How a Booklet of General Plans Helped Save 32 Trapped Sailors After the Attack on Pearl Harbor

Among the vast holdings of the National Archives, in Record Group 19: Alphabetical Series of Ship Engineering Drawings, are a type of ship plans known simply as “Booklets of General Plans”.  These plans are illustrations various vessels showing elements such as the starboard and portside views of boats, schematics of weaponry, and deck layouts including the numerous tiny compartments on each level of the ship.  These booklets are typically very detailed and consist of several plates, usually one for each deck of the ship.  These records are very popular and informative and researchers routinely request booklets of general plans for a variety of reasons ranging from using them as an aid in building a replica of the ship to finding a vessel that they themselves or a family member once served aboard to helping to resolves legal cases.

Never were these sets of plans more important than on December 7th and 8th, 1941.

The U.S.S. Oklahoma had been docked at Pearl Harbor awaiting an inspection which was supposed to occur on the morning of December 8th, 1941.  Originally the vessel was supposed to be at sea, but had come in to port specifically for the upcoming inspection.  Because of the impending inspection, many of the door and hatches on board were standing wide open when Pearl Harbor was attacked and, because of this, the ship flooded and capsized so quickly that many men never had time to abandon ship.   Within twenty minutes of being hit by the first torpedo, the Oklahoma lay nearly upside down in the water, masts buried in the mud, with men still alive and trapped in the upturned sections of the battleship.  After the attack was over and rescue operation was initiated, tapping could be heard coming from inside of the exposed section of hull and it became a race against the clock to cut the survivors free before they either suffocated or drowned.



A little after 8:00 am on the morning of December 7th, 1941, the Commander of the U.S.S. Maryland, E. Kranzfelder, was summoned back from Honolulu to Pearl Harbor by a telephone operator saying that that there was an emergency at the harbor and that he should return to his ship as soon as possible.  Upon arriving back aboard the U.S.S. Maryland, which was docked next to the Oklahoma, and seeing the devastation that lay before him, he went straight to the bridge for an update of the situation.  While there, he was contacted by a sailor on the Oklahoma (now capsized) informing him of an immediate need for cutting equipment and a request for any and all assistance that could be rendered.  The commander obtained permission from the Admiral to help with the rescue effort and began by obtaining the Booklet of General Plans for the Oklahoma.



It quickly became apparent there were going to be significant issue with cutting through the hull of the ship, since virtually the entire underside of the battleship was composed of fuel tanks and cutting through the hull with torches would pose a significant risk of fire if the hull was cut in the wrong area.  In Adding to the problem of where to cut was tapping of the trapped men which was echoed badly, causing rescuers to be unsure of exactly where survivors were trapped.  Commander Kranzfelder, in his official report to the navy would later describe the situation writing:

“Lines were rigged from the bilge keel at intervals along the bottom, telephone communication was established with the Maryland, an air supply line was quickly rigged from the Maryland to the Oklahoma, strainers were removed from main injections and over board discharge in an attempt to gain access to the engine room.  Contact was established with two men entrapped in the evaporator pump room through a small over board discharge connection in the hull.  Food and water were passed down to these men.  From information obtained from these men as to their location in the ship and with the aid of the Booklet of General Plans it was possible to determine the best locations to cut access holes in the bottom of the ship.”[1]



With the aid crew from several surrounding vessels and the schematics provided by the Booklet of General Plans of the Oklahoma, eventually, 32 survivors would be cut free from the wreckage of the ship.  They were rescued from the hold known as the “Lucky Bag” which was a small hold used for storing items like pea coats and small personal belongings, Radio Room No. 4, the Aft Steering Room, the No. 4 Turret Handling Room, and the Evaporator Pump Room (see illustration above to locate the aforementioned compartments).  Many others were trapped who were not able to be rescued in time to save their lives.


Eventually, the Oklahoma was righted in the water using a series of hoists attached to the hull and to the shore that pulled the hull of the ship upright.  The ship was salvaged but was too badly damaged to be returned to duty.  After being stripped of armaments and superstructure, the hull was sold for salvage in 1946 but, while being towed back to San Francisco in 1947, sank during storm.

