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Tips for Locating W.W.II Air Crew Members
(By Heavy Bombers list member Cindy Riney)
The information presented in this document
was gathered during the search for my fathers crew members
and POW buddies. Suggestions are offered for both on-line and off-line
searches. The search methods provided are organized from the easiest,
fastest methods to the more complicated and time-consuming methods.
This is not, by any means, an exhaustive list of suggestions. New
ideas are always welcome.
Before you begin, compile all relevant information
about the person/persons that you wish to locate. Gather as many
of the following details as possible.
First and last name
Middle name or middle initial
Hometown and state or the last known
Names of parents, spouse or children
Military serial number
Any related service information such
as Bomb Group and Squadron, Theater of Operations, or location
of overseas base
Any available documents concerning a
particular air crew. These include such items as the Missing
Air Crew Report (MACR), Accident Reports or Unit Histories.
If you are interested in locating the family of a KIA crew member,
order the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF or 293 File).
Information on these documents and how to obtain them can be
Keep in mind that these documents
will take at least one month to arrive.
STEP 1: Utilize on-line "People Finders"
or "White Pages"
This is by far the easiest method. Only the
crew members name is required, although it might be helpful
to know the home state as well. If you are lucky, this step alone
will provide you with the crew members address and phone number.
There are numerous "people finders"
to choose from. Virtually every search engine (Yahoo, Lycos, Infoseek,
etc.) provides such a service. For most of my research however,
I have relied on switchboard.com at the following address:
Consider the following tips when using this
Begin with just the first and last name.
If too many matches occur, include first
and last name plus middle initial.
If there are too many matches or too
few matches, include first and last name plus the last known
state of residence. Omit the middle initial.
If still too many matches occur, include
both the middle initial and the state.
If there are less than 20 matches, consider
sending a post card to each of them. The current rate for a
post card is only 20 cents. See Step 2 before doing this, however.
If you can afford it, you could also call them.
Keep in mind, the more common the name,
the more matches there will be.
If no matches or too many matches occur, move
on to Step 2.
STEP 2: Social Security Death Index
Given the age of our WWII veterans, it is
prudent to include a search of the Social Security Death Index (SSDI)
provided on the ancestry.com website. (It is not affiliated with
the Social Security Administration). This particular index is updated
annually in June. There is no charge for this search, and it is
located at the following on-line address:
You do not have to know a crew members
Social Security number. Simply fill in the first and last name.
Consider the following tips:
If too many matches occur, add the last
known state of residence.
If still too many matches occur, write
down the matches with a date of birth between 1915 to 1925 (document
the Soc. Sec. number, date of birth, date of death and place
last benefit received). Expand this time frame as needed. If
you know the birth date or at least the birth year, you can
include this in the "Advanced Options" window.
From this point, it is wise to contact
the Veterans Administration. Details are provided in Step 3-B.
If no information is available from the VA, follow the suggestions
below concerning the Social Security Administration.
Unfortunately, the SSDI does not provide the
deceaseds middle initial. Thus, if too many matches exist,
the field cannot be narrowed down by middle initial. However, The
Social Security Administration (SSA) has this information in their
records. Call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213. Wait to speak to a representative,
and explain the purpose of your call.
Give the representative the Social Security
numbers from your list of matches. Ask the rep. to check if
any of these have the middle initial you are looking for. Make
sure the representative knows you are checking the records of
a deceased person. Privacy Act restrictions are less prohibitive
for deceased persons.
Ask the representative to check by name
(last, first, middle initial) not Soc. Sec. number. If there
is more than one match provide the last known state of residence.
If a match is found, ask for date of
death, and the deceaseds last known town, county, and
state. This information is helpful if you plan
to contact that persons family.
If the representative is unhelpful, call
back and speak to someone else. Most representatives at this
agency are more than willing to assist you.
STEP 3: Call or send e-mails and letters to
relevant groups or associations.
Generally speaking, smaller organizations
will share the most information. With that in mind, begin the process
A. Write, call or e-mail every WWII organization
that the person might be affiliated with.
These include Bomb Group Associations,
POW camp Associations, etc. Up to date details for most on-line
Heavy Bomber Group Associations can be found at
Another good source is Vets.org, association
details and reunion information.
B. Contact the Veterans Administration at 1-800-827-1000.
If you are requesting information on
just one or two people, a representative will usually assist
you by telephone. If you ask for more, they will instruct you
to submit your request in writing. It is better to ask for just
two at a time.
Call back a day or two later with more
requests. If you find that a representative is unwilling to
assist you, or he/she tells you to contact the Red Cross, call
back and speak to a different rep. It is helpful to have the
veteran's serial number, but it is not crucial. They can check
by name as well.
The VA can assist in several different
ways, although the information they provide is limited due to
Privacy Act restrictions.
