Family History Outing: U.S. Army Transportation Museum, Fort Eustis, VA

The U.S. Army Transportation Museum tells the story of the Army’s Transportation Corps, whose unofficial motto is “Nothing Happens Until Something Moves”. The Museum focuses on fielded and experimental equipment in: Aircraft, Rail, Vehicle, Watercraft Equipment.

Camp Eustis was established in 1918 as a training center for railway coast artillery. It became a Fort in 1923.

The Museum has a main building, a railroad pavilion, a vehicle pavilion, a marine park and an aviation pavilion.

Although the U.S. Transportation began in 1942 during WWII, the Army has needed to move troops, weapons and supplies since its beginning in the Revolutionary War. In the main building of the Museum, there is an exhibit gallery for every phase of the Army’s history. The exhibits have been put together carefully, paying attention to providing the details of an accurate representation.

Of course, I spent a lot of time in the WWI gallery. The Mexican Expeditions are also included in this gallery. There were vehicles from WWI, a mule with a pack and a model showing how the U.S. Army Transport Service berthed soldiers and transported supplies.















Army Transport Service (Sea)

In the 1950s, fueled by the Cold War, the Army saw a time of incredibly creativity in the invention of novel technology. So much about these novel technologies inspired science fiction movies. The Army’s Aerocycle single person helicopter is a novel alternative to a jet pack; the soldier stands above the rotor blades. Among the prototypes in the Aviation Pavilion are a Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft that was tested in 1958; the Cybernetic Walking Machine; the Air Car; and the Airgeep. The Airgeep could travel at speeds up to 70 m.p.h. and fly up to several thousands of feet in the air. The Air Car flew 10-12” off the ground, and was capable of speeds up to 38 m.p.h. It looks like the inspiration for Lady Penelope’s car in the “Thunderbirds” Supermarionation series. The Cybernetic Walker was an ancestor of the ATATs in “Star Wars”.

The Air Car

The full-sized artifacts in the pavilions show you so much more than the pictures in the museum ever could.

Although I found no mention of the Pioneer Infantry Regiments in the Museum, I did find one at the Mariner’s Museum.

This would be an interesting place to get children interested in their ancestors who served in the U.S. Army. They would be able to walk through a gallery filled with the vehicles, uniforms and other sights that their ancestors would have seen during their time in service. It could foster an interest in technology of the different eras and supplement what students learn in U.S. history classes. While the Museum is certainly filled with terrific life-sized artifacts, but it is not as interactive as the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.

I always recommend checking out a museum on a military installation. No matter how small, the artifacts give an insight into the history of the installation and the community around it.

The Museum asks for a $4 donation from each adult visiting.

Information about the Museum can be found here.

Family History Outing: The Mariner’s Museum, Newport News, VA

In the history of the U.S. Navy, at the heart of its modern heritage is the U.S.S. Monitor. The “Duel of the Ironclads” was fought in Hampton Roads on 8 March 1862. The C.S.S. Virginia, built from the burned remains of the U.S.S. Merrimac, faced the U.S.S. Monitor. The result was a draw.

The U.S.S. Monitor Center at the Mariner’s Museum holds stories of the battle, the sinking of the Monitor, locating the Monitor in modern times, its exploration and preservation. These stories are all presented in engaging detail.

On New Year’s Eve of 1862, the U.S.S. Monitor sunk at an unknown location as a result of the forces of nature. It was located until 1973 off the Outer Banks, NC. In 1977, a dive brought up the red light that was the last thing seen by the U.S.S. Rhode Island who had rescued most of the crew of the Iron Clad.

Between 1998 and 2002 there were dives to explore the U.S.S. Monitor, culminating in raising of artifacts including the rotating turret. 

The Museum has a recreation of the turret as it was found, upside down. There is also a replica of the turret showing how its Dahlgren guns were positioned. You can even touch a (treated) part of the iron plating of Monitor, and see some of the other artifacts that were raised and have been conserved.

The full-size replica of the U.S.S. Monitor allows you to walk on its deck and view its outside.

You can learn how the C.S.S. Virginia was built from the Merrimac and walk through a recreation of the upper deck. The Museum includes history of the building of the Monitor, including a model of the cross section of its armor belt that encircled it.

The Museum also tells the story of the men who were part of both Iron Clads. One surprising reminder for this former professor of the U.S. Naval Academy was that the first Captain of the C.S.S. Virginia had been the first Superintendent.

My tour was made much more enjoyable with an Iron Clad enthusiast whose studies of this topic began in 1st grade when he read Patrick O’Brien’s excellent book, “Duel of the Iron Clads”.

There are exhibits with artifacts from historical ships, ship models, the America’s Cup and a small craft center.

