Q. How do I find out my grandfather’s World War II history? He was in the Navy and served in the South Pacific. I would like to know when he enlisted, what ships he served on, what battles he fought and when he was discharged. I have his naval identification number.
A. Several sources may provide information on World War II naval service. First, at the National Archives veterans website, read about the options for requesting military/naval service records, and download a copy of form SF 180. This form gives information, instructions and the address of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, which holds World War II naval service records. Submit a request for your grandfather’s records, which may contain much of the information you seek.
Ask family members and longtime family and friends for stories about your grandfather’s service, battles, ships and experiences. Ask whether letters he wrote during the war have survived and whether a family member has his discharge papers. Also inquire about discharge papers at the county courthouse in the county where he lived after the war. If he filed a copy of the papers there, as many veterans did, you may be able to obtain a copy from the county clerk’s office (or its equivalent), During the war, the newspaper(s) in your grandfather’s community may have run stories about local servicemen. You can borrow newspapers on microfilm through your local library’s interlibrary loan program to look for information on your grandfather.
Once you know more about his military service, look in a public or academic library for histories of naval action in World War II, and for James L. Mooney’s Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (Government Printing Office). Mooney’s volumes contain historical sketches and pictures of US Navy ships. Finally, the Navy and some veterans groups have developed websites, including some for specific ships. Try search engines to learn of other pertinent Web sites.
From the December 2003 issue of Family Tree Magazine.