In observance of Veteran’s Day, Out of the Box would like to spotlight the Virginia World War II Separation Notices (accession 23573). Part of the records of the Virginia World War II History Commission, the collection contains approximately 250,000 notices for World War II veterans discharged between 1942 and 1950 (with the bulk between 1944 and 1946) who sought employment in Virginia. Most of the notices are for military personnel who were born or raised in Virginia prior to the war and returned to Virginia after their discharge from service. While not a complete military service record, the separation notices provide a glimpse into the combat and wartime experiences, background, and post-war lives of Virginia World War II veterans.
The one page separation notice packs in a wealth of information including date and place of birth, physical description, race, marital status, and civilian occupation for each individual. Also included is rank, military organization, date of induction or enlistment, place of entry into service, military occupation, battles and campaigns, decorations and citations, wounds received in action, service outside the continental United States, prior service, total lengthy of service, and reason for separation. Naval records also list training schools attended and places of service (ships and naval stations). In addition to the separation notice, many of the army records also contain a qualification record documenting the soldier’s military and civilian education and occupations. For some veterans, the separation notices also contain clues to their combat experience.
Paul Burgess was born on 1 December 1909 in Northumberland County, Virginia. Burgess enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in New York City on 1 November 1940. As a photo lab technician, Burgess flew in air reconnaissance and combat missions, probably in Europe. The stress took a toll on Burgess and he probably had what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then known as “battle fatigue.” According to his separation notice:
“Soldier has had 1000 hrs. flying time in recon. & combat missions overseas. 26 of his squadron members were killed during a raid which resulted in an acute anxiety state. Since returning to U.S. he has had hospitalization & rest camps with no improvement. Recently psychoneurotic symptoms have become so increasingly severe as to prevent soldier from performing any further useful service.”
Curtis Maddox, a Danville grocery clerk, probably also suffered from PTSD. Born on 1 May 1921 in Durham, North Carolina, Maddox enlisted in the United States Army on 26 November 1940. Maddox was a squad leader in an unidentified infantry unit and fought in North Africa and Sicily. Maddox’s case history states:
“The patient went all through the Tunisian campaign. Towards the end of the campaign he states that he was ‘nervous,’ that he did not report on sick call because he did not want to show his feeling in front of his subordinates. After his second engagement in Sicily he became panicky under fire, ran about aimlessly on the battlefield, and experienced choking sensation. He was evacuated to a Replacement Center and after some air raids had a recurrence of the same type of symptoms.”
Maddox was discharged on 26 November 1944.
Ira Franklin, was born on 3 September 1921 in Castlewood, Virginia, and worked on his father’s farm, prior to being drafted in 1942. He went from being a farmer to an ammunition bearer in 329th Infantry, Company A. “Under extremely hazardous battle conditions,” Franklin “operated as one man of ten on anti-tank gun crew firing 57 Mm. [sic] weapon.” Franklin’s separation record stated that he also “gave security with small arms to gun crew.” Franklin fought in every major European campaign: Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, and the Rhineland. He received a Purple Heart Medal for wound received in France on 12 July 1944. He was discharged in November 1945.
Other veterans were eyewitnesses to history. Prior to the war, Richard F. Mayo of Arlington held a public relations job in the United States Department of Agriculture. In the Army, Mayo was a motion picture cameraman in the Signal Corps. His separation notice details his combat experience. “While assigned to the 318th and 319th Bomb Group,” Mayo “participated in air strikes over [the] Japanese Mainland.” He also covered the atomic bomb destruction over Nagasaki, the signing of the Japanese Instrument of Surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri, and the reopening of the American Embassy in Tokyo. Sergeant August Wolff, also from Arlington, was a court reporter assigned to the Joint and Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C. In his position, he attended the Allied conferences in Quebec (1944), Yalta (February 1945), and Potsdam (July 1945).
The primary purpose of the separation notices was to assist veterans with job placement. When personnel were discharged from one of the armed forces’ separation centers, the military prepared a notice or report of separation from military duty in multiple copies. The veteran indicated on the separation notice the address at which employment would be sought and a copy was distributed and filed at the nearest office of the Veterans Employment Service of the United States Employment Service (USES). Virginia had 32 regional USES offices to assist citizens and soldiers with employment and job placement. Upon discharge, the USES office would write the veteran offering to assist them with employment. A few of these letters can be found with the separation notices. Together, they provided clues to the pre- and post-war careers of Virginia’s veterans.
Gwendolyn Edwards, in a 5 December 1945 letter to the USES, provided a brief sketch of her education, work history, and military service. “I was born in Lawrenceville on November 27, 1921,”she wrote, “and graduated from Lawrenceville High School in 1939. I attended S.T.C. [State Teachers College], Farmville, for almost a year and then entered Smithdeal-Massey Business College and St. Claire’s Secretarial School, both in Richmond.” Edwards also worked at the Defense Supply Center in Richmond. She enlisted in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) in the United States Naval Reserve in 1943 and was discharged in 1945. Edwards, single, was eager for the assistance of the USES. Mrs. Nellie Shaffer also served in the Navy. However, she declined the USES offer. “Thank you for your services,” she wrote on 11 December 1945, “but I have decided to make my life work being a full-time housewife.”
Navy veteran Edward Miller, Jr. appreciated the work of the USES. “I want to thank the personnel of the U.S.E.S.,” he wrote, “…for the interest you are showing in behalf of the veterans in the wanting to help in the employment matter as you are doing through this form. It’s a small item to some, but to me and many others, it shows someone has thought of us with the intentions to help in any manner possible.” Samuel Fralin, another Navy veteran, disagreed. He responded to the USES in October 1945. “This is the first Freedom I’ve had in 4 yrs. Please do not Bother A Poor man for once.”
The Virginia World War II Separation Notices have been processed. However, access to the collection is limited to veterans and their next-of-kin. In a previous blog post, I shared the story of Cecelia Graham and how a chance conversation with my wife led to the emotional discovery of the World War II Separation Notice of Cecelia’s father.