Administration MPR Finding Aid Reports (one noted NOT Found and the other noted some unexplained codes regarding an SGO Hospital List)
- Army of the United States Honorable Discharge certificate and Enlisted Record and Report of Separation, Honorable Discharge form (copies of Dad’s original separation documents provided by my mother)
- Army of the United States Separation Qualification Record (copies of Dad’s original separation documents provided by my mother)
- 2 Transmittal of and/or Entitlement to Awards forms (one noting approval of the Prisoner of War medal, the other unreadable)
- Veteran Identification Screen printout
- National Archives and Records Administration – National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records), dated 8/23/88 (the same information as on the National Archives and Records Administration MPR Finding Aid Report)
- Prisoner of War (POW) Medal Application/Information form (my mother’s 1988 application for a posthumous POW medal for my dad)
To read more detail about the military records I received from the NPRC, read this previous post.
A Visit to the NPRC
In 2016, my husband and I attended the 8th Air Force Historical Society’s reunion in St. Louis. We arrived a couple of days early and I spent two days in the NPRC’s records room copying the service files of thirty-four WWII servicemen. In my dad’s file, I found a few documents that weren’t included in the records I received from my previous request by mail.
- Final Payment Worksheet (when my dad received his final pay at discharge)
- US Army SGO Hospitalization File Listing 1945
- Information from Hospitalization Admission Cards Created 8/30/2016 … Information for the Year 1945.
The last form (according to the document’s date, apparently created after I had requested records by mail) was a good find and told me that after Dad’s liberation (which was May 2, 1945), he was treated in a field hospital, and then was admitted on May 14, 1945 to an unidentified hospital for ten days. His type of case was classified as “Disease” and his initial diagnosis was “Acute Tonsillitis.” I consider this an incredible diagnosis for a man who had been forced to march over 500 miles in 86 days with very little food. And no, there was no mention of his weight or further description of his condition.
I would have liked to have found much, much more information on my dad’s years of service in the Army Air Forces, but this is all that is left of his official military personnel record.
Finding Separation Documents at the County Courthouse
If you do not have your relative’s separation documents and it is unavailable through the NPRC because of the 1973 fire, the only alternate method of obtaining it that I know of is to check with the county courthouse of the county in which he/she returned from WWII.
My dad followed orders and had his separation documents recorded at the courthouse of his county upon his return home. This stamp appears at the bottom of his Honorable Discharge certificate.
A note about the Army Serial Number (ASN). At the time of enlistment, an 8-digit ASN was assigned. However, if your relative became an officer, he/she would have been reassigned a new ASN beginning with O- and followed by 6 digits.
To be continued with Military Research Part 3…
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
How did I get interested in military research?
When I was a child, my dad often told me a story at bedtime that I doubt many other kids growing up in America ever heard. Dad’s story was about a time when he was in the service in WWII that his plane was “knocked down.” He was a waist gunner aboard one of the Mighty Eighth Air Force’s B-17’s and on September 28, 1944, another B-17 in the formation collided with his over Germany.
My dad’s B-17 split in half. He was knocked unconscious and was thrown from the ship in the impact. There isn’t a lot of room on a B-17 and most of the airmen didn’t wear their chutes. They mostly used chest chutes rather than parachutes worn on the back and would generally wear only the harness, keeping the chute nearby so they could grab it quickly if they needed it. My dad was wearing his that day, but not completely hooked up to the harness.
Free-falling toward earth, he woke up when he heard his mother call his name, something he always included in his story, but never mentioned in official reports. He hooked up and opened his chute, and then passed out again. When he woke up again, he was on the ground and an old woman was beating him with a stick.
As I got older, the telling of the story stopped, but I would never forget it and the images it had burned into my mind.
In 2011, a cousin who had also heard the story growing up was living in the Netherlands and she and her husband were touring the American military cemeteries of Europe. She thought of my dad and his story and asked for the name of his unit and the date and location of his last mission.
I had a box of dad’s military documents and letters, and gave her the info. He was in the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England and his last mission was to Magdeburg, Germany on September 28, 1944.
My cousin, Terry, performed an internet search and found dad’s record on the 384th Bomb Group’s website. I hadn’t thought about my dad’s WWII service in years – he had died in 1982 at the age of 61 – and I wasn’t even aware of the website. Not only did I find a list of all of his missions, I found the Missing Air Crew Report for the mid-air collision. Scrolling through the pages, I found Dad’s official statement in his own handwriting.
Dad’s story. It was so familiar. He continued with a question, a request, that led me into my research of Dad and his crew mates and the airmen on the B-17 that collided with his. What happened to the boys, and something he didn’t ask, why.
While this was a great find and gave me much more detail of the information I had on my dad’s military career, it was not the find that almost knocked me out of my chair.
