There's a special affinity to a battle when you know you had family members involved.
I have nine uncles, including half-uncles and step-uncles. (This is on my adopted heritage.) Many of them took part in World War Two. However, it often turns out that their service, while honorable, isn't 'wargamable'.
For example, my father served as a typist at SHAEF headquarters. That's what comes when you worked on the high school newspaper, I suppose!
I knew that one uncle served in the U.S. Navy, and my mother always said "he was never the same after the war." I imagined that he saw some dangerous service overseas. But when I finally checked the records, I found he worked at a naval shipyard in California for the duration…
It's my uncle Jasper who may inspire my wargaming someday, though I need to learn more about his wartime service. I never had the chance to meet him. His full name is Jasper Junior Daugherty – yes, 'Junior' was his legal middle name. He was born in 1922 in Des Moines, Iowa. I don't even have a picture of him.
Family history happens to be one of my 'other' hobbies. When I first took a course on the subject back in the 1970s, you had to send off for records by mail or scroll through microfilmed records. Now, it's largely an online hobby!
Both websites will give you 'hints' (known as a 'leaf' on Ancestry) when their search engines find possibly useful resources. These can be online documents, other family trees, even information from other websites. And in the case of my Uncle Jasper, the websites found a listing for him on findagrave.com:
FindAGrave (and the similar BillionGraves) are websites that link up family researchers with volunteers who take pictures of gravesites. And there's the headstone:
JASPER J. DAUGHERTY
CPL US ARMY
WORLD WAR II
Then Ancestry came up with a hint from the U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946. It was a text-only record (not an image of a document):
- Jasper J Daugherty
- Birth Year:
- White, citizen (White)
- Nativity State or Country:
- State of Residence:
- County or City:
- Enlistment Date:
- 10 Feb 1941
- Enlistment State:
- Enlistment City:
- Des Moines
- Branch Code:
- Grade Code:
- National Guard (Officers, Warrant Officers, and Enlisted Men)
- National Guard
- 2 years of high school
- Civil Occupation:
- Marital Status:
- Single, without dependents
So now I know he enlisted in February 1941, and apparently was in the National Guard or had been previously. With only two years of high school, 'Architects' as his civil occupation seems unlikely. (I know that after the war, he worked for the railroad and as a machinist for John Deere.) And I'm guessing he might have lied about his age to make himself older, as there's a lot of evidence for him being born in 1922, not 1919.
And why does it say 'sergeant' on the enlistment papers, and 'corporal' on the headstone?
Next, Ancestry finds a listing for Uncle Jasper in the U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010:
- Jasper Daugherty
- Birth Date:
- 19 Apr 1922
- Death Date:
- 16 Dec 1992
- Branch 1:
- Enlistment Date 1:
- 10 Feb 1941
- Release Date 1:
- 29 Aug 1945
Then Ancestry finds one more thing, and I'm lucky Uncle Jasper is from Iowa. After WWII, Iowa gave out bonuses to its veterans, and that paperwork is now available online:
Some useful information from the two-page document:
- Date of Departure for Foreign Service
- 30 April 1942
- Date of Return from Foreign Service
- 21 July 1944
- Terminal Paid Leave
- 2 months, 2.5 days
- Honorable Discharge?
- Court Martial?
And then my uncle listed his service:
- Company D, 168th Infantry, 34th Division
- Marshall's Troop, No.1 Commando
- 34th Division, Recon Troop
What is especially interesting here is that my uncle was in the 34th Division at the time when William Orlando Darby was organizing the first U.S. Rangers (based on the British commando model). However, my uncle doesn't claim service with 1st Ranger Battalion, but with No.1 Commando in the British Army!
After doing a bit of Googling, I've determined there actually was a Marshall's Troop in No. 1 Commando (led by Jack Marshall), and that it was not unusual for American volunteers to serve with that unit.
I thought that perhaps I could just look up Uncle Jasper's Purple Heart citation, but according to thepurpleheart.com, "there is no comprehensive list of Purple Heart recipients in existence."
That's as far as I've been able to go so far. I still don't know how Uncle Jasper earned the Purple Heart. I assume he served with the 34th Infantry Division in Operation Torch, in North Africa, and in the Italian Campaign. I'm guessing he might have been with No. 1 Commando during the Torch landings.
Now I feel a personal connection to these campaigns that I didn't have before.