WWII History
October 12, 2004 7:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find out what my grandfather did during World War II. He was in the 101st and I know he saw a lot of the worst of the Battle of the Bulge. He mentioned going to Hitler's retreat (I believe he means Eagle's Nest). He also won, I believe, an important medal that he refuses to accept and was invited to France to do something. He hates talking about it, he's getting up there, and I was hoping to figure out as much as I can. Sorry to be vague but I'm telling all that I know. My preliminary google searches don't turn up anything. More inside.

I know he doesn't like talking about it, or else I'd ask him. I know he saw the worst of it, I don't believe he was in Bastogne or it probably would have been mentioned. He has a super-common name (Edward Smith) but I was hoping to at least get information as to what he was in and track down what his company/whatever did.

I have no idea where to start looking for something like this. I would assume there'd be a registery of enlisted men somewhere, or if he's won medals which I believe he has -- he should be on that registry.

Any help would be appreciated. Also I realize I gave out his name in a very public place, and I'd respect that no one try to you know, stalk him. He did kill Nazis after all.

Oh yeah on preview, I remember that he did definitely parachute in and he was involved sometime in mid to late Decemeber because he was talking about being knee deep in snow, taking the man who just got shot next to him's bazooka and blowing up a tank. Yeah that's what I got when I asked why he doesn't talk about it.
posted by geoff. to Society & Culture (9 answers total)
Response by poster: I should say with some guilt that it was Call of Duty: United Offensive and its graphic depiction of the Battle of the Bulge that got me really thinking about it. I have to say I'm not a huge gamer, but some of those battles were very realistic, even more so then any movie I've seen.
posted by geoff. at 7:48 PM on October 12, 2004

National Personnel Records Center - Military Personnel Records

That could be a place to start.
posted by bitpart at 7:54 PM on October 12, 2004

What I would do is get a list of questions you want to ask - troop movement, cities stationed, etc - take a tape recorder, buy him lunch and a beer, and talk it through with him. I wish I would have done this with my grandfathers before they passed away. You want an oral history so that you can pass it down the line - I think he would open up if you worked it that way. I have talked to my share of vets, the best way is to start general and then if it progresses, you can get specific. This will probably take a few hours, and it will get intense. It is important to let him guide the conversation, some topics will be just too hard. This is why it is important to have a bulk of questions dealing with mundane issues - food, shore leave, before/after war, etc - so that you can pick up where he will leave off. Each division should have a veteran's society associated with the unit, call a VFW. You can also get into contact with any of his buddy's to round out the picture. You can also call NPRC (as said above) have his Social Security Number, and if possible, unit and theatre of operation. Take the time and do this, I can't reiterate how much I wished I had.
posted by plemeljr at 8:19 PM on October 12, 2004

The Library of Congress has a phenomenal program called The Veteran's History Project that I think you would really like. It's not a research facility, it's the exact opposite: you find veterans in your life, interview them, and send the interviews to the Library to be archived, forever, as personal recollections of the war.

I interviewed eight WWII veterans for the project, and after the interviews I found that most of them had never told that much about their experiences to anyone. But their generation, I find, is committed to helping people. They're more likely to open up when they know they're benefiting such a good foundation as the Library of Congress.

To get started, find a video camera, prepare some questions (these are a great place to start) and ask your grandfather if he would be willing to participate in the name of history. Give your grandfather the questions in advance, and try to conduct the interview in a non-threatening manner. You'll be surprised at how much you'll learn, and how glad he'll be to have talked about it after all those years. Fill out the release forms from the site, make a copy of the tape for yourself, and send the interview in.

Not only will you learn about your grandfather, you'll benefit historians a century after we're all gone. Pretty cool.
posted by Sfving at 8:48 PM on October 12, 2004

Band of Brothers is about the 101st, and follows them from boot camp to parachuting into Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge and to the Eagle's Nest. (It's a great miniseries.)
posted by kirkaracha at 9:39 PM on October 12, 2004

If he was in the 101st, the 101st Airborne Division Association might be able to help. The website is super-ugly, but they have a very tight-knit association, and it might be helpful to your Grandfather to be back in touch with people who remember the same things he remembers. Contact info is way down at the bottom of the page.

Also the Library of Congress idea is excellent.
posted by anastasiav at 10:28 PM on October 12, 2004

I'd agree with kirkaracha - the Band of Brothers book and series are likely to give you some idea of what he went through and when. It's based around the recollections of Easy Company, 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne. IIRC they were the first US troops to reach the Eagle's Nest.

I believe the 101st last dropped in Holland during the events around Arnheim and the nearby bridges (see A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan). They didn't drop around Bastogne and I seem to recall an aborted jump which was planned for Berlin in mid to late '44. If your Grandpa did jump it would have either been during D-Day or the Arnheim drop - the rest of the time the 101st were simply used as highly skilled footsloggers.

The snow would likely be around Bastogne - see this link for another recommended book.

You might find some useful info here as well as links to some groups who may be able to put your grandpa in touch with fellow vets. The link also contains pictures of some of the men in each unit of the 101st (by regiment) which may also help some (he may be able to identify some of his colleagues - though the pictures are mostly KIAs).

And thank your grandpa for me too, mine was an Airborne Pathfinder in Arnheim '44 and was always silent about what he did.
posted by longbaugh at 8:09 AM on October 13, 2004

More stuff:

"101st Airborne Division is a small booklet covering the history of the 101st Airborne Division. This booklet is one of the series of G.I. Stories published by the Stars & Stripes in Paris in 1944-1945."

Screaming Eagle Veterans Website
posted by kirkaracha at 11:01 AM on October 13, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks all, exactly what I needed to get jumpstarted.
posted by geoff. at 11:06 AM on October 13, 2004

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