Terry found a narrative of Dad’s story on the internet, too. Only it wasn’t told by my dad. It was told by a man named Wallace Storey, a WWII pilot who witnessed it happen right in front of him. I read and re-read Wallace Storey’s account, not believing it possible to hear Dad’s story twenty-nine years after he died.
Wallace Storey was flying co-pilot in the right-hand cockpit seat in his crew’s B-17 that day and had the controls at the time of the collision. In an excerpt from his book, A Pair of Silver Wings and the Eighth Air Force, which I read online, he wrote:
Flak was extremely heavy that day and the Wing had been somewhat disrupted by the heavy opposition. We found ourselves on a crossing course with another Group and just after “bombs away” the lead ship made a sharp descending right turn. Our high element, being on the inside of this steep turn, had to move quickly by reducing power while climbing slightly.
Glancing to my right, I saw that “Lazy Daisy” was sliding toward me. I pulled back on the control column to climb out of her path while keeping my eye on the #2 ship of the lead element, Lt. Buslee [the pilot of the plane my dad was on] … on whose wing our element was flying.
I yelled to Gross [the pilot of Storey’s plane in the cockpit’s left seat] to watch for him to come out on the other side and, sure enough, he slid under us and right into Buslee in the lead element.
I watched the two planes as they collided. It cut [Buslee’s plane] in half and the wings on [“Lazy Daisy”] folded up and both planes fell in a fireball. They were 18 men lost in those two ships. We didn’t see any chutes as we continued our turn to the right.
Copyright (C) 2002—Lt/Col. Wallace A. Storey
After reading his account, I found Wallace Storey and spoke to him on the phone. Then I visited him at his home and sat next to him as he told me the story.
He gave me contact information for a few relatives of the two crews, and I have since discovered more through Facebook. I started the blog to share transcripts of the letters I had from the families of the boys missing in action on my father’s plane. Relatives found the letters online and contacted me.
My interest in military research has grown, but mainly centers around the two crews involved in the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision, my dad’s bomb group, and other bomb groups of the Mighty Eighth Air Force based in England in WWII. I have been attending reunions in the US since 2014 and in September this year traveled to England to tour my dad’s base at Grafton Underwood.
I help other NexGens (next generation members) start their own research and have even had a hand in connecting British children and grandchildren to their American families. It seems some of the American airmen who served in England left more than their footprints behind.
For more information on Wallace Storey, see this December 11, 2013 post, this December 13, 2013 post and this December 16, 2013 post. Wallace Storey’s A Pair of Silver Wings and the Eighth Air Force may be downloaded from the 384th Bomb Group’s Stories page.
The excerpt from his book, A Pair of Silver Wings and the Eighth Air Force by Lt. Col. Wallace Storey, USAF (Ret.) and Mrs. Martha L. Storey, is provided for use on The Arrowhead Club website by the kind permission of the authors, who assert full ownership of copyright for the material. Use of this material is limited to the following provisions. This excerpt is intended for unrestricted private use. Please copy and use as needed to support your WWII research. If you wish to incorporate this information in a commercial product of any kind, request authorization from Lt. Col. Wallace Storey, USAF (Ret.) in advance.
To be continued with Military Research parts 2 and 3…
With the exception of material in this post copyrighted by Wallace A. Storey, © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019
The 384th Bomb Group’s Junket XI to England came to a close just over a month ago. I posted a little information and a few photos in a teaser post in early October. Today I’m adding a few more pictures, links to more photos in the 384th Bomb Group’s photo gallery, and more details about the itinerary.
The tour was planned by Frank and Carol Alfter (Frank’s dad was a waist and tail gunner with the 384th) and Arena Travel of England.
Most of the group arrived prior to the start of the junket, some touring London for a few days, and some coming much earlier and doing some extensive touring of Ireland and Scotland. My husband, Bill, and I arrived just the day before and toured Scotland on our own after the end of the junket.
Many of us gathered at the Doubletree by Hilton London Heathrow Airport on Wednesday, September 18. Bill and I needed the time to recover from the jet lag, catch up with old friends, meet our tour manager, Rick Hobson, and others attending the junket, and get acclimated to the UK.
Day 1 – Arrival in Cambridge
On Thursday, September 19, we boarded a coach to Cambridge, where we were based at the Doubletree by Hilton Cambridge Belfry for the duration of the junket. Some of the junkateers arrived in Cambridge on their own, and we all gathered that evening for a welcome dinner.
As we were getting to know one another, we took advantage of the first of many photo opportunities, snapping one of the daughters of the 384th and one of the sons (and other relatives – the group included sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, and grandchildren of the men who served in the 384th Bomb Group).
Surprisingly, the group included more female relatives than male. When I first started attending the 384th Bomb Group reunions in 2014, I felt far outnumbered by male relatives of the 384th. I am happy to see that somewhere through the years, the women have gained more interest in their fathers’, grandfathers’, and uncles’ WWII service.
