After Action Reports

On 26 March 1945, at 0200 hours, the 89th Infantry Division began crossing the Rhine on its march eastward. Imagine the coordination between the divisions, brigades, battalions, batteries to make this happen. As the crossing began, the 914th Field Artillery Battalion provided support to the 355th Infantry Regiment. The crossings were made near St. Goar and Oberwesel. My great uncle Irwin Carl, a corporal in the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, was there. He was one of 88 men in Battery C, positioned 1500 yards east of Niederburg. 12th Army map web[1]

How do I have such detail, down to his exact position? After Action Reports.[2]

After Action Reports typically comprise a narrative, plus S-3 and S-2 Reports and a Unit Journal. The “S” stands for “Staff.” The “3” refers to “Operations,” and the “2” to “Intelligence.” The After Action report is a high-level narrative, written in the weeks after events. It does not give names. For the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, the 10 – 31 March 1945 report was submitted on 1 April 1945.

Reading through the After Action report for 24 – 29 March provides much detail on the Battalion, and each Battery within the Battalion. It details the locations, and exact timing of movements of troops – even the type and amount of ammunition expended.

From reading the primary source material, I know that the Rhine crossing took days – the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, Battery C started crossing at 0130 hours on 28 March 1945 – 48 hours after the first troops headed across – and they finished at 0400 hours on 28 March 1945.

Primary source materials, and drilling down into the details, tells the soldiers’ stories. These documents helped inform this blog post:

914 FA Bn After Action Rpt WWII cropped web    914 FA Bn After Action S3 Rpt WWII cropped web

914 FA Bn After Action Rpt WWII Unit Journal web

Many thanks to Eric S. Van Slander, Archivist at National Archives, College Park, for his assistance locating a mislabeled box, without which this research would not be possible. See also:

[1] Allied Forces. Army Group, 1. E. S. & United States Army. Army Group, 1. H. (1944) HQ Twelfth Army Group situation map: Battle of the Bulge–France, Belgium, Netherlands, and Germany. 26 March 1945. [England?: Twelfth Army Group, to 1945] [Map] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2001628569/, 26 March 2020.

[2] After Action reports are located in Record Group 407: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1905 – 1981, World War II Operations Reports, 1940 – 1948. The 914th FA Bn: Entry (NM3) 427, File 389 – FA(914) – 0.3.

Soldiers’ Stories

914 FABn Unit History CoverHow do you tell a soldier’s story? By telling the soldiers’ stories.

Most documents available rarely provide more than a name on a list, and many don’t even have that. The majority of the documents available focus on a soldier’s unit, and once that is determined, the story can be traced.

My great uncle Irwin “Irv” Carl was a member of the 89th Infantry Division. During WWII, the size of an infantry division was about 15,000 men.[1] Within an infantry division, there are infantry regiments, artillery battalions, medics, reconnaissance and other special troops.[2] I could research and understand the story of the 89th Infantry Division, but learning what a soldier did? For that I needed a name on a unit list.

The 89th Infantry Division Historical Board published a history in 1947,[3] and the book included Rosters of Personnel. The 89th Infantry Division of WWII website alphabetized the lists, making it easier to find soldiers’ names: Carl I.; Cpl; 914th Field Artillery Battalion; Battery C. Telling the story of the 914th Field Artillery Battalion tells the story of 520 soldiers, 88 of whom were in Battery C.

The National Archives at College Park stores Unit Histories and After Action Reports. Morning Reports are at the National Archives in St Louis. Reviewing these resources, plus photographs from the Army Signal Corps collection, tells the soldiers’ stories – where they fought, slept, celebrated and wept.

In March 1945, the 914th Field Artillery Battalion entered combat. The Unit History, page 3:[4]

III. GERMANY. It was on 10 March 1945 that a long awaited event occurred. Underfoot was enemy soil. The town of Wilschbillig was the first German town to be occupied by the battalion. It has already been captured in the previous fighting by the Third Army. Patenburg was the next stepping stone toward the enemy. It was about 35 miles travel from Welschbillig, being occupied on 11 March 1945. The next day was one of rapid movement. 3rd Bn 355th Inf was assigned the mission of capturing the towns of Litzerath and Driesch. The 914th F.A. Bn. displaced to positions in the vicinity of Gillenfeld to support this action.

Next in the series… After Action and Morning Reports

[1] Schilling, Warner R. “Weapons, Strategy and War,” Units in WWII illustration. http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/services/dropoff/schilling/mil_org/milorgan_99.html, accessed 8 March 2020.

