Military research, like genealogical research, is never finished. There is always one more source that turns up when you least expect it. Sometimes a soldier who is long passed even shows up to say, ‘Hey what about my memory and service?’
When I researched the service of my great grand uncle, Michael Kokoska several years ago, for my book Stories of the Lost, I had not located the ship manifest for the USAT Wheaton, the Army Transport Funeral Ship, on which Michael’s remains sailed home from France in 1921. Michael died in 1918 and was buried overseas until remains were repatriated after the war.
After both World Wars, remains were not repatriated, or brought back to the U.S. from overseas until 1920 after WWI and 1947 after WWII. Soldiers were buried near where they fell in one of the many temporary cemeteries (if they were recovered.) Those discovered after the war ended were often temporarily buried until the government gave the family the option to choose to either repatriate the remains or leave them overseas to be buried in an American Military Cemetery. There were a few other options but those two were the primary.
Ancestry.com has a database online called the U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939. If you do a search for Michael Kokoska, you will find three entries (one is a duplicate). Michael departs from Hoboken, NJ in 1918 on ship No. 39, with the 32nd Division to head overseas. They disembarked in Brest, France.
Michael returns in 1921 on the USAT Wheaton from Cherbourg, France to Hoboken, NJ. He is listed on this passenger manifest with a name, unit, serial number, and the address of his next of kin. His father, Joseph Kokoska in Chicago.
Michael is dead. His remains which are being returned to the U.S. after the war.
Soldiers whose remains were repatriated, were listed by their name on a ship manifest to retain their dignity. The men who gave their lives were not just put on a ship unnamed with no honor or respect. Their caskets were placed in shipping cases, covered with the American flag, and carefully placed in the ship’s hold for transport from the theater of war to the U.S.
How do you know if a soldier is living or deceased?
It appears in this database that deceased soldiers are listed by name, rank, ASN, unit , cable reference number and a code after. But there is nothing that specifically says deceased soldiers from what I could see. In tiny print at the top of the manifest under #2 it talks about a code for the sick or wounded or deceased, etc. but the code is not specifically listed on each manifest page. Michael’s manifest looks different from his brother Albert’s. Keep reading to see both examples.
It is extremely important that researchers understand what they are looking at. It is so easy to find a record, click and add it to your family tree without really looking at it. Just because your soldier’s name appears on a ship manifest, does not mean he is still alive.
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