The biggest surprise was the terrific WWI exhibit. “Answering America’s Call: Newport News in WWI” fills one gallery of the Museum. I learned that four camps supported the port at Newport News: Camp Stuart, Camp Morrison, Camp Alexander and Camp Hill. I learned more about what life was like for the Doughboys as they prepared to go overseas. Although my Grandfather departed from Hoboken, NJ, the process of boarding would have been the same.

As I scanned the display cabinets filled with pictures, uniforms, letters and ephemera, I kept an eye out for anything about my special area of interest, the Pioneer Infantry Regiments. Imagine my surprise and delight to find the Pioneer Infantry Regiments represented in this maritime museum! SGT Weldon Shaw was from Newport News and served in the 63rd Pioneer Infantry Regiment at Camp Dix, NJ.

As I scanned the display cabinets filled with pictures, uniforms, letters and ephemera, I kept an eye out for anything about my special area of interest, the Pioneer Infantry Regiments. Imagine my surprise and delight to find the Pioneer Infantry Regiments represented in this maritime museum! SGT Weldon Shaw was from Newport News and served in the 63rd Pioneer Infantry Regiment at Camp Dix, NJ.





We also recommend the Mariner’s Park Café. The hot sandwiches are made to order, reasonably priced and served promptly in the Ward Room setting.

With a $1 admission fee, this Museum is a bargain. You can optionally purchase a ticket for a 3D movie.

Learn more about the Mariner’s Museum.

The conservation webcams can be found here.

You can read about their WWI artifacts in their blog

You can learn more about Newport News in World War I here.

Review of “They Shall Not Grow Old”

This week I went to see the limited showing of Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old”. By now, you probably know that the film has been colorized, and dubbed, all with great technical care. But the movie is so much more than that. It is an experience. Mr. Jackson is an engaging story teller who has done phenomenal work in bringing this Great War footage to us differently than has ever been attempted. For him, it was a labor of love, dedicated especially to his Grandfather.

The story followed British soldiers from home to training, then the trenches and combat, and back home. The movie was a composite experience, using movie footage from the Imperial War Museum and audio from many BBC and IWM interviews of British soldiers. It captured the Western Front experience, including the sights and sounds of being in the trenches and a trench raid. The actual scenes of combat were depicted through the use of artwork from contemporary publication “The War Illustrated”. Although the movie was about British soldiers, the heart of the story was applicable to soldiers from all countries.

The movie was unflinching in showing the horror and devastation of the war. It equally showed the human side with the soldier’s everyday life and their interactions with German prisoners of war. There were horses and tanks, showing old and new ways of waging war meeting on the battlefield.

After the movie ended, most of the audience remained to spend some promised time with Mr. Jackson. His story telling ability also shined in his short feature after the movie’s credits where he shared how the story began and how it was made. The technology and techniques involved were fascinating. The people who worked on the project were professionals, and the parts that went into creating this experience were interesting.  

Mr. Jackson’s dedication to the project and its content were unquestionable. He showed us his assortment of authentic uniforms. The archival research was terrific, highlighted by his finding the orders that were being read in a film clip. He even went to great lengths to get authentic sounds to accompany the footage. In this day of digital sounds, it was great to see a Foley artist at work. He also shared how many other stories were in the Imperial War Museum Archives, from different missions in the British Expeditionary Force to women working on the home front.

My fondest hope is that more WWI footage is restored using his approach and brought to the public. That would be a great way to keep this from being a “forgotten” war.

For me, his thoughts at the end were as compelling as his project itself. As a non-historian, he had made a movie for non-historians to motivate them to find out about their WWI ancestors. He encouraged people to find out these stories, because those stories are important to us. Through my books, lectures and participating in WWI Centennial events, this is what I have also tried to do in my own way.

This review ends with homework: “Do you have any WWI ancestors?”

Camp Doughboy 2018: After Action Report

The 3rd annual Camp Doughboy WWI History Weekend at Governors Island National Monument was held on 15-16 September 2018. This was the biggest free public WWI exhibition in the U.S. this year, and was attended by 10.000 visitors.

The weather was sunny and warm both days.

My mission was to man a table where people could ask how they could learn about their WWI ancestors. On that table I displayed an informative poster, the WWI scrapbook of my Grandfather that I created (rather than inherited) and WWI Victory medals. I was also assigned to give lectures about how to find out about WWI ancestors.

Corporal Kevin Fitzpatrick led us all through the events of the weekend.

There were almost a hundred reeanactors present. Each and every reeanactor was impeccably outfitted, and had a story (or more) to tell about the Great War. Being able to see the authentic details of their wardrobe and equipment and to watch them perform their duties brought us back a century in time. Just to mention only a few of all those in attendance: the Harlem Hellfighters, a female contract surgeon, a WW1 Salvation Army Lassie, Imperial Germans and authentic Army cooks. Some visitors arrived in vintage clothing, and posed with the reenactors.