I was delighted to reconnect with 384th British friends I had met in the States at prior year reunions and to meet several in person that I had only corresponded with through Facebook and e-mail.
I met Neill and Bridget Howarth at last year’s 384th Bomb Group reunion in Dayton, Ohio. Neill, along with Matt Smith, was instrumental in coordinating the group’s upcoming visit to Grafton Underwood and they both joined the group for most of our visit. Neill is also the driving force behind the difficult work, i.e., physical labor, of uncovering the remains of the 384th’s airbase at Grafton Underwood, and is leading the effort to create a museum and visitor center at the site.
I also caught up with the 384th’s British friend Rob Long, who I met at the 2017 8th Air Force Historical Society reunion in New Orleans. Rob and his son Daniel joined the group for the majority of the group’s visit to England.
And I finally had the chance to meet 384th British friends Matt Smith and Jason Mann in person for the first time and reconnect with Kevin Flecknor, who I had also previously met at the New Orleans reunion.
The visit to Grafton Underwood also led to first-time face-to-face meetings of other 384th friends – Richard Denney, John “Snowy” Ellson, Tony Plowright, Graham Butlin, and Alan Dickens (who discovered we’re also related by marriage).
Day 2 – Thorpe Abbotts Airfield and Lavenham
On Friday, September 20, we departed the hotel at 0900 by motor coach. The junkateers first traveled to the Thorpe Abbotts Airfield where the 100th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force was based during WWII. The group was well known as the Bloody Hundredth and was the main subject of Donald Miller’s book, Masters of the Air. The control tower and a few other buildings house an informative museum on the site.
The next stop was the charming market town of Lavenham, best known for its half-timbered medieval cottages and houses. The group enjoyed a traditional English afternoon tea at the Swan Hotel located in one of the town’s 15th century buildings.
Dinner was served at the hotel restaurant.
Day 3 – Grafton Underwood and the Geddington Star
On Saturday, September 21, we departed the hotel at 0845 by motor coach. We traveled to the village of Grafton Underwood in Northamptonshire, home of the 384th Bomb Group’s airbase, Station 106. We were welcomed by area residents who treated us to a delightful homemade lunch in the village hall after a moving memorial service at the 384th Bomb Group Memorial Monument. We also had time to visit the parish church of St. James the Apostle and view the memorial stained glass window depicting one of the group’s B-17’s.
After lunch, everyone in the group was assigned to a WWII vehicle for a tour of the base. Bill and I rode in the back of a WWII Willys jeep for a trip back in time to see the remains of where my father served in WWII, his housing area of the 544th Bomb Squadron, common areas, and the airfield hardstands and runways.
Today was the day I was able to meet in person the son and grandson of my father’s POW roommate, and the little girl, now in her 80’s, who was one of three children in a mystery photo in my dad’s WWII memorabilia. There will be more to come about these meetings, the highlight of my day at Grafton Underwood, soon.
Until I write more, you can see previously posted photos here.
Some of the junkateers took an optional tour of Boughton House, which is one of Britain’s grandest and best-preserved stately homes, and described in our Arena Travel itinerary as “renowned for its outstanding collection of fine arts, furniture, tapestries, porcelain and carpets. It is beautifully set in a country park with wide sculpted lawns, serene lakes, waterways, woods and avenues of trees.”
With the choice of touring Boughton House or spending more time touring the air base, I knew I had to see as much of the base as possible on our short visit.
Dinner for the evening was served at the Star Inn, a traditional English pub in the nearby village of Geddington, close enough to the air base at Grafton Underwood that we all imagined our fathers must have visited at least once.
And I had another reason, a very personal one, to be excited about this stop before returning to the hotel for the night. Outside the Star Pub in Geddington stands one of the crosses that King Edward I had erected for his Queen Eleanor of Castile after her death.
The Geddington cross is the best-preserved of the original dozen crosses erected between 1291 and about 1295 in memory of Eleanor, who died in November 1290. The crosses marked the nightly resting places along the route followed when her body was transported to London for burial. The funeral bier was thought to stop in Geddington on December 6 or 7, 1290. Only three of the crosses remain today.
Earlier this year, I discovered that Edward I and Eleanor were my 23rd-great-grandparents. That would have made them my father’s 22nd-great-grandparents. If my father did visit the Geddington Star pub while he served in the 384th, he couldn’t have helped but notice the Eleanor Cross standing outside. Did he realize that he was looking at a memorial for one of his English ancestors? My father’s parents named him Edwin, perhaps a version of a name carried forward through the generations.
