Do the families of soldiers killed in action ever find out the circumstances of their death?

See subject.

I don’t think so, right?

Why wouldn’t they? Aside from certain circumstances such as special ops, there’s no need to keep their loved ones’ fate top secret.

(Hopefully someone with more direct knowledge will provide a definitive answer…)

Family found out from the back seat guy who lived when an Uncle was killed in WWII while flying a Dauntless. A few fellow pilots wrote some letters. Don’t remember if or how much info came from the NAVY. Took 6 months for first official notification. I think there might have been a bit more from a superior later in the war. He was killed 12/8/1941 so things were disorganized for quite a while.
Maybe more in the home town museum. Almost all of the correspondence has been donated now.

It depends. My grandfather was killed on the Eastern Front of World War II. (He had been drafted into the Hungarian army.) To this day we have no idea where exactly or under what circumstances. He just never returned to my father’s home.

He must have been one of the very first Americans to be killed in action outside of those at Pearl Harbour. If you are willing to answer, may I ask if it was in the first stage of the Japanese invasion of The Philippines?

How can you be confident that he was actually killed? Maybe he was captured, escaped from a POW camp in the dead of night, and found his way to Sweden where he changed his name and spent the rest of his life as a mild-mannered shop clerk in Malmo.

My grandfather’s bomber was shot down during WWII. He was severely injured but survived. Most of the rest of the crew did not. My family always knew the general story as it was passed down orally but I decided to re-research it from scratch earlier this year. It turns out that the family of two of the other soldiers (one killed and one survived) had documentation on the web including links to the official military accounts.

I had always heard that the crew members that died were simply killed by either the anti-craft fire or the plane crash itself but that wasn’t true except for one of them. The others bailed out successfully but were captured and executed on the spot by German soldiers. The only reason my grandfather wasn’t executed was that he was severely injured in the attack and the Germans that captured him refused to execute someone that was already badly injured (that is an example of weird wartime logic but it was lucky for him).

In this case, there were never any secrets even though the original documents would have been much more difficult to obtain without the web.

A good friend of mine was killed in action in Vietnam while I was still in boot camp. To this day I find it deeply troubling. I needed to know more and to speak with someone who was with him on 7/3/69. Until the internet, I did not have any tools with which to work. Finally, after searching the internet for years I succeeded, not only with securing details of his death, but actually speaking with his XO who was with him when he met his fate. I don’t know the odds of against my success, but I’m sure they were pretty steep.

To the OP, I know of 3 situations where the parents of GIs killed in action in Vietnam knew precisely how and why their sons died. Because I wrote to them. I told them the exact date/time and Fire Mission number. I also told them the name, rank, and serial number of the artillery battery commander who transposed some digits and called the fire mission that killed them. And the same information of that lieutenant’s immediate superior and HIS superior. And I sent them copies of the investigation reports.

It was less than 24 hours after the first wave of planes attacked Pearl Harbor.
Different accounts but apparently he was wounded somehow and trying ti land on the “Enterprise?” So maybe he ran into bad guys on the 8th hunting for the attackers.

Anyway, he messed up the landing & they bounced over the side My uncle was as big guy and the back seat guy was a little guy, My uncle was unconscious and could not be freed from the plane before it went down.

This is not official from the NAVY, just what the little guy said when he came to the home place after the war to see my Grand Parents. Not even the siblings that were there agree on what he actually said.

Well done.

What you did was above and beyond the call of duty, but I think it goes without saying that all commanding officers should visit, call or write the families of those who fell under their command, and if the families ask how they died, the commander should answer as truthfully as possible. It’s the least he can do.

In the modern Army every single casualty has what is called a Casualty Notification officer who personally contacts the family and explains the date and circumstances of the death. Several months later, after all of the evidence has been collected and the final report is released, the family has a meeting with a senior officer, the JAG, and whomever else might be important where they read the final result of the investigation. There have been incidents where different people have offered different information on the death, and the conflicting stories have caused a great deal of grief. So the final investigation is very important for providing the last word in what happened.