[1]Walin, Homer N.  Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal.  Washington, D.C., Government Printing Office.  1968

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Celebrating the Bicentennial: Crafting the Old Ways

This is the second installment in our series about the United States Information Agency’s Young Film Maker Bicentennial Grant Films. In the previous post, we told you about the program and featured a trippy animated short. Today we have Sharon and Thomas Hudgins’ film Homespun and Stephen Rivkin’s Winter Count, both completed in 1975.


When the Young Film Maker Bicentennial grants were announced, Sharon Hudgins proposed a film about handweaving. She had completed an internship with the USIA in the summer of 1968, so she was aware of the type of films the agency would want, and she had been weaving for some time. With the grant, Hudgins could pursue her interests in filmmaking and handweaving simultaneously while she completed her Master’s project for the University of Texas-Austin Motion Picture and Television School.

Homespun, which was filmed by Thomas Hudgins at a historic plantation in South Carolina and the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences in northern Georgia, covers the handweaving process from shearing the sheep, washing, carding, spinning, and dyeing the wool, to weaving on the loom. The soundtrack features the voices of women who work the wool and traditional songs arranged and performed by Edith Card.

A few years after Sharon and Thomas Hudgins completed Homespun, Sharon used leftover material—unexposed film, outtakes, tape recordings, and wool that was featured in the film—to create a woven art piece on a three feet by four feet wooden frame.

Sharon and Thomas Hudgins taught film, economics, and political science in Europe and Asia for the University of Maryland University College for two decades.

Winter Count

Winter Count, made by Stephen Rivkin while a student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, is about the Plains tribes’ tradition of creating a pictographic history of their people, with a symbol representing each year. The film features an interview with Lydia Fire Thunder Bluebird of the Oglala Sioux (Lakota) describing the significance of the winter count kept by her great-uncle, Moses Red Horse Owner.

In the interview, Fire Thunder Bluebird explains, “The winter count could only be understood by the one who put it down. When he would look at this symbol, he would remember many things from that year. With this, he could keep record of things that happened in our tribe.”


Lydia Fire Thunder Bluebird holds up the buffalo hide winter count kept by her great-uncle, Moses Red Horse Owner, and sister Angelique Fire Thunder. (Still from Winter Count)

After Moses Red Horse Owner died, Fire Thunder Bluebird’s sister, Angelique, took over the winter count. Red Horse Owner’s winter count was published as a book in 1969.

Stephen Rivkin went on to become an editor on dozens of Hollywood films.

Many thanks to Sharon Hudgins and Stephen Rivkin, who graciously answered questions about the making of their films.

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Spotlight: National Women’s Conference of 1977


Bella Abzug, Betty Freidan and Billie Jean King accompany torch relay runners into Houston.  Record Group: 220 Records of Temporary Committees, Commissions, and Boards, 1893-2008 Series: WC Photographs Used to Illustrate the Report, “Spirit of Houston: The first National Women’s Converence”, 1977-1978. 220-WC-30-H

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the National Women’s Conference held November 18-21, 1977 in Houston, Texas. This conference was the United States’ answer to the United Nations World Conference on Women held in 1975 in Mexico City. After the United Nations declared 1975 International Women’s Year, President Ford issued Executive Order 11832 creating a National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year to promote equality between men and women. The Houston conference was the culmination of several events held over the next few years and was organized by the commission.

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Remembering the Vietnam War this Veterans Day

In honor of Veterans Day and in conjunction with the opening of the National Archives’ newest exhibit, “Remembering Vietnam,” we’re highlighting some of NARA’s Vietnam era film footage. You can read more about the exhibit here and here. If you would like to conduct research relating to the Vietnam War, NARA has created a portal accessible here.

The Vietnam war brought the front lines of combat to America often mere hours after events occurred creating an increased need for film footage. The images broadcast in America’s living rooms during the war were often captured by military combat photographers. The increased demand for footage was answered by both private sector journalists and the United States government. The military increased their production of photographs and moving images and because of this, NARA’s motion picture holdings relating to the Vietnam war are quite expansive. Included in the collection are training films, news releases, combat documentation, footage documenting the return of prisoners of war and Medal of Honor ceremonies.

The United States Air Force Combat Photography: Southeast Asia

Produced by the United States Air Force in 1968, this film explores the role and importance of Air Force combat camera crews in Vietnam. Footage shows members of the 600th Photo Squadron jumping into combat zones and riding along on chopper missions. It also details day-to-day job related activities such as film editing.

