Seeking my father's WWII military records

I have been trying to find out what happened to my father.  He and my mother married in May, 1943, he was deployed shortly thereafter, and she never saw or heard from him again.  She was never notified by the military that he was dead or missing in action.  He allegedly served in the Army, but I can find no records to support that.  I am 76 years old, have been searching for him 50+ years, and have exhausted every ancestry group and government records available to the public.  Any suggestions as to what to try next will be sincerely appreciated.

  • Diane,

    I've been following this thread and can sympathize with your frustration.  However, there are many out there that you can reach out to.  A good place to start are with these sites:

    Good luck and best wishes on your family history research.


  • Thank you for reaching out to me.  In younger years I tried several of the ancestry groups and had a DNA test done.  I found out about many ancestors, but none of that explains why my father just disappeared.  I can't afford to hire a professional, so I have to do this myself.  Unfortunately, I have never found out if my father came back from the service, or if he divorced mother without her knowledge, did he remarry,etc, etc.  I have contacted every military agency and organization I can think of.  Tonight I wrote a letter to the California Department of Health to try and find out if they have any record of his death.  If my father came back, he never knew about me and I have no idea what he even looked like.  So, I wrote the Univ. of California at Berkeley's Librarian asking if they have pictures of alumni between 1934-39.  He got a degree in Petroleum Engineering, so I asked who I might contact about students in that program during those years.

    Again, thank you and all who are helping.  It is definitely frustrating and disappointing.


  • Hi Bruce,

    Look what I found in fold3

    Index record for

    Nelson, William R

    U.S. WWII Hospital Admission Card Files, 1942-1954

    Full Name:
    Nelson, William R
    White, includes Mexican
    Admission Date:
    Nov 1944
    Admission Type of Injury:
    Casualty, battle
    Military Service Number:
    Enlisted Man
    Infantry, General or Unspecified
    Injured in Line of Duty:
    In line of duty
    Medical Diagnosis:
    FirstLocation: Wrist; CausativeAgent: Artillery Shell, Fragments, Afoot or unspecified
    Discharge Type:
    Discharge Date:
    Nov 1944
    Conflict Period:
    World War II
    Served for:
    United States of America
    Don't know if this is him or not, but the time line is right and it would sure explain why she never heard from him after he "shipped out."  I'm going to do some more exploring on fold 3.
    Thanks for all you are doing for me.
  • Bruce,

    What stuck me with the high school photo was what it mentioned what he did in high school. " Engineering Club" I thought how interesting yet maybe a coincident. Diane really would help if we had a correct DOB but since all these William R. Nelsons or Neilsons dont have any 1916 DOB it makes me wonder if that is truly his DOB.


  • Hi Elliot,

    I wish I had an actual date of birth rather than just a year.  My mother lied about her age to be able to marry him in Iowa.  She was 18, not 21, so who knows about my father.  The marriage license says he's 25 which, if a true age, he would have been born in 1917 or 1918.  I found a William R. who was injured in WWII, resulting in his discharge.  It gave his serial number, but it wasn't him.  Quite frankly I am beginning to wonder if he was actually in the military or employed by the government.  My mother said he was in the military, but she never said what branch.  She said he, "shipped out," which I took to mean the army.  I always thought if he was in the air force, she would have said he flew out.  I did find his mother's year and date of birth.  Born 1873  Died 1966.  I haven't tried to find ROY.  There's just too many Roys.  I have looked in  GeneologyBank for Emma's obituary.  I can't find it.  I called the cemetery where she's burried, but they had no information.  I noticed, some time ago, that it said employer was: The U.S. Service.  Maybe he worked for the government but wasn't a soldier.  I have no idea how to find out.  Currently, I am trying to find him on the 1930 Census.  Maybe the one in 1940 wasn't him.  If I can find Emma and Roy on the 1930 Census, he should be living with them.  I am just lost as how to do all this.

    Hope all this makes some kind of sense.


  • Elliot,

    Yes, very likely a coincidence.  There is a very readable book by David Hand about things like this that explains a lot.  It's called "The Improbability Principle" with a subtitle of "Why Coincidences, Miracles, and Rare Events Happen Every Day".

    Finally, Diane's assumption about her father being an engineer is based on tenuous data from the 1940 census which was not likely her father after all as it does not tie to the marriage license nor does it tie to both of his parents' names on the license.

  • Diane,

    It was suggested earlier you contact the National Personnel Center of the National Archives for morning rosters, etc.

    You can find information about how to proceed at: National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) | National Archives

    Narrow your request down to the the time period just before your parents wedding and a month or two after before he shipped out.

