Researching Grandfather's WWII service

The past few days I have been watching and really enjoying the WWII documentary on the History Channel. I have also realized that I don’t know much at all about my grandpa’s experience in WWII. He died when I was ~12 years old and too young to ask questions about it - not that he would have answered them, as he hated talking about it.

What are some of the resources I should check? I assume this is a good start:

I know it’s unlikely that there is much on him, personally. But, I would be interested in the story of what happened to whatever unit he was in. How common and specific are accounts of individual regiments/battalions/companies?


You can order a copy of his pension file, which includes duty stations and the like. Other than that, there likely won’t be much out there. I got lucky with my Civil War ancestor, as his pension file had a copy of a deposition given by his wife that described their life together. It was a goldmine of information. Sometimes you can get lucky by just googling his name to see what pops up, then refine the search with military descriptives.

The veterans history project from the Library of Congress, has actual accounts of individuals. You might find something there in a search.

It’s being updated every day. I did a video interview of my grandpa this summer and they just recently sent me a postcard telling me they’re way backed up and it’ll be a while before his story gets online.

Once you have the name of his unit, you can find a lot on unit histories here.

The Order of Battle of the US Army in WWII will give you day-by-day movements of each unit like here.

Not WWII, but I was able to purchase digital copies of the history of my great-uncle’s WWI unit on line. My father had a copy of a commemorative booklet of the service of his ship in the Pacific in WWII, and items like this might be available.

As an aside, I was struck by how much history is lost as these folks pass away.

Even today, reading my WW2 history book, there is confusion about why some U.S. submarine captains made a specific decision, and took an action they did, or what actually they did and saw on a certian patrol. With all the people who could have answered this passed away, we’ll never know.

Another example is why Nagumo chose what he did, when he did, at Midway. We have educated guesses, but that’s all they really are.

As more and more time passes, more and more is lost.

Some of what (I think) I know about WW2 may become unanswered questions a hundred (or more) years from now.

Dust on the wind, and all that.

There was a big fire at the facility in the 1970s and it is possible that the record no longer exists.

Hmm, interesting. Probably why putting my name in came up with nothing.

Similarly, the British records were destroyed by enemy action in 1941 and in many cases the file no longer exists.