NO This is a very bad idea. I know people who have tried it and it didn’t turn out so good. Some people have moved along in the grieving process and can handle it. Other times it just re-opens old wounds. Or they blame the Commander for the incident (whether he could have done anything about it or not). Also, refer to my last post. If the Commander shows up and offers and explanation, and it differs in any regard from the official investigation the JAG signs off on, the family members will wonder if they were lied to and it will just take them longer to get closure.

Some people are strong enough to handle the fact that different people witnessed things from different perspectives, or they understand that sometimes people make mistakes. They might even bond with survivors or people with common experiences. But some people are extremely distraught and even violently angry at the Army and take much longer to grieve. It is not a good idea for anyone to talk to the family without coordinating with their unit’s casualty notification office… who, if they are anything like the CNO’s I worked with, will tell them in no uncertain terms that it is a very bad idea.

A good and difficult point. I suppose like many such points in life, tellers and tell-ees have strong motivations.

You mention JAGs signing off. But these documents are internal, aren’t they?

Every family survivor (mother? Girlfriend? Even who gets notified can open up terrible issues I should think) gets a letter saying “killed in battle?”

I’ll try to google the text.

Well, I was their sergeant. They were MY guys, you know? And I could smell a cover-up starting.

If I’m not mistaken, the soldiers themselves designate who should be notified should they become a casualty.

The entire point of the investigation is that they want to have a version of the story that is 100% correct before they give it to the family. Part of that is that JAG conducts a legal review to make sure every avenue has been explored and the investigator’s methodology was sound. Every investigation gets run by JAG to make sure there are no errors.

No. They are notified in person if at all possible. They did this up until the Vietnam War, when someone realized it was a shitty idea and then they came up with the idea of the Casualty Notification Officer. Even then, many units just did whatever they wanted as far as the CNO went, and it wasn’t until our modern wars that they instituted mandatory training for CNOs. Regardless, for every casualty the CNO and a Chaplain will appear in person ASAP.

Yup. This is why it is so important for soldiers to make sure their DD93 (record of emergency data) is correct. Every now and then a Soldier will get married or divorced or something and fail to update their DD93, and it will make it much harder for the Army to notify the correct people. The installation’s Casualty Assistance Office (CAO) has a staff that does research and tries to correct these problems. The DD93 form also has something called “Person Authorized to Direct Disposition” which is a fancy euphemism for “who gets to be in charge of the funeral.” You can also designate anyone that you specifically do NOT want told, like in case grandma has a heart condition or something.

The worst possible outcome is the rare circumstance that the NOK and PADD are not the same person. You hear horror stories about times when people’s spouse and in-laws just hated each other, and the PADD banned some family member from the funeral, and it just ain’t pretty. I’ve never seen it, but my CAO has some stories…

Crap, I made a mistake. The Casualty Notification Center (CNC) is the office responsible for training the Casualty Notification Officers and Casualty Assistance Officers. The CNO has a script that goes something like, “The Secretary of the Army would like to express his deep regret for the death of your son, Private Jim Bob Jones, who died in Afghanistan during a patrol… and so on etc etc.” It goes on for like a paragraph, but I have yet to meet a single CNO who has made it all the way to the end. Assuming they can even remember it word for word (it’s a really stressful job) they usually get interrupted by the grieving and wailing.

Then they talk to the family about whether they want to go to Dover to view the casket arriving at the airport, answer any initial question about disposition and insurance, and the Chaplain offers whatever comfort he can give. Later in the day, the family is contacted by the Casualty Assistance Officer whose job is to take them by the hand (sometimes literally) and walk them around post to help do all their paperwork, drive them to appointments, and so on. This can take literally months. Sometimes the CNO and CAO are the same person, but usually they are different.

I read a lot about WWII and one of the books I recently read had a platoon Sargent’s comments on the matter. He said that he would write the families of those killed and try to give them as much information as possible on how their loved one died. He mentioned that he never told that a soldier died of an accident or friendly fire, in those cases it was always inferred that the soldier died doing some heroic deed. He felt that this helped the families cope with the loss.

If I understand correctly, my grandmother eventually got a letter from someone in the military which said that my grandfather had been killed, but with no further details.

Bear in mind that this all happened many decades before I was born, and everyone who could possibly know for sure is long dead. My father was himself a young boy when this occurred.