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“Tunisian Victory”: Operation Torch Gets the Hollywood Treatment

This post was written with Heidi Holmstrom.

In the spring of 1943, Frank Capra, Hollywood director and colonel in the Army Signal Corps, began work on a film about the Allied campaign to take North Africa. The stakes were high—the film needed to demonstrate the strength of the Anglo-American relationship and build support among the American public for both the war and the alliance. The production was not without strife. The resulting documentary, Tunisian Victory, took nearly a year and a half to complete.

On November 8, 1942, American and British forces began Operation Torch, a joint amphibious landing of over 100,000 troops in North Africa. Allied forces arrived in Morocco and Algeria with an objective of defeating Axis forces in Vichy French North Africa, helping halt the spread of Axis control and allowing the Allies to gain control of the Southwest Mediterranean Sea. By May 19, 1943, the Allies would take Tunisia, allowing for the invasion of Sicily later that year.

Tunisian Victory was produced as a sequel of sorts to the British film Desert Victory, which largely focused on the Allied battles at El Alamein. Desert Victory was and is considered a quintessential war documentary, but there was one problem from the Americans’ perspective—the United States military was nowhere to be seen. The new film would need to depict a true joint effort.

Of course, producing a film in a war zone is more complicated than on a Hollywood backlot. Film crews were sent out over the region to record the operation, including a major initial battle in the Moroccan port city of Casablanca. Unfortunately, the Germans sank the ship carrying the footage and left Capra without coverage of some of the Americans’ most significant action.

With holes in the visual coverage, Capra turned to stock footage and re-creations to fill in the gaps. In June, Capra tasked director George Stevens, stationed in Algiers at the time, with shooting the re-creations. Stevens spent two weeks filming tanks, artillery, and infantry at the coast. With those scenes wrapped, Capra handed the project off to John Huston, who filmed planes and dummy tanks in Orlando and the California desert with a cast of GIs awaiting deployment.

Stills from Tunisian Victory.

When complete, Tunisian Victory featured alternating British and American narrators, who repeatedly emphasized the joint nature of the venture, calling it the “greatest of combined operations,” and providing the image of “British and American officers [placed] at adjoining desks.” After a months-long struggle between the British and American war information units over who would tell the story, Capra gained full control over the production and released Tunisian Victory to theaters March 16, 1944.

Unfortunately for Capra, Tunisian Victory was old news by the time it was released. The incidents in the film had concluded nearly a year earlier, and two weeks before its release, With the Marines at Tarawa hit American theaters. For contemporary audiences, compared to Tarawa, Tunisian Victory lacked both the immediacy of authentic battle scenes and the relevance of more current events. The film may not have been successful at the box office, but it holds up well today as a tribute to the Anglo-American alliance.

Sources consulted:

Mark Harris, Five Came Back, (New York: Penguin Books, 2014).

Frederic Krome, “Tunisian Victory and Anglo-American Film Propaganda in World War II,” The Historian, Vol. 58, No. 3 (Spring 1996), p. 517-29

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The Haunted Archives

To celebrate Halloween, we took a look in our cartographic records at the National Archives to see if we could find any spooky records. We came across the following Utility Patent Drawings which certainly help to set the mood for the Halloween season.

A number of jack-o’-lantern designs came up in the patent drawings. You can see many different concepts for lanterns in the series.


RG 241, Utility Patent Drawings, 396252


RG 241, Utility Patent Drawings, 715379


RG 241, Utility Patent Drawings, 848938

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In the Year 2000…

Throughout the decades of the Cold War, the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) produced a vast library of programs for distribution to stations around the world. Service personnel heard popular and classical music, news, entertainment shows that originated on commercial radio, and many, many public service announcements. Tens of thousands of AFRTS audio disks now reside in the National Archives in Record Group 330: Records of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Among these is The Year 2000, produced by Los Angeles CBS affiliate KNX in 1960.

The series consists of skits depicting life in the year 2000 plus interviews with experts in various fields. The predictions will seem familiar to anyone who has seen The Jetsons (which premiered two years later) – flying cars, robot maids, and telescreens. Although the experts are perhaps 80% wrong about the new millennium, their predictions are based in cutting-edge science of 1960, such as satellites, heart surgery, and the manufacture of new materials. Let’s take a look at a few of the predictions for the year of hanging chads and the Y2K panic – or you can take a listen yourself!

