By Josette Keelor
Inspired by his World War II veteran uncle, Victor "Tory" Failmezger of Warren County started researching his family's military history.
After three years of research and another three writing the book of his uncle's Army career, Failmezger, 65, is ready to teach others. He will hold an informational talk on researching the military pasts of family and friends at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Samuel's Public Library in Front Royal.
Failmezger said he thinks residents may be interested in researching their own military history, but won't know where to start.
Many people, he's learned from researching his uncle, Lt. Thomas Peter Welch, know which branch of the service their family members served, but they might not know where they fought, he said, and finding that information can be difficult.
A fire at a military records office in St. Louis in 1973 destroyed the vast majority of military records before that year, he said.
Failmezger was lucky, though. He had all 150 letters his uncle wrote home to Failmezger's grandmother while serving overseas during WWII. He also had his uncle's awards, medals and photographs. Maybe Failmezger has more physical memories than others have today linking them to their ancestors, but he assured that only a piece or two of history can help them learn about their family.
"All of these things tell a story," he said.
And stories from overseas are not all that participants might find out in their research.
"During World War II, everyone was connected," Failmezger said.
"My mother drove an ambulance in New Jersey," he said, explaining she was a Red Cross volunteer.
Failmezger is retired after 22 years in the Navy as an intelligence officer on aircraft carriers, and his wife Patricia was a Navy nurse.
"So it gets to be a genealogy thing," he said.
"[When] I started this," he said, "I didn't know what I was going to find. My uncle was highly decorated."
Welch received two silver stars, two purple hearts and a bronze star, Failmezger said. Also, his uncle fought in more than one D-Day.
"There were D-Days in the South Pacific, there were four in Europe. His battalion was in all four of those," Failmezger said.
Anyone whose past includes the military is welcome to attend the meeting, whether their ancestors fought in Korea, the U.S. or anywhere in between.
"It's [about] how you can research any veteran's history," Failmezger said.
"You got to start out with what you know," he said. "The biggest part is organizing it."
Bar none, the best piece of information people can bring to him is a DD Form 214, which can be researched at www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records.
"That's the single most important piece of paper," Failmezger said. It tells the soldier's name, serial number, location, awards and specialties.
But any other piece of information would be helpful too.
A first step would be to talk with living family members who can offer help, he said. Veterans, especially, can offer a wealth of information, but Failmezger cautioned to be discriminating when posing questions.
The veterans he's spoken with have been sentimental about their years in the military and have chosen to offer more humorous stories instead of sadder ones. Sometimes they won't want to relive particular memories, he said, and researchers particularly should avoid questions about whether or not their relatives or friends killed anyone.
"You let the veteran decide if he wants to talk about that," Failmezger said.
The class is intended as a first option for those interested in looking into their military pasts, he said, and he plans more for the future.
"They don't know where to start," he said. "That's the big thing."
The session is free and will last about an hour followed by a 20-minute question and answer session. Failmezger also will sign copies of his book, "An American Knight: The untold story of Lt. Thomas P. Welch and the legendary 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion in World War II," which is available for purchase at the Royal Oak Bookshop in Front Royal. Samuels Public Library is located at 330 East Criser Road, Front Royal. For more information, call the library at 540-635-3153 or at www.samuelslibrary.net.
Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or firstname.lastname@example.org