This is a guest post by Jennifer Holik-Urban*
My grandmother told me a story about my cousin Frankie Winkler. She said Frankie came ashore on Omaha Beach on D-Day with the 29th Infantry Division. He died on 24 June 1944 of head wounds received on D-Day. When his remains were returned to Chicago, his uncle and father viewed the remains and did not think it was Frankie. I listened to this story, took notes and left it at that. It wasn’t until many years later in my research did I seek out Frankie’s story.
When my parents traveled to Europe in late 2009 they visited a U.S. cemetery in Ardennes. They met a Marine named Michael who worked for the American Battle Monuments Commission. Being the only visitors to the cemetery that day, Michael gave them a two hour guided tour. My mom told Michael about Frankie and he told her about a military file called the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF). An IDPF was created for each service man or woman who died during service. It provides information on their death, personal effects, interment overseas, some files contain letters from the family, disinterment information and reburial information.
Michael also gave her the name of the historian, Joe Balkoski, for the 29th Infantry Division in Maryland. Armed with this information she emailed me as soon as she could so I could start the process of tracking down the IDPF and contacting this historian. We both wanted to know what happened to Frankie.
I had very little information on Frankie’s military service. From his grave and the Honor Roll of Cook County I obtained his unit information. His sister provided a copy of his Purple Heart certificate and a photograph. I had his obituary and the cemetery record that indicated his burial was in 1948. He was buried in Chicago four years after he died. Why?
That was the extent of my information. I tried to get Frankie’s service records from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, but was unsuccessful. They were among those records that burned in the 1973 fire.
Michael said the IDPF’s were held at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. I wrote a letter asking for a copy of Frankie’s. I also contacted the historian for the 29th Infantry Division in Maryland, Joe Balkoski. Joe and I corresponded for a few months regarding Frankie. Joe was trying to answer my questions and compile information on the men who served in the 29th. He mentioned After Action Reports and Morning Reports.
An After Action Report details the movements of a unit during a specific month and year. These reports may not specifically list a soldier for which you are searching, but will provide background information on campaigns in which they may have participated. A Morning Report details the coordinates of the unit, serial numbers and names of those wounded, killed in action, entering, or leaving the unit. It also has a brief record of events for the prior day. It was a lucky time for me because Joe was having all of the 29th’s Morning Reports scanned so he could make them available for researchers. Joe provided copies of two Morning Reports listing Frankie.
** A note about Morning Reports. You need to know the company and time period in that company in which the soldier served to locate the records. These records are held at the National Archives.
It took roughly six months before I received the IDPF. When I did, it provided information on how he died, where he was buried in France, handwritten letters from his father asking about his personal effects, a disinterment directive so his remains could be returned to Chicago, and a telegram indicating when and where his remains would arrive in Chicago.
I compiled all the information I had gathered including emails between Joe Balkoski and myself and sorted out the story my grandmother told me. As it turns out, Frankie did not enter France on D-Day. He arrived a few days later with a group of replacements for the 29th infantry. Joe thought he likely was in Ireland prior to being added as a replacement but no evidence has confirmed this yet. Joe felt Frankie was likely sent out on a patrol near the 24th of June and was killed while on patrol.
Frankie’s remains were interred in France until the war ended. After the war, the U.S. Graves Registration Service began contacting families of those who died overseas giving them the option of having their soldier buried in a U.S. cemetery overseas or brought home. Frankie’s parents chose to have his remains brought home.
Frankie died in 1944 but his remains arrived in Chicago in 1948. Four years had passed and it is no wonder his father and uncle did not think the remains were Frankie. His mother was reported to have said something like she would bury this boy even if it was not her son and hope that some other mother was doing the same.
The full details of Frankie’s military service may never be known. The details provided by the IDPF and additional reports make Frankie’s life story fuller and more complete. My mother now knows what happened to her cousin which brought her some measure of peace. Now when I tell the story of Frankie to my children, it is more accurate and descriptive. They have a better idea of the man who served and died for his country.
If you have soldiers in your family who died while in service, contact the National Archives to request a copy of their IDPF. You may uncover stories or details you never thought would be possible to find.
* Jennifer Holik-Urban is a professional genealogist, house historian and author. Her book "To Soar with the Tigers: The Life and War Diary of Robert Brouk" is available on her website http://generationsbiz.com. She writes about her family history topics on her Family History Research blog http://familyhistorytips.wordpress.com.
She can be reached at generationsbiz AT gmail.com.
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