Too Optimistic

  • Our flying cars will take off and land vertically and reach 500 MPH. Own an economy model for $13,650!
  • A publicly-funded system of youth recreation centers will offer sports and mental health services.
  • We will grow new organs from DNA.
  • Automation will enable a three day work week, but don’t worry: we’ll still get paid as if we’re working five days.
  • Injections will enable us to need only four hours of sleep.
  • We will take low-orbit commercial flights. Travel from L.A. to Hawaii in only 30 minutes!

Too Pessimistic

  • In the predicted timeline, humans (specifically, the U.S. Air Force) will reach the moon in 1988. NASA beat this forecast by 19 years.
  • Americans will no longer live in houses due to a population explosion which resulted in a loss of free space. Thankfully untrue, although I do like the “Apartmansions” described in the program, which come with full services.
  • Computers will determine compatibility of couples for marriage. This one is outright dystopian!

Simply Weird

  • “Paper fabrics are here to stay!” Women’s fashions will include a slit skirt over pants and materials will include water-repellant, wrinkle-proof synthetic materials. The average woman will be a size 3 thanks to all that leisure time.
  • Walls will be made of hollow glass filled with colored water. We will change the color of our walls with but the press of a button.
  • Scientists will establish the summit of monkey mental performance by raising them as humans.
  • We will receive communications with extraterrestrial life via strange signals from Jupiter. Wait a second… super intelligent apes, signals from Jupiter… the scientists have successfully predicted 2001: A Space Odyssey!


Cornog’s Robot, a product of downtime on the cyclotron, circa 1939, model unknown. [Photographer: Donald Cooksey]

Complete The Year 2000 Skits

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The Digitization of 18-AA

This summer, the Still Picture Branch and the Digitization Lab completed the digitization of the series 18-AA, “Airscapes” of American and Foreign Areas, 1917 – 1964. This series is exceptionally interesting. It includes aerial views of landscapes, towns, and cities in the United States as well as many foreign countries. The images, taken in the early to mid 20th Century, are black and white, and typically mounted on card stock along with typed captioning information. The digitization process captured these captions along with the images themselves, and are accessible online at the National Archives Catalog.

Originally the photos were presented in bound volumes, but for preservation and access reasons they have been removed and put into acid-free, archival folders and boxes. The series, however, maintains it’s original arrangement. As such, “notebooks” 1 through 164 (airscapes of the U.S) are arranged alphabetically by state, and then within each state by city/area. “Notebooks” 165 through 190 (airscapes of Foreign countries) are arranged alphabetically by country. Notebooks 191 through 203 (airscapes of natural disasters in the United States) are arranged alphabetically by state/river. And “notebooks” 204 through 229 (airscapes of landing fields in Alaska, Hawaii, and foreign countries) are arranged alphabetically by name of country.

In the catalog, this is reflected in the arrangement of the “File Units.” File units display in the catalog alphabetically by geographic location. Each file unit represents a physical folder and contains a group of photos specifically related to the geographic location selected. For example, to browse images of Washington, D.C., you would first navigate to the landing page for 18-AA: here. You would then select the link “1633 file unit(s) described in the catalog” which would take you: here. This page displays the file units. Using the page navigation arrows in the top right corner of the results, you would then click through until you found the Washington, D.C. images: here. There are 4 file units of Washington, D.C. photos in 18-AA, and from this page you can select which subject group interests you.

It is also possible to search within the series for “Washington, D.C.” by starting at the landing page for 18-AA: here; selecting “1633 file unit(s) described in the catalog” or “search within this series,” and typing “Washington, DC” into the search bar at the top. If using this method, please note the *:* that is provided in the search bar. This is very important; it tells the catalog to search only for Washington, D.C. files in the selected series – in this case, in 18-AA.

Photos from 18-AA were taken by the Aeronautical Division of the Signal Corps, the Air Service, the Air Corps, the Army Air Forces, and/or the USAF. Most of the photos were taken between 1923 and 1945. They are a fascinating look at the architecture, culture, and landscape of our past. The images were scanned at a high resolution and may be downloaded directly from our catalog. They are not subject to copyright. Researchers are encouraged to access and engage with these images. Please remember to cite them to the Still Picture Branch of the National Archives using the Local Identifier number, which is unique to each photograph and can be found in the National Archives Catalog below the image download button.

