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May 23, 2019

Remembering Our Fallen Ancestors on Memorial Day

Remembering Our Fallen Ancestors on Memorial Day

By: Nancy Massey

Recently our genealogy roundtable shared stories and photos of some of our fallen ancestors. Memorial Day, or Decoration Day as it was first called, is the day to visit our cemeteries and put flowers or U. S. flags on the graves of our ancestors who were killed in their service to our county.

Memorial Day began shortly after the Civil War to honor and remember those killed in the war by decorating their gravestones. In 1971, it became a federal holiday celebrated on the fourth Monday in the month of May.

For my family, Memorial Day was a time to remember my uncle who was killed during a bombing raid on the oil fields of Ploesti, Romania during World War II. He was killed before my birth so I only know of him through a small stack of letters he sent my mother and a star banner with two blue stars and one gold star. It was not until I started researching my family tree and exploring military records, that I learned just how young he was and how he died in his service to our country.

I transcribed the letters he wrote and realized that he was just a kid risking his life when he enlisted in the Army Air Corp. The Air Force didn’t exist at that time as a separate armed force.  When he enlisted, he had just turned 18. At the time of his death, he was almost 20 years old.

As I researched, I learned that the banner with the blue and gold stars was a service flag that hung in the windows of homes from which men were serving their country. Each blue star represented a serviceman in the family. The gold star covered the blue star when that serviceman was killed while serving.  In my family, the stars were for my two uncles and father.  When my Uncle Jack died, my mother covered his blue star with a gold one.

How was my uncle killed? I searched military records and requested copies of his service file and that of my father who passed away in 1995. Then I learned that my uncle’s records were destroyed in a fire in 1973 in St. Louis.  My father’s records survived because he was in the Navy. Most of the records that were destroyed were those of men who served in the Army Air Corps and/or the Army. It was the location of those records that determined the records’ survival.

Although I had my father’s service records which were wonderful and confirmed the few stories he shared with me a couple weeks before he passed, I was back to ground zero in finding more information about my uncle’s death. First, I posted a message on the message board at Rootsweb, someone from my uncle’s squadron suggested searching for the missing air crew report. He helped me request copies of the report which were sent to me on microfiche. I learned my uncle was located in the tail of plane and was unable to parachute out when the plane was hit with flak.  He was trapped and the fire spread quickly through the plane. Three of the crew did parachute out only to be captured when they hit the ground. Later when their prison was liberated, they filed eye witness reports which joined those from other pilots who saw the plane go down. Fold3 now has those missing air crew reports online.

Searching military records for ancestors who served our country can be rewarding with information from draft cards, enlistment records, service records, pension records, and more. Fold3’s emphasis is on scanning military records and the first place you would want to search for information on your ancestors who served our country. It is not complete but it is a good place to start your search.


To learn more about exploring military records, please join me on May 25 for my class on Exploring Military Records. Remember our fallen ancestors on Memorial Day on Monday, May 27. You may want to place virtual flowers on your ancestor’s memorial page at Findagrave.com. If he/she doesn’t have a memorial page, this is a perfect time to create one.