Day 4 – Imperial War Museum and Battle of Britain Air Show
On Sunday, September 22, we departed the hotel at 0800 by motor coach. We traveled to the Imperial War Museum at the historic Duxford RAF airfield to see the largest aviation museum in Britain and attend the Battle of Britain Air Show. We enjoyed a full day at the show with Gold Experience tickets including seating in a covered enclosed area, an air show program, lunch, and access to the flight line.
Our group also enjoyed seeing Britain’s B-17 Sally B with a quick tour inside and excellent viewing to see her fly in the air show.
After a long day, we retreated to the group hotel for dinner.
Day 5 – American Cemetery at Madingley and Cambridge
On Monday, September 23, we departed the hotel at 0915 by motor coach. We traveled a short distance to the American Cemetery at Madingley, the only American WWII burial site in England, where we attended a private Service of Remembrance to honor and pay our respects to the fallen US service men and women who died in the war and are buried there or inscribed on the Wall of the Missing. The cemetery contains 3,800 white crosses and the stone wall is inscribed with 5,000 names.
The group laid a wreath at the Wall of the Missing and laid flowers at the graves of all of the men of the 384th Bomb Group buried there. I decorated the grave of Marvin Fryden, the original bombardier of my dad’s crew who was killed on his second mission on August 5, 1944, and read him messages I found that his wife, Marilyn, wrote before her death.
Marvin Fryden and Marilyn Ash were married on October 8, 1942 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the time, he was a bombardier instructor at the Albuquerque Air Base.
On November 18, 2007, almost sixty-three years after Marvin died, Marilyn Ash Fryden, now Marilyn Samet, posted a request on the 384th Bomb Group’s web site Log Book. It is still there today in the Log Book archives. It reads, in part:
My husband, 1st Lt. Marvin Fryden was on his second mission as bombardier aboard the Tremblin Gremlin when he was fatally wounded, remaining conscious only to drop his bombs over Langenhagen..(544th) He had been commissioned and assigned as an instructor in the states. We had almost 2 years together as he constantly said he was not doing his part, He finally requested combat duty and was assigned to the Gremlin with John Buslee, Dick Albrecht and other crew members. He was gone from me less than six weeks when he was killed.
Another six years went by and on October 17, 2013, Marilyn again posted to the 384th’s Log Book. Marilyn must have had some difficulty typing her message, and I have edited it only to be easier to read. This original message, too, is still in the 384th’s Log Book archives .
My husband, 1st Lt Marvin Fryden, left his Bombardier Training in Deming, NM because he felt needed in combat. Left me to fly the Tremblin’ Gremlin over the pond at the end of July 1944. Fatally wounded on second mission. Buried in Maddingly in Cambridge. I am 88, still loving my first love. Ready to leave this world and reunite with my love in England.
Three days later, on October 20, 2013, Marilyn posted her final message to the 384th Log Book (again, I have edited). It reads, in part:
I am inspired by so many still remembering. My husband Lt Marvin Fryden was a Bombardier Trainer in Deming NM, but on D-Day he woke up and said, “I should be over there.” He requested combat duty, trained with crew on a B-17, and left me on June 23rd. I went home. He flew his first mission on 8/4/44. Next day he was fatally wounded and is buried at Maddingly.
Two and a half weeks later, on November 7, 2013 Marilyn Ash Fryden Samet passed away after a long illness. She was 88 years old. Marilyn willed her remains to the Duke Medical School and asked that no service be held, feeling that “good memories make enough of a memorial.”
I did not discover Marilyn’s posts until November 17, 2013. Not knowing that she had died ten days previously, I e-mailed her, but of course, I was too late. I was not to discover until early in 2014 that Marilyn had left this world.
On this day on the 384th’s visit to the American Cemetery at Maddingley, I was able to stand at Marvin Fryden’s grave and read the messages to him that Marilyn left in the 384th logbook. I could feel her enduring love for Marvin through her words, and felt that the most love and respect I could show for the two of them would be to read her words at Marvin’s final resting place.
After leaving the cemetery, we traveled by coach into Cambridge for lunch, shopping, and sightseeing. The highlight of the Cambridge visit was the Eagle Pub which is inscribed with the names of WWII servicemen on the ceiling. Our three 384th veterans added their names to the walls of the pub.
The group returned to the hotel for a Farewell dinner and goodbyes before heading back to London and flights back home, or to further travels.
My husband, Bill, and I traveled by taxi to the Cambridge train station the next morning and armed with BritRail passes, took the cross country train to Edinburgh, Scotland. We spent several days seeing Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Stirling Castle, amazed at the ancient architecture all around us, and marveled at the beauty of the cathedrals, castles, and palaces, and, of course, enjoyed the food and drink of the local pubs.
(Click on the above photo to enlarge and view Edinburgh Castle in the background looming over the city).
After another cross country train back to London, we flew back home with memories to last a lifetime, and thoughts of plans for a return.
© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019