Last week I had a conversation with a couple of military researchers about the how, why, when, of burials post-1951, in the ABMC cemeteries and how the NOK (next of kin) was identified. My primary knowledge of Graves Registration Service ends after 1951, although I understand some of how our recovered service members have been handled and buried the last decade since I have worked with several researchers and spoken to people who worked for JPAC/DPAA and whatever other names the organization has gone by over the years. One question was why were some of these men buried in the Ardennes ABMC cemetery when their fellow soldiers were in other cemeteries. Another topic we’ve been discussing is the cost of repatriation. Both files have documents which outline the costs in the late 1970s. Most, not all, IDPFs from WWII and WWI Burial Files, also have documents outlining costs.
This morning I felt called to write another article and opened up my spreadsheet of IDPF (Individual Deceased Personnel Files) notes and pulled up a file for a soldier with a surname beginning with G. Interestingly, as often happens to me, another soldier will speak out and ask that I read his file. So, Aloysius Gonsowski Jr.’s file was opened. His led me to George J. Renda’s file. Both men were part of the 7th Armored Division and considered MIA and later deemed unrecoverable. Both men were recovered in the late 1970s. You can download their files below.
Challenges in Locating NOK in the 1970s
Whether we are talking 1970s or any time period prior to mass digitization of records online or even the availability of using email, we know genealogy research and finding NOK was difficult. Many researchers complain today that not all the genealogy or military records are available online. They complain that identification and location of NOK for WWI or WWII or even Vietnam recovered service members take forever. If you read these files, you will get a better understanding of how research was done pre-internet. You may even gain a greater appreciation for the WWII associations and groups that formed and their role in finding NOK.
Reading the files you’ll see phone books were a primary source to locate possible NOK. Veterans were willing to ‘walk the streets’ to find relatives so a body would not go unclaimed. WWII Associations also had some records of those who served, those who died, and those who were still considered Missing.
For those who have complained the Veterans Administration (VA) takes forever now to answer research requests (I’m still waiting on several from 2014), read Gonsowski’s file to learn how even then they “lost” files. In both IDPFs you’ll see information on when files were transferred to the VA, so one would think they are there somewhere.
I think it doesn’t matter the time period – we see government agencies “losing” files all the time. I know from experience sometimes it is just because they do not wish to do their jobs. They get paid regardless right? For some I suppose it does not matter if a family receives answers, healing, and closure.
ABMC Burials Post-1951
My knowledge until this morning for how American Graves Registration Service worked, was WWI to about 1951. I read the Field Manuals, read books written about the AGRS, memoirs of some WWII AGRS men, and even one about a Vietnam AGRS man. I even wrote about their records in several of my books and am teaching a class on WWI and WWII death records and processes called The Prisoners, The Missing, & The Dead. This class will be available after I teach it live.
My focus was WWI-WWII primarily and I had little work with those being recovered today beyond a contribution here or there so it was not a primary research area for me. However, reading these files, I am getting a better understanding of which cemeteries were still accepting WWII burials long after the war, and why.
As you read these files and question why one man is buried where he is, instead of with his fellow unit soldiers, the IDPF may provide some answers. Gonsowski would have logically made sense to bury at Margraten in the Netherlands with other 7th Armored men. But Margraten was not open for burials in 1978. The Ardennes was. I have no answer as to why. If you know, please share with our readers and comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One reason we question the why of a burial sometimes is that the ABMC databases do not provide the date of burial. Even databases with even greater information, like the Fields of Honor, do not have as a data field, the date of burial. A researcher without knowledge of AGRS records, burials, and ABMC regulations, may question this. Even with knowledge, there is always more to learn. We can find the burial dates in the IDPF or sometimes news articles will have that information. The WWII association, like the 7th Armored Division, may have and publish information on recovered soldiers.
What interesting things have you learned by reading these files? Please share in the comments.
What questions do you now have about your own family’s WWI or WWII war dead or Missing In Action service members? What questions do you have about how your family grieved and processed, or did not?
If you would like to explore more of this and have 1-1 attention on your research project and questions, please contact me at email@example.com and explore my private facilitation/coaching sessions which are great for working on your projects and helping you find answers.
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Download the IDPFs
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