[2] Order of Battle of the US Army, World War II, European Theater of Operations, 89th INFANTRY DIVISION. Office of the Theater Historian, Paris, France, 1945. Placed online by U.S. Army Center of Military History, https://history.army.mil/documents/ETO-OB/89ID-ETO.htm accessed 8 March 2020.

[3] 89th Infantry Division Historical Board, The 89th Infantry Division, 1942-1945. Washington, DC: Infantry Journal, Inc. 1947. Original at the National Archives, College Park. Scanned online, available at HathiTrust, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015049794889&view=image&seq=7 accessed 8 March 2020

[4] Record Group 407: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. Series: WWII Operations Reports, 1940-1948, Entry (NM3) 427, 389-FA(914), History 914 FABn.

75 Years On

Understanding the past through the lives of our ancestors helps give a personal look at history. Documents of all sorts can explain the politics, the employment opportunities, the weather, even what’s on sale at the grocery store, but rarely, if at all, do we learn what our ancestors and relatives thought. Those lucky enough to have letters, diaries or oral history gain a different perspective, but this is uncommon. Most of us have to hold back on the “did he think; did she know” type ponderings, and focus on what story can be told from the records that do exist.

My great-uncle Irwin “Irv” Carl, the youngest of his siblings and one of two children born after the family arrived in the United States, enlisted and served in World War II. At the time of his enlistment in May 1942, he had a wildly successful nightclub, the Empire Ca-BAR-et, and according to the St. Louis Star and Times, had a III-A Draft rating,[1] so the choice to serve came from another reason lost to time.[2]

Researching Irv’s war-time experience taught me a lot about the military, and preparation for war. Irv trained. And trained, and trained. Mostly at Camp Carson in Colorado, and there are some great photos he took out there. Then Louisiana, California, and Camp Butner in North Carolina. It wasn’t until 1944 that it seemed he would end up in the war theatre, and it wasn’t until the Spring of 1945 that he did.

In the coming weeks, I’ll present the research I conducted on the 89th Infantry Division, and specifically the 914th Field Artillery Battalion, as they marched across France, Luxembourg and Germany. The 89th, the 914th (and others) were part of the liberation of Ohrdruf, and they witnessed the aftermath of the atrocities committed there.

Rolling Ahead Publication Map[3]

Irv served more than three years in the Army, and returned to St. Louis in time to celebrate the Japanese surrender while at a “lock in” at his brother’s bar – Carl’s Cocktail Lounge.[4] Irv returned to the nightclub scene himself, operating the Orchid Lounge, and died in 1955.

I interviewed those who knew Irv when he was alive, and no one recalled him ever speaking of his Army experience. I have the documents, I have the photos, and in all of that, I only have these words written by Irv: “No sleep for 3 days & nites.  Mighty tired.  Leichenstein [sic] Germany

Next in the series: Researching the soldier’s story.

Looking for information on

[1] “Kid Regan’s Column,” The St. Louis Star and Times, Thursday, 21 May 1942, p23.

[2] Men with dependents, not engaged in work essential to national defense. This refers, most likely, to Irv’s aged mother, with whom he lived and supported. https://www.swarthmore.edu/library/peace/conscientiousobjection/MilitaryClassifications.htm accessed 24 Feb 2020.

[3] Map insert, Rolling AHEAD! The Story of the 89th Infantry Division.  Major General Thomas D. Finley and staff, Orientation Branch, Information and Education Division, Hq., USFET, no date. Collection of the Carl Family.

[4] The story of the lock in to celebrate the Japanese surrender was relayed to me by Jack Carl, who occasionally worked for his Uncle Max at Carl’s Cocktail Lounge. Jack was 19 years old in 1945.

Bottle Recycling

Today, 16 January 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the start of Prohibition, a 13-year experiment in honing the skills of bathtub brewers, bootleggers, counterfeiters, and illicit supply chains.

Max-on-right-bottle-wagon~1920s edited

A year after its ratification, the 18th Amendment went into force. It changed the trajectory of the Carl family business, bottle recycling. Bottle recycling was a good gig in St. Louis. The city was full of breweries and other businesses that relied on glass bottles. Wagons collected the empty bottles, which were sorted in a warehouse, and then sold back to the manufacturers. The Carl’s were green way before it was cool.

