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Finding your war

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PEACHTREE CITY, Ga. -

So, you had a relative that served during World War II? If they were like most veterans who served, they probably didn't talk a lot about their service, especially those that saw combat. You don't know where, or what unit. There is a way to find out, and the answer may be right under your nose.

My grandfather on my father's side served during World War II, but I didn't find out which unit he served with until 1995. He served as a combat engineer with the 70th Infantry Division, the Trailblazers. What I learned from my search is given below, and limited to the US Army. The suggestions can also be used for the other services, but may require additional work.

Where do you start? Look within your own family for the following: uniforms, pictures, letters, and documents – especially discharge papers.

Uniforms

In most cases, a person who served in the US Army wore the insignia of the unit he served with on the upper left sleeve of the uniform. After the war in Europe ended, soldiers were transferred to other units, and the unit's insignia they served with during combat would be worn on the upper right sleeve of their uniform, while the current unit would be on the left sleeve.

For a list of insignia of major US Army units that served during WW II, click here.

Pictures

Pictures can give you the answers you are seeking, especially if there is a notation on the back, or if the person is standing in front of a marked vehicle – just look on either the front or rear of the bumper if it is visible. You may see something that looks like this: 70-274-I on one side, and on the other, 2HQ-7. What does it mean? 70 is the division, 274 is the regiment, and the I stands for infantry. The 2HQ is Headquarters, 2nd Battalion and the 7 is the jeep number assigned to headquarters.

While it may not provide absolute proof of the unit the person served with, it does offer a good place to start your search.

For a list of US Army vehicle markings used during WW II, click here.

Letters

Letters written to and from the front were the primary means of communication between families. While the content of letters was censored, the return address was not and it offers a huge clue – the APO number (Army Post Office).

All US Army units overseas were assigned an APO number and indicates the unit served at the time the letter was written.

For a list of Army APO umbers, click here! 

Documents

The most important document a soldier was given upon discharge was the Enlisted Record and Report of Separation/Honorable Discharge (WD AGO FORM 53-55). On this form, one can find a synopsis of the person's record – from unit served with to medals earned, as well as credited campaigns. All personnel were told to always keep the document in a safe place, as well as make copies for keeping at their hometown courthouse.

Once you know which unit the person served with, you can obtain the unit's operational documents from the National Archives.

It takes time to find the information, but when you do the history you discover will be rewarding. For additional sites to help you on your journey, click here!

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