21 February 2017

Lifelong Influence of World War II Deployment

My maternal grandfather, Joel Baxter Dirlam, was an economist who consulted and was a university professor throughout his career.  He obtained his undergraduate degree from Yale University in 1936, graduating Phi Beta Kappa, and earned his doctorate in economics from Yale in 1947.   The delay in his PhD was due, in part, to a move he made to New York City where his social life revolved around musician and artist friends.  In New York he also met and married (in 1941) my grandmother, Barbara Burdick Rowland.  The young couple moved about as he worked to support them and to complete his degree.  Eventually my mother, their oldest child, was born in 1943, as Joel worked on research with his best friend and fellow doctoral candidate, Alfred Kahn (who, many years later, would become semi-famous for de-regulating the airline industry under President Jimmy Carter) and getting his thesis in order.  He was then further delayed by world events.

Fred Kahn and Joel Dirlam in 1938
working on their dissertations
Front of Discharge Certificate
Growing up, I was always conscious that Joel had served in Europe during World War II, with my grandmother and mother back in the States.  My mother recounts that one of her earliest memories as a little girl is being woken up late at night and being allowed to help ring a church bell to signal the end of the war to the countryside in North Stonington, Connecticut.  But beyond this little bit of information, I had no knowledge of what my grandfather did or experienced in the war.  He didn’t avoid the topic nor was it a taboo subject.  Rather, his life was a busy and fulfilling one, which he lived very much in the present up to the day he died, so it simply didn’t come up.  After his death in 2005 at the age of 90, I found his discharge record, officially his “Enlisted Record and Report of Separation – Honorable Discharge”. This two-page summary of his involvement proved to be a wealth of interesting information.

The discharge form contains a surprising amount of information – through the data recorded there, I was able to put together a pretty comprehensive picture of Joel’s service.  What follows is the narrative I’ve written based on the discharge document, historical events and my knowledge of Joel’s life.  After this narrative, I’ll go into detail as to how I learned to interpret the document and provide some additional resources for military research.

Joel was drafted into the in the Army in early 1944, being called up for induction on January 24, 1944.  He was given through February 13 to attend to his affairs and entered service on February 14, 1944 at Rutland, Vermont, on his wife’s 29th birthday and three days after his first daughter’s first birthday, himself at the age of 28. 
Although he listed his father’s address in Mansfield as his home, he was, at that time, researching in Washington, DC and his selective service registration had been filed with the DC board. 
On March 23, 1944, during his basic training, he qualified as a sharp shooter on the M1 Garand 166 rifle, then on July 26, 1944, more than a month after the D-Day invasion of Normandy, he sailed for Europe, arriving on August 6, 1944.  He is listed as having served in the Campaign of Northern France, authorized by General Order 33 by the War Department in 1945.  The war in Europe officially ended on May 8, 1945, about nine months after Joel’s arrival there, but he continued to serve in Europe, with time in occupied Germany as well, as indicated by his letters home. 
A young GI in France
About ten months after the end of the war in Europe, he sailed for home on March 18, 1946, arriving on March 27, 1946.  Five days later, on April 1, 1946, he received an honorable discharge, due to de-mobilization. He served for a total of 2 years, 1 month and 15 days, according to his discharge record, 5 months and 13 days in the US and 1 year, 8 months and 2 days in Europe.  
In service, he received the EAME (European-African-Middle Eastern) Campaign Medal, established by President Roosevelt in 1942 by executive order to honor military who served in the European Theatre during the War. 
He also received a Good Conduct Medal, normally only awarded after three years of active duty, but in March 1943 the criteria were amended to include military personnel who served one-year active duty during war. 
Joel, left, working on the oil supply chain in Paris
Because he was on active duty at the war’s end, he received the World War II Victory Medal, which was issued to all military personnel who served active duty between December 7, 1941 and December 31, 1946. 
He was inducted into the US Army as a Private.  At the time of his discharge, he was designated on the Detached Enlisted Men’s List, indicating that, although he was in the Army, he ended up serving in another branch.  His final service was as a Technician Fifth Grade Statistical Clerk 055 (indicating that he was cleared to use an Adding Machine) in the Office of Military Government, which administered Germany and Allied Berlin soon after the end of the War. 
On September 2, 1945, his ASR, or Advanced Service Rating score was calculated.  This score was a method by which the military prioritized repatriation to the United States – it took length of service, battles fought and several other factors into account. The goal was to prioritize those who had been fighting the longest.  Joel’s score was 50 on that date, well below the 85 required for repatriation during the war.  After the official end of the war, the required score was 50, plus 4 years of service, which Joel did not attain either.
 However, the Army Regulation 615-365 governing the demobilization after the end of the war took effect some months later and he was repatriated with the designation “RR I-I”, which was his re-enlistment code, indicating that if he chose to re-enlist in the future, he would be readily accepted.
Joel's Form 53-55

