Digging for World War II history

Veteran’s Day is on the horizon.  My kids’ elementary school has sent out the flyer inviting local vets to come be honored at an assembly on Wednesday, November 13th.  Soon teachers will be asking students to brush up on their family’s military history.  Which has me thinking: who has served in my Greenwood family line?

Well, I am five generations of women away from the last Greenwood male and I still have an answer: Great Aunt Mary.

Mary "Minnie" Greenwood (left) and her daughter Mary during World War II.  Source: family photo

Mary Greenwood Dobbins (left) and her daughter Mary Dobbins during World War II. Source: family photo

Mary Dobbins was born to Mary “Minnie” Greenwood and P. James Dobbins in 1904.  She was my grandmother’s eldest sister.  She was my mother’s favorite aunt.  I don’t remember ever meeting her.  But I do remember the Christmas ornaments and Barbie clothes she made for me while I was growing up.  And I remember how my mother wept when she learned of Mary’s death in 1982.

Mary was the odd duck in her family.  She was the one my grandmother couldn’t understand.  She was the one who pursued a career instead of a family.  She was the one who went off to war.

I sent a request to the national archives for Mary’s military records, hoping to learn more about her life.  I did that ten days ago.  Two days before the government shutdown.  The website says that you can ask about the status of your request 10 days after you submit it, but I am pretty sure that my letter is deep in an unattended pile right now.  And I am pretty sure that no one is around to confirm that for me.

In the meantime, I scoured a newspaper database and this is what I learned.  Mary worked as a registered nurse before joining the Navy in October 1943 (at nearly 40 years old!)  She did basic training at the U.S. Navy Hospital on Long Island.  She was then stationed at a Navy hospital in Seattle for ten months before going on to serve in Hawaii and Guam.  She left the Navy in November 1945.

Thank goodness that Mary joined the Visiting Nurse Association in the Spring of 1946 – and that she was featured in a “Know Your Public Health Nurse” article — or I might have had nothing to share with my kids in time for their school celebrations of Veteran’s Day next month.

Despite my success in finding some information about my great aunt’s service, I am hoping that the government reopens soon.  For many reasons.  But one reason — small in import, large in my heart — is that I might discover more about Mary’s military career than VNA, and her little sister, chose to remember.


If you want to find your own family’s veteran’s military record, you can find out more about the process here: http://www.archives.gov/research/military/

You can find the forms here: http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/standard-form-180.html

Most WWII veteran’s records are now considered archival, which means that there is a fee for their retrieval.  For more about costs, look here: http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/

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6 thoughts on “Digging for World War II history

  1. There are also a bunch of World War II records that were destroyed in a fire in the 1970s, so it may not be easy to retrieve the records or find them at all.

    • leslie frank says:

      The Army and Army Air Force records were devastated by that fire (about 80% loss.) I am hoping to having luck with Mary since she was Navy. I am also trying to get my Uncle Tony’s records — his file might hold the secret of his mother’s origin (we have a family story that says the CIA came to the house to ask her about it because Tony was moving up in rank) — but since he was in the Army Air Force, I am not holding my breathe. Thanks for making sure I didn’t get my hopes up, it could be a great disappointment if unprepared.

  2. Wow! Love this blog! Love your writing and photos! Must be a kindred spirit!

  3. leslie frank says:

    Nothing like honoring family and keeping track of the past! Thanks for the compliments. You made my night!

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