What WWII Military Ancestors Were Reading

The average American soldier in WWII had an 11th grade education. With a lack of recreation, and a lot of waiting, soldiers needed books. There was an effort by the Victory Book Campaign to furnish soldiers with donated books. These books ended up being heavy and the 18 million books raised were not sufficient.

So, the Council of Books in Wartime went to work to print Armed Services Editions (ASEs). They were light-weight, miniature books designed to fit in uniform pockets. The titles ranged from literature, classics, history, contemporary fiction, humor to career guides. Book contents were reformatted, and printed on lighter magazine pages. For efficiency, the books were printed two titles at a time on the same magazine paper, one on top of the other (“two-up”), and then cut into separate books.



Soldiers read these books constantly, and credited them for putting them in touch with their own humanity among the horrors of war. Others read history to understand the conflict in which they found themselves. Some books entertained, some books educated. Books were read in transit, while waiting, and recuperating in hospitals. While the First Division waited for a break in the bad weather before D-Day, the soldiers read. It is said that seriously wounded soldiers on Omaha Beach on D-Day were seen propped against the cliffs, reading ASEs as they waited for rescue.

The printing of ASEs continued after the war’s end, for those soldiers serving in the post-war occupation. The final ASEs were printed in September 1947.

An estimated 100 million books in Europe had been destroyed by burning and bombing. The ASEs numbered over 123 million copies of 1,322 titles were printed.

The Library of Congress has a complete set of the 1322 ASE books. There are other large, but incomplete collections.

For a short story of the ASEs, with a list of the ASEs by author listed by author, BOOKS IN ACTION THE ARMED SERVICES EDITIONS.

You can learn more about the subject at Molly Guptill Manning’s website and book, “When Books Went to War.”

One of  the interesting books printed in the format of an ASE was “Returning to Civilian Life”. The interior pages were printed differently than the other ASEs.



One topic struck me as valuable to us, as genealogists: Record Your Certificate.



Some of these books are still around. One place you can look for them is ebay. It would be remarkable if, in addition to the stories within their pages, they could tell the stories of where they had been and who had been reading them.






Researching Maryland WWII Ancestors

Perhaps you have seen the War Memorial in Baltimore.

Did you know that the War Memorial in Baltimore serves as a repository for approximately 70,000 discharge papers of the Maryland veterans who served during World War II.

Discharge papers are a great starting place for researching your WWII ancestors. These papers give the dates and branch of ancestors’ service, as well as where they fought, and the medals they earned.

Veterans and their families can order the discharge papers. Check out the page with War Memorial Miscellaneous Information for the link to download the order form. The section of the page is shown below.



Two Days at the NPRC

The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) is an imposing facility located in St. Louis, MO.  This summer I spent two days researching the 51st Pioneer Infantry at the NPRC. This post describes the planning and visit to the facility; a subsequent post will discuss the specific records I researched during my visit.

The NPRC the central repository of personnel-related records for both the military and civil services of the U.S. Government. Always remember that their priority is to serve current veterans. Everyone you meet at the facility and in the research room is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.

I visited the Archival Research Room to view Morning Reports and Rosters for the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment in WWI.

Planning the trip to the NPRC began more than six weeks before my visit. The research staff recommends planning this far in advance so that they can verify they have the records you seek and so that you can reserve a filmstrip reader.

If you choose to contact the NPRC about your visit by email, they request that you include your postal address and telephone number so that they may contact you in case of additional questions.

When you arrive at the NPRC, you will go through a security checkpoint. Government-issued photo ID is required. Do yourself a favor, and clear out your computer bag or everything you do not need, or use an alternate bag. There are items that you may forget are in your bag, like scissors, that are not allowed into the building.

My NARA researcher card had expired, so I had to view the PowerPoint orientation again. NPRC issues its own researcher cards. NPRC will accept NARA researcher cards, but other NARA facilities will not accept NPRC researcher cards.

Any paper that you wish to take into the research room has to be inspected and stamped by the staff. Bring only a minimal amount of paper. If possible, have the required information on files of the computer that you will bring in with you.

The Archivist walked me through the research room, and the process of getting to the equipment and filmstrips I needed.

The research room also had computers with access to Ancestry.com and Fold3.

If the records you need to view are on a filmstrip, and you want to make a copy, you have two choices. You can use a digital camera, but you have to realize that there will be a reflection on the screen. The other choice is use the printer connected to the filmstrip reader. Each copy that you take costs $0.40, which is collected when you are ready to leave. When you are prepared to depart, you bring all your paper to the research desk and your copies are weighed. You pay the fee at the cashier’s window with cash or credit card. Any papers that you remove from the room are inspected and locked in a document bag. The document bag is unlocked during the final inspection before you leave the building.


Archival vs. Federal Records

62 years after a service member separates from the service by discharge, retirement or death in service, the Federal records become Archival records. Archival records are open to the public. Federal records have restricted access (veteran or next-of-kin), but can be requested through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. There may be an opening of records of Persons of Exceptional Prominence (PEP) to the public before this time.

What genealogists need to keep in mind is that while s/he may be the next-of-kin and appears to be entitled to a free copy of the records, once the records pass to archival status fee applies to getting the records. However, these records are free to view at the research room.

Information about Archival holdings can be found here.