My first step in understanding Joel’s discharge was Google!  I entered “Understand World War II Discharge” and found the following paper, courtesy of the 80th Infantry Division website, www.80thdivision.com:

This document provides an excellent line-by-line explanation of all the fields in the separation paper.  It helped me to understand the bulk of what I was reading, but a few fields were still in question.  For example, boxes 3 and 4 didn’t mean much to me.  I didn’t know what a “T-5” grade was, nor did I recognize the “DEML” service.  This resulted in more Google searches (“Army grade T-5” and “Army DEML service”), following with quick answers: T-5 is a Technician Fifth Grade (as indicated on the front of the document) and DEML indicates (as mentioned above) that he was part of the Detached Enlisted Men’s List, indicating specialized, non-standard service.

Detail from top of form
Similar searches provided more information on his occupational specialty (“Statistical Clerk 055”), his campaign medal (“EAME Campaign Medal”) and all of the other abbreviations and codes used in the document.

Me, in Spain 1974
As a child, Joel had traveled to Europe with his parents in 1926, age 10, and then three years later in 1929.  His deployment to the European Theatre in 1944 was, I believe, his third time abroad.  His first time in France and Germany as an adult (and an Army Private!) was just the start of a life-long love of travel to Europe and farther afield.  While deployed in Europe, he also met people who remained, along with their families, life-long friends.  He met a young Frenchman named Jean Dumont, whose subsequent children came to America to stay with Joel in Rhode Island during summers in the 1970s.  And I, as a very lucky ten year old, was sent to Spain in 1974 to spend a month with the Dumont family in their vacation villa there.

Joel met up with his cousin, John Baxter Black (with whom he shared a middle name) who was also deployed in Europe. John introduced Joel to one of his fellow enlistees, Tom McCabe, from Rhode Island – Tom and his wife Olwyn and their children were also to become long term family friends.

Joel's honorary degree from Université de Paris
Joel’s discharge form was executed on 1 April 1946 and Joel received his doctorate from Yale on 14 July the following year.  Thirty-three years later, in 1980, Joel would receive an honorary doctorate from the French Université D’Aix-Marseille and in 1989 he received another honorary doctorate from the Université de Paris, both brought about from extended teaching he had done in both universities as a visiting professor and for his involvement in promoting student exchange programs with both schools and his home University of Rhode Island.  All of this, I believe, came about as a result of his early exposure to travel and then his time in France during World War II, when he came to love France and its people.

Joel’s service in France as a young G.I. started his adult life of travel.  This, in turn, influenced the generations to come – the majority of his descendants are fascinated with travel and they explore the world whenever they have the chance.  


This single page discharge, with its sometimes-cryptic notations, provides a wealth of information, all on its own.  I was able to gain a more detailed understanding of my grandfather’s service and then combine that with my own knowledge to create an interesting narrative.

Sources for World War II research are outlined at the 80th Infantry Division website, where I found my first decryption of the discharge document: http://www.80thdivision.com – just click the “WWII Research” link.

Also, David Allen Lambert (Chief Genealogist at the New England Historic and Genealogical Society) has published an excellent guide on researching family members involved in either of the World Wars and can be found at the NEHGS website: https://www.americanancestors.org/education/learning-resources/read/world-war-research.

Many military records, draft registration cards, enlistment records, etc. can be found on Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org.  Fold3.com, an Ancestry.com website, offers purely military information.

Final note: A fire in 1973 destroyed millions of service records for the US Army and the US Air Force, the Army records covering the periods for both World Wars.  The government has tried to reconstruct much of the lost information, but many records remain lost or incomplete.  Bear this in mind as you search for individuals who you know served but for whom limited information exists – their records may be among those lost and not fully reconstructed.

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