Five years ago, what sparked my interest in genealogy was realizing that I didn’t know anything about my grandfather’s WWII service. I only knew that Milton Anderson (1922-1986) had attended the Citadel military college in Charleston, South Carolina and that he had been injured during his service and spent the rest of the war away from the front lines.
I figured that, in the modern age, the answer was online somewhere so I set out on my quest. I quickly found his army reserves enlistment record but nothing more. At the time I had never done any genealogical research at all. I knew nothing of military records or the 1973 NPCR fire that destroyed most army personnel records.
Of course, failing to find the military information I was looking for the first time around, I fell down the rabbit hole of genealogical research, all the while hoping I’d be able to answer my original question. After three years of research, I had a huge family tree but I still didn’t know anything about the unit my grandfather served in during WWII. In just one day that changed.
In 2017, I was preparing for a visit from my uncle to take a DNA test so I pulled out some of the items I had related to his family. In a box of WWII ephemera I pulled out four military patches I hadn’t noticed before. I set about identifying them. Quickly I had my answers.
A yellow and blue patch represented the Army Specialized Training Program. This program was instituted at American universities during WWII to meet the need for junior officers. It makes sense that my grandfather would have received this training at school.
A black and green patch indicates Milt completed the Officer Candidate School program an intense training program to move enlisted men into commissioned officer positions. Again, it is logical he would have attended this program due to his studies in college.
Then there were two division patches. One from the 83rd division and one from the 84th division. I am guessing that Milt made a friend in the 83rd while recovering from his injury, because I can find no evidence he was ever transferred to this unit.
The next clue was a booklet about the 84th with one phrase underlined in pencil: “335th Company K.” Based on that line and that patch, that I found a website about the 84th and found a company photo that included a man I am convinced is him but there were no names so I couldn’t confirm it. Then located an active Facebook group commemorating the 84th that included some history and pictures of the unit, although none of Milt.
I posted a note of thanks to the Facebook page for the information on the website and posed a question about the story of how Milt was wounded to see if anyone could confirm it’s truth. I had heard that his jeep ran over a landmine and he was sent to a hospital in Paris. Within a few hours, a man who had served in the same company responded to my post with a paragraph from his memoir that gave a first-hand account of my grandfather’s injury and mentioned him by name! The Holy Grail I had been seeking for three years was finally in my hands!
Even 2 years later I am still thrilled and touched to have this information. I am also amazed at everything else I learned about my family over the years when all I had really set out to discover was this very story. But I’m thankful it happened this way, or I might never have found a passion for genealogy in the meantime!
What is your genealogy origin story? Have you ever broken through a brick wall on social media? I’d love to read about it on your blog or in the comments!