Prohibition took a big bite out of the bottle recycling business, so the family added distribution of “intoxicating liquors” to the portfolio, eventually leading to a stay in Leavenworth for one of the brothers, and a family rift that never fully healed.

Researching this part of my family history involved newspapers, St. Louis Police Archives, records of the FBI, records of the U.S. Circuit Court for the Eastern Division of the Eastern District of Missouri, and Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, the latter two record sets via the National Archives in Kansas City.

Image: Carl Bottle Company horse-drawn wagon. Date unknown, likely late 19teens, early 1920s. Max Carl on the far right.

I Heard It on NPR

Renee at NPR sized

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/791414961/791414962

Access to historical records is essential to any researcher, family historian or genealogist. Looking at records gives us information, but some records also give us the little details that bring personality and character to someone we might only know on paper.

The USCIS Genealogy Program maintains records on our immigrant ancestors – millions of people, millions of stories – trapped behind a paywall that might skyrocket if their proposed fees are put into place.

I joined David Greene, host of NPR’s Morning Edition, to talk about the USCIS Genealogy Program and why we must fight the fee hike and work to have these historic records transferred to the National Archives.

The deadline to post a comment to USCIS is 30 December 2019. Learn more and take action at RecordsNotRevenue.com.

Records, Not Revenue

In a past career life, I coordinated diverse groups of non-profits and ran advocacy campaigns, harnessing their collective voice for positive change. When I departed the political sphere, I never thought that I’d return to those roots in order to help keep historical records accessible.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Genealogy Program, keeper of some of the most essential records on 20th century immigrants, has proposed a 492 percent increase in the fees required to search their index and obtain historical records held under their purview. Many of these records should already be publicly accessible. USCIS is essentially holding them hostage, demanding individuals pay exorbitant fees to access documents of our immigrant ancestors.USCIS Genealogy Program Fee Hikes final v4

If approved, fees to access records will start at $240 and could cost up to $625 for a single file.  The fees are even more inexplicable when USCIS refers the majority of genealogy record requests to their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program for processing.  If these requests are FOIA requests, researchers should not be paying any fees other than standard FOIA fees.

Everyone should care about the issues involved, even if your research does not include these records. What can be done to one type of records can be done to others. You do not need to be a US resident nor citizen to submit a public comment. Any interested party can make their voice heard.

You can make a difference. Make your voice heard in 3 easy steps:

Step 1: Review the proposed rule here, and jump to the Genealogy Program section here. There’s a summary available at RecordsNotRevenue.com

Step 2: Write your comments, addressing the issues listed here or any issue you think is important. Be sure to mention the Genealogy Program. See these conversation starters for thoughts on how to begin. 

Step 3: Send your comments BEFORE 30 DECEMBER 2019 to

    • Federal Rulemaking Portal and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010 and follow instructions for submitting comments on the Genealogy Program; and
    • Send a copy of your comments to your US Senators and Representative, and refer to DHS Docket No. USCIS-2019-0010. Tell them you care about preserving access to federal records!

Sign up to stay informed on this effort and learn more at RecordsNotRevenue.com

Amplify your voice! Please share this with genealogical societies, historical societies, and every family historian and researcher you know!

The Eastern European Mutt is going to…

IAJGS-2019-Banner-Website resize

…Cleveland! I’ll be speaking at the 39th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy, July 28 – August 2, 2019.*

My talk, titled Why Cleveland? Finding Answers in the Industrial Removal Office Records starts with the question many of us ask. Why did our immigrant ancestor chose to live in Cleveland over Pittsburgh? Little Rock over Los Angeles? Memphis over Miami? The answers might lie in the records of the Industrial Removal Office, a scary name for a good organization. The IRO, founded in 1901, assisted immigrants in finding employment and better living conditions, and helped assimilate them into American society. IRO agents, often working in partnership with B’nai B’rith or other Jewish fraternal groups, spread around the USA securing jobs, and then immigrants would be sent to those locations to establish a new life.

The session will examine the records of the IRO, housed at the American Jewish Historical Society, including ledger books, case files and correspondence, as well as reports by local agents on the newly settled immigrants. Using case studies, the presentation will demonstrate how to use the online index, and how to navigate to find immigrant case files, correspondence, and reports. The talk builds off a previous blog post, New York Minute.

I’ll also have a few minutes during the LatviaSIG meeting to speak about the records of the U.S. Consulate in Riga, housed at the National Archives in College Park.

Will I see you in Cleveland? Early Bird Registration ends 30 April 2019.