One of the epic events in American and world history – the second World War – has been dedicated in the National World War II Memorial which opened to the public on April 29, 2004. In the ten years since the opening, over 40 million have visited the site commemorating those killed in the war and dedicated to honoring all who served.
To mark the tenth anniversary, the Friends of the World War II Memorial will hold a commemoration over the upcoming Memorial Day weekend in Washington, DC. But what of these “living monuments” that are approachable each and every day and that live among us?
The Fading of The Greatest Generation
Those who fought in World War II are part of what has been called The Greatest Generation and as time progresses, almost 600 veterans of this war die each and every day. With over 16 million serving in the war, there are now approximately 1 million vets from World War II still alive today. The Saving Memories Forever app is the perfect tool to capture the stories of those who served as well as those at home who waited for their return.
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans has a collection of oral history interviews which should serve as an inspiration to conduct your own interviews with family members. The Library of Congress offers a Veterans History Project Field Kit (http://www.loc.gov/vets/kit.html) to help you get started.
And don’t forget those who remained on the Home Front during the war! Their interviews are just as important to give a full perspective on World War II and its impact. The Minnesota Historical Society has a list of Suggested Questions for Civilians (http://www.mnhs.org/people/mngg/stories/oh_civilian.htm) that can help structure your interviews.
Search the Family Archives for World War II Artifacts
Besides oral history interviews, look for photos, letters, documents and more that may be tucked away in the family archives. Compared to the first World War, there are many more digital media items available from World War II: cameras were affordable to own and those in service took photos of their regiments, their friends as well as battle locations. In addition, some service men made recordings sent back home in the form of a “record” to be played for family members.
Look for these items as well as medals, patches and more. Scan them, document them through written narrative and even use them as “props” during recorded interviews.
Family History and World War II
Many of us have a family member who served in World War II or lived during the war – all have stories to share. In addition to what you can gain through personal interviews, you may want to extend your research to World War II related resources:
· World War 2 Family History (http://www.wikitree.com/articles/World-War-2.html)
WikiTree has a special project set up to share resources and advice as well a list of interview questions (http://www.wikitree.com/printable/World-War-2-interview-questions.html).
· World War II (1941-1945) Military Records (http://www.ancestry.com/cs/us/worldwar2records)
Ancestry.com’s collection contains more than 15 million names and over 11 million images. Note: Ancestry is a paid subscription site; if you don’t have a subscription, check for “free” days such as Memorial Day Weekend when military records are open to the public.
· FamilySearch Wiki – World War II (https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/World_War_II_United_States_Military_Records,_1941_to_1945)
The FamilySearch wiki offers background information on World War II and can help you access different military record sets available for research.
· Pritzker Museum & Library (http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/)
The number of resources available both online and in-person are overwhelming. Of special note is the Holt Oral History Program (http://www.pritzkermilitary.org/whats_on/holt-oral-history-program/) which seeks to preserve “stories of service” from World War II and other conflicts.
© 2014, copyright Thomas MacEntee
Thomas MacEntee is a genealogy professional specializing in the use of technology and social media to improve genealogical research and as a means of interacting with others in the family history community. For more information visit http://hidefgen.com.