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Dear Ms. Schwaighofer,
Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!
We searched the National Archives Catalog and located Population Schedules for the 1940 Census, 1940 - 1940 in the Records of the Bureau of the Census (Record Group 29) that includes California - Los Angeles County - ED 19-785. While we were unable to locate a listing for William R. Nelson, we did locate a listing for William Neilson near the bottom of Image 3 that otherwise matches the information you provided.
Next, we located Draft Registration Cards for California, 10/16/1940 - 3/31/1947 in the Records of the Selective Service System (Record Group 147) that includes a draft card for William Neilson Jr., born 20 Feb 1916, and residing at the same address as the William Neilson we located in the 1940 Federal Census. Please note that the draft card lists his employer as Shell Oil. Please see the images of the card at the end of our reply.
The World War II draft registrations cards only indicate that a person registered for the draft. They do not indicate that a person served. Not all those that registered were drafted. Selective Service records for individuals who served after World War I and were born before 1960 are in the custody of the National Archives at St. Louis (RL-SL). If he was drafted into the service, this may be indicated on his classification history (also called a classification ledger). The Classification History (SSS Form 102) may contain: name; date of birth; classification and date of mailing notice; date of appeal to the board; date and results of armed forces physical examination; entry into active duty or civilian work in lieu of induction (may include date, branch of service entered and mode of entry, such as enlisted or ordered); date of separation from active duty or civilian work; and general remarks. Please complete a Form NA-13172 to request a search of these records and email it to RL-SL at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please attach a scan of the draft card as it sometimes contains information that may be helpful in locating the classification history. If he voluntarily entered service rather than being drafted, this may not be indicated in selective service records.
Unfortunately, there is no comprehensive listing of all persons that served in the US Army during World War II. There are some databases with partial information. The World War II Army Enlistment Records database available through Access to Archival Databases (AAD) is a compilation of enlistment data captured on punch cards by the Army. The database includes most of the personnel who enlisted in the Army from 1938 through 1946. We searched for persons named William Nelson’s born in 1916 and persons named Wiliam Neilson born in 1916 however none of the results fully match the information you provided or the information provided in the Census and Selective Service records mentioned above. You may wish to review the results yourself to see if any may be a match for your father. However, please note that the absence of a record in this database does not prove that a person did not serve, as there are gaps in the database where the original records were missing or unreadable. It does not include records for those who were commissioned officers when they first joined.
If he served, there should have been an Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) created for him. OMPFs and individual medical reports for those who served in the U.S. Armed Forces and who were separated from the service prior to 1958 are in the custody of NARA's National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. In many cases where Army and Army Air Corps personnel records were destroyed in the 1973 fire, proof of service can be provided from other records such as morning reports, payrolls, and military orders, and a certificate of military service will be issued. Navy and Marine Corps OMPFs were not affected by the fire. Please complete a GSA Standard Form 180 and mail it to NARA's National Personnel Records Center, (Military Personnel Records), 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138-1002. If there is any information requested by these forms that you do not know you may leave it blank or provide estimates (such as writing “World War II” for service dates), however the more information you provide, the easier it will be for NPRC staff to locate the correct file if it exists and if it was not destroyed by the fire. For more information see Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF), Archival Records Requests.
If he was employed by the Army as a civilian, there should have been an Official Personnel File (OPF) created for him. OPFs and medical information for individuals who worked for the U.S. government in a civilian capacity prior to 1952 are in the custody of the National Archives at St. Louis (RL-SL). Please email RL-SL via email at email@example.com and include the full name used during Federal employment, date of birth, Social Security Number (if applicable), name and location of the employing Federal agency, beginning and ending dates of Federal Service. If you do not know all of this information, you may omit what you do not know, however the more information you provide, the easier it will be to locate the correct file. For more information, the web site is https://www.archives.gov/st-louis/opf.
Because you are uncertain about whether he served in the military or as a civilian, we suggest that you first contact RL-SL first to explain the circumstances, before you submit your SF-180. They may be able to provide you with additional guidance. When emailing RL-SL, please include a link to your request here on History Hub so they can see what information we already provided. Also, please be sure to include any alternative spellings for your father’s name in all your communications with RL-SL.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of NARA staff. As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgement as well as a substantive response to your reference request from RL-SL. Also, the NPRC is currently only servicing emergency requests associated with medical treatments, burials, homeless veterans, VA Home loan guarantees, and employment opportunities. If this is urgent, please see Emergency Requests and Deadlines. We apologize for any inconvenience.
Some veterans registered their discharge information with their county court or registered with their state for the purpose of receiving state and local veterans benefits. You may wish to contact the county where he resided after the war, as well as the state archives and the state agency that is responsible for veteran services where he lived.
We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your family research!
I will never find words adequate enough to thank you for what you've done for me. This is my father!!!
I will contact the agencies you suggested and now I can fill out the SF180.
If I could still jump for joy, I would--over and over.