Joseph J. Holik, US Naval Armed Guard WWII. Photo courtesy of the author.
I never knew my grandpa, Joseph Holik. He died when my dad was 16, in 1964. What I did know, was grandpa served in the U.S. Naval Armed Guard during World War II. I also knew he returned from the war a very different man than the one who left to serve his country. These basic facts posed many questions for me. What was the Armed Guard' Why did my grandpa return a different man' What kind of action did he see and what was his experience' Where do I locate information' Are Armed Guard records part of Navy records'
The steps to trace the service of a U.S. Naval Armed Guard sailor are similar to other military personnel during the war.
- Gather information from the family and home sources.
- Request the Official Military Personnel File (OMPF).
- Create a timeline of service and document the ships and stations to which the sailor was attached.
- Request Naval Deck Logs.
- Search for convoy information.
- Search Naval War Diaries.
There are many other records and steps, but the above will get help you start a timeline of service to help tell your sailor's story.
What was the Armed Guard'
The U.S. Naval Armed Guard was a branch of the U.S. Navy during World War II which defended merchant ships from attack. Men in the Armed Guard were trained to serve as gunners, radio operators, and signal men. You can read more about the Armed Guard history and ships on the Armed Guard website.
Where do I locate service information'
Members of the Armed Guard were part of the U.S. Navy or U.S. Navy Reserve, during the war. The Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), also known as the service record, is held with the other WWII records at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO. Please refer to my article Fire and Devastation! Reconstructing World War II Service
, to learn how to start the research process.
The OMPF for a Naval Armed Guard sailor contain the same types of documents created for anyone in the Navy during the war. In the file you will find information on enlistment and discharge, next-of-kin and beneficiary information for insurance, training, and ship/station posts. If the sailor was treated medically during service, there will likely be a separate medical file you can request. To obtain the medical file for Naval personnel, you must be the veteran or next-of-kin. My father was able to obtain my grandpa's medical file which answered the questions I had concerning why he was a different man upon his return.
Where can I locate information online'
Start on Ancestry and try to locate service information. A quick search for Joseph J. Holik, born in 1906, provided death information in the U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010
. This database provided Joseph's birth and death dates, enlistment and discharge dates, and Social Security Number. It is important to note the Navy used a serial or service number during World War II. Not a Social Security Number.
You can also search the U.S. World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949
, however, I have not seen Armed Guard sailors listed in these rolls. Armed Guard sailors are usually shown on a list of men attached to a ship, within Naval Deck Logs. Naval Deck Logs can be obtained through the National Archives in College Park, MD, or the Naval History and Heritage Command.
To obtain Naval Deck Logs, send a request for the specific ship and dates your sailor was attached to that ship. For example, I would request the following for Joseph. The names of the ships and dates came from his OMPF.
SS Joshua Hendy
5 May 1944 ? 17 September 1944
SS Sea Quail
18 September 1944 ? 13 January 1945
SS Henry Durant
28 February 1945 ? 13 July 1945
Once I obtain those deck logs, I will have a good idea of where the ship went, what kind of cargo it was carrying, which Armed Guard sailors were on-board, and any enemy engagement. If I'm lucky and the Commanding Officer recorded convoy numbers, I can then begin a search to see what kind of action the convoy saw during sailings.
Where can I find more information'
While you wait for Naval Deck Logs to arrive, you can obtain some information from Fold3.com. Search within the World War II records - WWII War Diaries for the names of the ships your sailor served on. Your sailor might not be listed within these by name, but you will locate contextual information on the ships, ports, and convoys. All of this contextual information helps build the story of your sailor's war experience. Pay attention to the dates of the diary entries within the results. Make sure you are looking at the entries for the dates your sailor was on the ship.
Searching this collection for Henry Durant' and then the year 1944, several entries appear. In one, All Titles-WWII War Diaries-COM NAV BASE, MANUS, ADMIRALTY IS-War Diary, 4/1-30/45-Page 12, we learn the SS Henry Durant
docked at Manus on 28 April 1945. I can add this entry to my timeline of service for Joseph and also plot this location on a map. Continuing to search these diaries will add several locations where Joseph's ship was during that voyage.
You can also try searching for your sailor's name within the WWII War Diaries. Sometimes the men are listed within the records.
Ancestry and Fold3.com are continually adding new military records. Remember, with each new paper document you receive from the archives, to go back online and search again. Each new piece of information provides another clue to help you navigate the more complex records, such as War Diaries, to add to the context of your sailor's service.