    Expand your request to more than just the Army Air Force base in Sioux City, IA.  As I mentioned earlier, there were a couple of other bases within a 2 hour car ride of Sioux City including Sioux Falls, SD and several based in Nebraska.


  • Diane,

    Start by working BACKWARDS in time. With his service number you can now find all kinds of records during his term of service and even after.

    Start by tracing back to where he was stationed before being sent overseas.

    1. Was he anywhere near Iowa in late 1943?

    2. If he married while in the service, he is supposed to have received permission first from his commanding officer.  Are there records of that and if so, who did he marry and when?

    3. What do his enlistment records say about him?

    a. Residence?

    b. Year enlisted?

    c. Age & Birthday?

    d. Where born?

    e. Parents, closest living relatives?

    f. Education/skills?

    4. Based on what you find above, especially in terms of residence and age, then go back and look at US Census records for 1940 to see if they confirm the same info on name, residence, age, possibly parents, and if lucky siblings.  The '40 census often asks where they were in 1935 so follow up on that information.

    5. Check the 1930 census if you have any clues from the 1940 or 1935 that points to where he was in 1930.

    6. Again, using the military records, then go back to Family Search of Ancestry (at a local library for free access) to find marriage information for parents and birth records for those parents.

    7.  Search the 1920 Census based on date & place of birth records (assuming he was born about 1916).

    If he did not lie on his marriage license then the above information should tie to the marriage license.  I would not worry about exact dates of birth & residence just so long as they are within a few years of being correct. Like your mother, many people lied or were mistaken about their age for various reasons such as lack of records, adoption, death of parents in early age, etc.

    Keep your hopes and emotions in check and follow the clues until you have multiple items that tie together and consistently point to your father.

    If he did lie on his marriage license for whatever reason then the problem may be intractable without other corroborating evidence.

  • Bruce-- and Elliot

    At this point I agree that the man on the 1940 Census is not my father.  I am following your recommendations.

    One positive:  I found the grave of my father's mother, Emma Melstry Neilson, and her birth date (12/15/1873),

    and her date of death (02/02/1966.  She died in Long Beach, California and was buried in Westminster Memorial Park (in Westminster, Orange Co. on 02/05/1966.  I have tried to find an obituary for her without luck at the funeral home.  The Westminster paper operating back then, evidently was bought out by another paper, so no help there.  Also I can't find her on the 1930 or 1940 Census.  Thought I might get some clue from the obituary about my father.  I will go to my local library and beg for help, because I'm probably doing it wrong.

    At this point all I know is his name, parents' name, residence, employer (U.S. Service--was told this means he was in Army) age (25yrs) in 1943.  I am so disappointed.

    Thanks for all both of you are doing.  I truly appreciate your help.


  • Diane,

    I'm still convinced this is your father Williams dad. Especially since Emma and Roy  were both from Norway. Please see information again here.

    Name:Roy (Nilsen, Nielson) Nelson
    Event Type:Death
    Event Date:22 Sep 1948
    Event Place:Hastings, Dakota, Minnesota, United States
    Event Place (Original):Hastings, Minnesota
    Birth Date:1872
    Certificate Number:3655

    Elliot Schneider

  • I think you are probably right.  I don't know that he and Emma were from Norway, but my mom described my father as a blue-eyed Scandinavian.  My mother's parents definitely were from Norway.  They immigrated here so he could work on the railroad.  I am going to see if I can find Roy's grave and death information. I don't know how the woman named Sherwood fits into the picture, but I don't think she would lead me to William R, so I'm not going to worry about that right now.  I would like to get an obituary for Emma, now that I know her exact date of death.  Maybe that will let me know if William out lived her and where he was residing at the time of her death.

    I get so frustrated trying to use the NPRC National Archives.  No matter what I do, I can't use it to find the information you and Bruce think might be there.  Today, I am going to try to find out what units were in or near Sioux City in the 1040s by calling each base and asking how to get that information besides NPRC.  If I can get the names of the units, then I can write for their Morning Rosters and Payroll Records.  Will probably be a long process, but I'm just seem to get to the appropriate place on their site to find the information you and Bruce suggested I look for.

    I want you to know that every thing you do and suggestion you make is most sincerely appreciated.  Please don't stop helping.


  • Diane,

    If you believe this gravesite is your grandmother along with the California Death Index info below, I recommend you order a copy of the death certificate.  You can do that at L.A. COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH - Data Collection & Analysis or at the state's website at Vital Records Obtaining Certified Copies of Death Records (

    The actual death certificate will have more information on it than the Index:

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