They can tell you if the veteran is
deceased and provide the date of death.
If the veteran is living and has applied
for benefits, the VA can forward a letter to that person.
To forward a letter through the VA,
follow these steps:
If the VA representative informs you
that they have no information whatsoever about a particular veteran,
it does not mean they are deceased. It simply means that they
have never applied for or received VA benefits.
Write a letter to the veteran. Be
sure to include all of your contact information as it is
then up to him/her to contact you.
Place your message in an unsealed,
stamped envelope. Do not put your return address on the
Also include a note to VA explaining
whom it is you are trying to reach and add as much identifying
information as you have.
Place all of this in another envelope
addressed to the nearest U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Regional Office (click here
or in check the government listings of your phone book).
Author's note: I have found that forwarding a letter through the
VA is a very slow process. From the day I sent my letter for forwarding,
it took over 2 months for the VA to send it on. Meanwhile, I had
already found whom I was searching for using the method in Step
3A. While this may have been an anomaly, I recommend continuing
your search through other means while waiting for the letter to
reach the veteran.
C. Send a request to the VFW.
The VFW will assist in your
crew member search by offering two services
The VFW has a database of over 2 million
members. Although this database is confidential, if you request
their assistance and provide a first name, middle initial
and approximate date of birth, they will research their file.
If similar names come up, they will send letters informing
the member that someone is seeking a person with that name.
They then give the name and address of the seeker.
The VFW offers a list of reunion associations,
as well as names of several publications that publish seeking
notices. Both services can be accessed by writing to:
VFW Membership services
406 W. 34
Kansas City, MO 64111
D. The American Legion also has a large
Officially, they ask that only AL members
request a search. However, they do make exceptions. Their official
The American Legion protects the privacy
of its members and will not
release membership information. However,
there are certain situations for mail to be forwarded to members.
Legion membership of the requester is required in most cases.
A background sheet is available upon request. Please send an
e-mail to the Library of The American Legion.
In the subject line, type "locate buddy".
E. The Social Security Administration
provides a letter forwarding service for those attempting to locate
long lost friends and relatives.
However, this service is officially reserved for matters of strong
humanitarian purpose. It is unclear whether locating a lost crew
member from WWII qualifies, but SSA telephone representatives
indicate that it is worth a try. Instructions can be found at
Step 4: Government/County Clerk Records
County Clerk records might be useful if you
lack identifying information to complete any of the steps outlined
above. Minimum requirements are the persons name and WWII
A. Write or call, and explain the purpose
of your search. Ask them to supply you with as much information
as is legally possible. What they are willing to disclose might
vary by county and state.
The fastest, easiest way to obtain the
veterans County Clerk contact number is to call information
(area code) 555-1212. If you dont know the area code for
the veterans hometown, call your local telephone information
and ask for it.
County Clerk addresses and phone numbers
can also be located by using any search engines "yellow
pages". I have found this to be a bit of a hassle, however.
I have had the most success with YAHOO at
B. If you were successful in obtaining additional
identifying information, retry the steps listed above.
STEP 5: Post messages or queries on Veterans
webboards or guestbooks.
This is a bit of a long shot, but its
certainly worth a try. If nothing else, you might be given a few
more suggestions on how to conduct your search. Examples of sites
offering webboards and guestbooks include:
A FEW SUGGESTIONS FOR LOCATING
THE FAMILIES OF DECEASED VETERANS
Minimum requirements include
the veterans date and place of death
Important Mailing Addresses can be found here:
Write, call or e-mail the public library
in the town or county of veterans death. Request a copy
of his obituary. There may be a small fee for this service.
If the obituary contains the names and hometowns of surviving
family members, you will be able to continue with step 2.
Search for family members using tips
provided in Step 1 regarding the search for the Veteran himself.
Consider accessing County Clerk information
if searching for a veterans daughter. Married name or
spouses first name might not be mentioned in the obituary.
See Step 5.
This is the National Personnel Records Center, the government organization that
keeps all military records on file. You can print out the "Standard Form 180"
from this site, fill it out, and send it in requesting any information they have
Only "next of kin" can complete this form. It must be parents of the serviceman, siblings of the
serviceman, spouse of the serviceman, or children of the serviceman.
After a long wait, the NPRC will send you back whatever information they have
on file. The key part of that sentence is "whatever
In 1973 a terrible fire consumed 80% of all the files on record
for USAAF and Army veterans. Hopefully the information you are seeking was part of the 20%
Bottom line is that they will send what they have. Included will be all medical
records, transfer records, commendations etc. if they are available.
Even if they do not have
exactly what you are looking for, this is a good way to start a search. It
will give you offical dates of assignment and such for individual units.
Other useful links:
American Battle Monuments Commission
B-24 Crew Registry
United States Army Airforce
United States Army Airforce Search Criteria
National Archives & Records Administration