I sit in the Netherlands this morning reading the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) of a Jewish soldier named Harvey. The 361 page IDPF contains interesting information. It is a perfect example of what I always tell people in my books, articles, and programs. The government did not tell families everything when their son or daughter died. Honestly, how could it provide so much information for the families of the thousands of war dead and missing, while also maintaining the job it had to do for the troops on the ground, in the air, and at sea, and win the war? Things were handwritten or typed. Sent up the line to the next person who would handle the information. We were not in a time of computers and instant communication.
Harvey’s file has multiple examples with such incredible documentation by his father, George, it requires several articles to explain the information. My hope by explaining and providing documentation from the file, families of World War II war dead will find some answers, peace, closure, and healing.
So many thoughts race through my head as I read the file. It is difficult to sort my thoughts and feelings about the contents of this file, and all the voices of those long gone who keep appearing to have their say. It is important to have no judgment when reading these files. Most of us reading these files did not live through the war. We cannot fully understand what our families experienced, especially when attempting to procure information about a deceased loved one.
I hear the judgment from voices of the dead that scream it is unfair Harvey’s father was able to learn so much about the death of his son, while other families did not have the education, financial means, or social connections, to secure such information.
I also hear the judgment in the words George uses in his letters, and in some ways, a sense of entitlement, that the military should be immediately responding to his inquiries. There is a sense that while George knows his son is not the only man who died, his words provide a feeling that his son is the only one that matters, and information should be provided as a priority. This is understandable and possibly how most families felt, even if it isn’t expressed as in-depth as what we find in this file. Each family grieved in their own way, felt the pain and loss, and demanded answers, though not in the same way as George.
There is a difference between George and other many other families. George owned a business, appeared to have money, connections, and was educated. The combination of these things allowed him to connect with many people who were in a position to obtain information about his son’s death and personal effects. He had the means to fight in court, if necessary, to locate information. At least that is the sense he gives through his words in some of his letters. Most families did not have the connections, financial means, or possibly even the education, to write such letters and demand information.
George, often says, “It is unfair.” He uses this term in many of his letters to the government as he expresses his frustration in obtaining information and personal effects for his son. Readers can feel the simmering anger just below the surface of his words. In his letters, George often refers to his son as a “number,” in the way that the military doesn’t view him as a person, just as a number. Just another “number” who died, as if the military didn’t care the soldier ever existed or had a soul. He also often states he is confused about the information and timing of receipt.
The more I read George’s letters, the more I feel George was misplaced in time. Meaning he belonged in today’s world where information travels by email and social media instantly. A man who demands immediate information. We have to remember that during World War II, information to families was not immediate. It often took weeks or months for information to navigate its way through official channels before it reached the family. While the reasons for the length of time it took to receive information from overseas was likely “known” by families, it didn’t make the waiting any easier. The pain of loss seemed to override any knowing families had, making it more difficult in some cases to help them understand what was happening and why.
George’s letters explain what he knows to be the facts about receiving information. On the other hand, he demands faster attention, as if he is unable to fully comprehend the enormity of what has to be done for each soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine fighting in the war around the world. He is so fully focused only on his pain and that of his wife, his words make it appear he cannot see anything else.
How many families can relate to George’s feelings? How many families today – the children of WWII soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, even the grandchildren – seek answers, closure, peace, and healing? Many of my clients can relate and ask specifically for these things. Many of the people I interact with on social media and email can relate. Even in my own family’s military history, we have unanswered questions because of misinformation and secrets kept until the grave.
My intention is to help families heal and find answers to questions they may not have even known they had, but have always lurked in their subconscious, giving a sense that there must have been more we could have known.
Do you have specific questions about the IDPF, its contents, the information provided to families, or other questions? Please post them in the comments.
© 2017 World War II Research and Writing Center