There is a new website being promoted for the Centennial of the return of our World War I dead in 1921. It is called Homecoming ’21. The government chose one funeral ship to honor each year that remains were returned. In 1921 the ship was the USAT Wheaton.
My ancestors, especially my military ancestors who died in service, talk to me when I need to pay attention. My great grand uncle, Michael Kokoska, was the first one who came through to help me begin to heal after my life changed in 2012. I wrote Michael’s story in my book, Stories of the Lost, which you can purchase on this website. If you have heard me speak, you may have heard the end of his story in some of my programs.
Michael was on board the USAT Wheaton when remains were repatriated in May 1921.
I guess he has some new wisdom to impart to me at this time of great world change. I will be spending time journaling and meditating to see what comes through.
The anniversary of his remains arriving via railroad in Chicago on 27 May 1921 and his burial, 29 May 1921, at Bohemian National Cemetery in Chicago, is coming up.
Many articles were written in the newspapers about the USAT Wheaton in 1921. You can search the major newspaper database sites to find these. You can also look for stories of remains coming back to the cities or towns where you lived. Not only do I have news articles from the New York Times about the USAT Wheaton coming in to port, but also the stories from the Chicago newspapers about remains coming home. You may need a tissue when you read the accounts. There are also some accounts for repatriation of WWII war dead, if you have any in your family tree.
Learn More About Your Soldier Dead
To learn more about your WWI Soldier Dead, whose remains were repatriated, there are four main sources you can check.
- Ancestry has a database: U.S., Army Transport Service, Passenger Lists, 1910-1939 which you can search for your service members who served overseas and returned either alive or in a casket. If your service member died in service, you will learn his ship name in this database.
- World War I Burial File. You will find a lot of information about the death in this file, currently held at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. View Michael Kokoska’s. If you are researching World War II, Korea, or Vietnam – this file is called the IDPF (Individual Deceased Personnel File), surnames A-L are held at NPRC in St. Louis. M-Z are still tied up by red tape.
- OMPF (Official Military Personnel File). If the Army or Army Air Corps/Army Air Forces/Air Force file did not burn in the 1973 fire at NPRC, you will find death information in this file. Unfortunately Michael’s burned.
- World War I Bonus Payment Applications. Some of these for states are online. Others are held in State Archives. In Illinois, Michael had a file but it was burned around the edges. Not all the IL Bonus Applications survived a fire, wherever they were held. There is information about his service and death in this file. These also exist for World War II.
If you’d like to learn more about WWI and WWII research and hear the end of Michael’s story, watch my RootsTech 2018 program. You will learn how to start the first part of research for any 20th century war. Michael’s story starts about minute 31. You may need a tissue.
© 2021 World War II Research and Writing Center
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