The audiences at my lectures learned about a methodology for researching their own WWI ancestors, the records and archives available, as well as the story of where fallen soldiers might be buried. They were quick with great questions.

Some visitors brought treasures with them. A gentleman brought his ancestor’s dogtags. His ancestor was from the South, but assigned to the Coastal Artillery in New Jersey. Another family brought the “History of Company C of the 320 Machine Gun Battalion.” Others brought pictures of their dashing soldiers in uniform. Many brought stories of ancestors who served in WWI for the U.S. and other counties.

Two descendants of soldiers from the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment held a mini-reunion.

Dr. Libby O’Connell of the WWI Centennial Committee for New York City addressed the gathering. She reminded us about the upcoming centennial and significance of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

The period music was lively and added to the ambiance.

The vintage trucks were a special highlight. When they were not driving, they were on static display. It seemed everyone who came took a picture of them.

A major shout out goes to the authentic cooks of the Army Rolling Field Kitchen who created delicious authentic Army dishes using WWI Army recipes. The fresh doughnuts created by the WW1 Salvation Army Lassie in France were fabulous.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to ask questions, learn and chat. More blog posts providing follow-up information will follow.

Camp Doughboy will return to Governors Island in 2019.

7 Ways to Research WWI Veterans in Your Community


Seventy First Regiment Leaves for Camp of N.Y. Division.(NARA RG165-WW-288C-067)

Congratulations on taking the first step of wanting to learn more!

Ryan Hegg of the WWI Centennial Commission for New York City asked me if I believed that the WWI Generation was really the Greatest Generation. What a thought provoking question! Ryan makes a great case. WWI was a defining point in our Country’s history as a participant on the world stage. Theirs was a generation who decided to go overseas to fight the Great War for Civilization. They experienced the Great Depression.

Students have a number of resources to find WWI veterans who were  residents in their communities. The ideas below start with those that take least effort to those that require more advanced skills. (For those who do not know if they had ancestors who served in WWI, a future blog post will cover that topic.)

  1. Locate a WWI Memorial in your city or town. There may be a statue in a park or a plaque in a public building. You can contact your city or town office to ask if such a memorial exists. When you locate the memorial, you can take pictures of it and copy the names that you find. If you want to learn more about those individuals try some of the other steps.
  2. Ask at a local cemetery about WWI veterans’ graves. The tombstones for service members who died during the war or later should show the branch of the military, the war, and their military organization. The cemetery office should be able to help you locate the graves of WWI veterans.
  3. Go to your local library and ask to speak to the research librarian. The library may hold special books telling about local men and women who served in WWI. There many also be files of materials donated by local researchers, which may be called vertical files. They may have fold local newspapers or files of newspaper clippings.
  4. Contact the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Each Post is unique and has different polices pertaining to its community service efforts. You can visit VFW’s Find-A-Post feature here to locate a VFW Post and its contact information. Ask to speak with the Commander or Quartermaster.
  5. If there is a local historical society, genealogical society, or historical museum in your area, call or send an email. I have found WWI collections in unlikely locations, such as the Laws Railroad Museum and the Holland Land Office Museum
  6. Research local newspapers of the time. You can check the Library of Congress Chronicling America website to find out what newspapers existed at the time, and see if any of them have been digitized. Many community newspapers printed articles about the men and women who served. Search for WWI and your community name. 
  7. Head back to your library and find out what databases are available. Your local library may have access to Ancestry.com, Fold3.com and ProQuest and other Historical Newspapers. Librarians should be able to help you search for more about a specific WWI Veteran using his or her name.

Beyond these steps, much of the research involves looking for material about a military organization in which the veteran served. There are several posts on this blog about learning more about WWI Veterans.

Good luck!

Researching North Carolina WWI Ancestors

Learning the military organization for your ancestor who served in WWI is important. With that information, you can find out what your ancestor did including duties, travels and battles.

For North Carolina WWI ancestors, you can access North Carolina, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919

https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/2568864

You will need to sign up for a free account with FamilySearch.org to be able to search and view results. FamilySearch is a resource that will be useful for you, as it contains many records online and indexes to records.

At FamilySearch you can search for records, or browse through the records. Try searching for your ancestor’s name.

For an example, I entered just a surname. This type of search is good to find other family members who served.

The search results are below.

Click on the camera for the result to view the record.

In this card you can find out the military organization, and information about overseas service, wounds, grades and discharge. If the ancestor died in service, the card will have a red tint and give information about when, where and how the ancestor died.

From here you can download and print the record.

The North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources is chronicling the experience of NC in WWI. You can read about the traveling exhibit and other resources on this page.

You can read about the digital collection here.

The State Archives of North Carolina have World War I Papers.

You might want to look for your ancestor’s name or military organization in the finding aids Private Collections of the State Archives of North Carolina. These items may not be online.