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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 father’s 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 address
    • 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 found at http://www.armyairforces.com


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 member’s 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 member’s 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: http://www.switchboard.com/bin/cgiqa.dll?LNK=3:11&MEM=1



Consider the following tips when using this search method:

    • 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:

http://www.ancestry.com/search/rectype/vital/ssdi/main.htm



You do not have to know a crew member’s 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 deceased’s 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 deceased’s last known town, county, and state. This information is helpful if you plan


to contact that person’s 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 outlined below:



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 http://www.armyairforces.com .
    • Another good source is Vets.org, association details and reunion information. http://www.vets.org .



    B. Contact the Veteran’s 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.
      1. They can tell you if the veteran is deceased and provide the date of death.

      2. 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:

    • 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 envelope.
    • 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 http://www.va.gov/stations97/guide/division.asp?DIVISION=VBA or in check the government listings of your phone book).

    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.

    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

    1. 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.

    2. 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
      VFW Building
      406 W. 34 th St.
      Kansas City, MO 64111


D. The American Legion also has a large membership database.



      Officially, they ask that only AL members request a search. However, they do make exceptions. Their official policy follows:



      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. Library@legion.org 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 http://www.ssa.gov/faq_services.html#Lost People



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 person’s name and WWII era hometown.



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 veteran’s County Clerk contact number is to call information (area code) 555-1212. If you don’t know the area code for the veteran’s hometown, call your local telephone information and ask for it.

  • County Clerk addresses and phone numbers can also be located by using any search engine’s "yellow pages". I have found this to be a bit of a hassle, however. I have had the most success with YAHOO at http://yp.yahoo.com/


B. If you were successful in obtaining additional identifying information, retry the steps listed above.



STEP 5: Post messages or queries on Veteran’s webboards or guestbooks.



This is a bit of a long shot, but it’s 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 veteran’s date and place of death

    1. Write, call or e-mail the public library in the town or county of veteran’s 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.
    2. Search for family members using tips provided in Step 1 regarding the search for the Veteran himself.
    3. Consider accessing County Clerk information if searching for a veteran’s daughter. Married name or spouse’s first name might not be mentioned in the obituary. See Step 5.
Important Mailing Addresses can be found here: http://www.armyairforces.com

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 on file.
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 information".
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% that survived.
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




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