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Ask Ancestry Anne: My Father Was in the Navy, But Where?

Question: My father, Matthew Gene Wietecha, served in the Navy in World War II. I have been unable to find out about his service because of the fire in the National Personnel Records Center in  which military files were destroyed. I do know that he served on the USS Evangeline. How can I find out information on his service for our country and about the attack of his ship??

— Doris

Answer:  This case is interesting, because it illustrates that even though the answer isn’t where you would expect to find it, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t out there.

I started my search in the U.S. Military Records collection http://www.ancestry.com/military and chose World War II.  I entered Matthew’s name.  Usually you would want to also include a birth date, but I suspect that Wietecha is not the most common of names.

I found Matthew’s death record, which is helpful because now I have a birth and death date. And I know he was in the Navy and he served from April 24, 1942 to November 10, 1945.

I could not find him in the Navy muster rolls or in the enlistment rolls, so I decided on a different tack. Rather than searching, I went directly to U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949  to see if I could browse the list for the Evangeline. 

But it wasn’t there.  Nor was it in the U.S. Navy Cruise Books, 1918-2009


Since searching and browsing these collections had both failed, I decided to expand my search to see if I could find a nickname in the census records or a clue in some other record. I found him the 1940 census, living with his parents and brothers and sisters. I noticed in the suggested records on the right hand side of the record page that he is also on five different passenger lists.

I clicked on the first link, and learned that Matthew was on the Esso Baltimore in the Naval Armed Guard Crew.

This list is from May 14, 1943 – right in the middle of World War II.  The other four links are also from the Esso Baltimore.

In search of more information, I found a page on the Naval Armed Guard Service in World War II in the Navy Department Library’s site.  Their job was to protect the ships moving material and men across the “submarine infested” waters both in the Atlantic and the Pacific.

“The Armed Guards played an important part in defending ships which cost $22,500,000,000 to build and operate. The value of the cargo which they defended cannot be estimated in dollars.”

You are correct that there was a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973, but the bulk of the records that were lost were for Army personnel discharged between November 1912 and January 1960 (80 percent lost) and Air Force personnel discharged late September 1947 and January 1964. You can read more about the fire on the National Archives website

Digging deeper into the Navy Library’s website, on the Official Service and Medical Records page, ( I found that the records for men in the Navy Armed Guard are held at the National Personnel Records Center. You’ll find more information on the Start Your Military Service Record (DD Form 214) page.

Your father played a fascinating part in World War II.  I’m hoping if you order his records, you will learn even more. It’s always good to remember that if you don’t find what you are looking for where you expect it, keep expanding your search.  You never know what you might stumble across.

Happy searching!

— Ancestry Anne

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