Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Stories of the Lost : Discovering The Story of Our Heroes through Genealogy

Stories of the Lost, by Jennifer Holik, 2014, Generations, Woodridge, IL

I had the great opportunity to read this book last night.  This publication can answer any questions as to how one might go about learning the military experiences of your person of interest.

Jennifer Holik, www.wwiiresearchandwritingcenter.com reviews the circumstances of four veterans that never lived to see the day of discharge from the military. She tells the stories of each man, while reviewing how she came to learn of their lives through genealogy and military records. Each serviceman is treated as a "Hero" as she carefully tells their stories.  Tragedy does happen to far too many soldiers, and Jennifer tells each tragic story with her expertise in military research.

The reader is taken from the story of a doughboy in the "war to end all wars", to the D-Day replacement soldier, to the Flying Tiger and finally to the Battle of the Bulge experience. The families of these soldiers were left with their photos, memories, paperwork and memorial stones and foreign graves locations

The last chapter was most interesting to me.  The chapter is entitled, "Caring For the Fallen: the Men of the Graves Registration Service. Here Jennifer tells the story of how the U.S. Government handles the remains of the fallen soldiers.  The Graves Registration Service is a very special unit that handles all aspects of gathering the personal effects of  soldiers, if there were any to gather.  Unfortunately, there are some victims of war that are so badly injured that no personal effects on their body can be recovered.  Hopefully, the soldier kept a few personal things in their duffle bag that could be sent back to the grieving family members.

The IDPF (Individual Deceased Personnel File) can be a very informative resource for researching the life of the fallen soldier.  Jennifer explains how to obtain a file of your family member, and what information can be gleened from this file.  Obviously, this type of research is not for the faint of heart, as there may be written reports as to how the soldier died, the condition of the remains when they were gathered, and how this person was identified.

Notification of a soldier's death to their family has to be done in a gently way.  And, if there are no definite answers to their questions, the officials report only the facts that they have.  Many times there are questions left unanswered, because of the circumstances of an tragic incident.  Families write many letters to the military officials to find out where their soldier is buried, what was left, how they died, etc.  Letters written to the families give whatever information they have, but obviously, there are some questions that go unanswered.

Burial of the fallen soldiers is one of the most important and final events in the Graves Registration Service.  If the fallen died while in a foreign country, they are usually buried temporarily, after being identified and documented.  Later, the families are notified of the remains locations and they are given the choice of leaving their soldier buried in a U.S. Military Cemetery nearest the location, or having the remains exhumed and shipped back to the family for burial in their cemetery of choice.

I can only imagine what emotions the families of each of these four soldiers had to experience.  The process of notification, paperwork, decisions and reviewing reports and personal effects must have seemed like an endless nightmare.  In the world that we live in today, it happens all too often, no matter how advanced the military equipment and strategies may be.  Soldiers die from friendly and unfriendly fire.  What is left is for the families to deal with. I hope that I never have to deal with that issue, but Jennifer Holik's book gave me a glimpse of what would be in store.

Even if you have never had the experience of dealing with the loss of a loved one in the military service, you will most certainly gain insight from this publication.  It is a MUST READ.  Thank you, Jennifer, for telling us what we  probably never would find out otherwise.  It made me even more sympathetic for the families and friends left behind.

This book is available for sale on AncestorStuff.com, and can be ordered in advance of the FGS 2016
conference.  Your book will be available for pickup at table #516 from 31 August to 3 September.