For more images from 18-AA, check out the blog post “Images of The Week: Airscapes,” by Billy Wade. Also remember to keep checking the National Archives Catalog for new and fascinating materials, and feel welcome to visit us in person at College Park, Maryland! We at NARA are constantly digitizing and uploading our nation’s records. They are our collective past, our present knowledge, and our future treasures. We are dedicated to sharing them with you, our public.

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RG 109 Confederate Maps Series Now Digitized and Available Online!

Civil War maps are always popular at the National Archives, and the Cartographic Branch is pleased to announce the digitization of over 100 Confederate maps from Record Group (RG) 109.  All are now available to view or download through our online catalog.

Maps played a very important role during the Civil War. They were instrumental to leaders and generals for planning battles, campaigns, and marches. As a result, thousands of maps relating to the Civil War were created, many of which are held by the Cartographic Branch in a variety of record groups. These maps can include rough sketches created quickly before or during a battle, but can also include maps that were drawn to accompany official reports or even post-war publications. Many are highly detailed and colorized. Civil War maps frequently show topography, ground cover, roads, railroads, homes, the names of residents, towns, and waterways. They can be very helpful to better understand what the land looked like and how it was used during the Civil War era. Maps showing the names of residents can also be helpful to genealogists.

The Civil War maps we are featuring today are all Confederate maps. These maps were captured by or surrendered to the United States at the conclusion of the Civil War, or were later donated by former Confederate leaders. The records were held by the War Department before coming to the National Archives. The maps cover areas in the states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma (Indian Territory), South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. There is also a grouping of miscellaneous maps that show more than one state, which are filed as “US.” Most of the maps are manuscripts, although some are printed maps or even copies of maps. Many of the printed maps are annotated to show troop movements, battles lines, or other important features.

Many of the maps show well known battlefields and locations, such as Shiloh, Antietam, Murfreesboro (Stones River), Richmond, Petersburg, Atlanta, Knoxville, Manassas (Bull Run) and others. A number of maps show the battlefield at Shiloh, which was fought April 2-3, 1862 in southern Tennessee.


Map of Shiloh Battlefield. TN-11.

Many maps also cover lesser known but also very important locations, such as Corinth, Mississippi, the location of a strategic railroad junction and site of a siege and battle. Other lesser known battles with maps in the series include Cross Keys, VA, Prairie Grove, AR, and scores of others.


Sketch of the Vicinity of Corinth, Mississippi. MS-5

The series also includes maps and plans of fortifications, including those that protected Charleston, South Carolina, Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Beaufort, South Carolina. Some fort plans are even included, such as a plan for Fort Waul in Texas and Fort Beauregard in South Carolina (SC-3A), although most of the Cartographic Branch’s fort plans and drawings can be found within RG 77 in the Fortifications File and Miscellaneous Forts File. 


Fortifications at Charleston. SC-8.


Map of the mouth of the Broad River showing fortifications and naval fleet near Beaufort, SC.  SC- 1

Occasionally within the series are printed maps that are based on manuscript maps also located with the series. The first map is an original manuscript map showing a portion of the battle of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. The back of this map notes that it was to appear in an 1874 atlas. The more finished and printed version of the map is also found within RG 109. It is interesting to compare the two maps.


Manuscript map of troop positions during the Battle of Murfreesboro, TN. TN-5


Printed version of Murfreesboro map. TN-6

During the digitization process, close attention was paid to information written or stamped on the backs of the maps. All maps within the series that contained unique information on their reverse were digitized both front and back. Both sides are available to view in our online catalog.

Many Confederate generals later donated maps to the National Archives to become part of a Confederate archives. Often, the names of the donors or original owners are written or stamped on the reverse of the maps. Names such as General Samuel Gibbs French, General Trimble, General Thomas L. Snead, General Polk, General Thomas Hindman can be found on the backs of many maps. One notable map of the Malvern Hill battlefield includes a notation on the back indicating that it was owned by General Lafayette McLaws, a commander with the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War. Although the general could not remember who drew the map or when it was created, he believed that it came into his possession during the Civil War.


Reverse of a map of Malvern Hill with handwritten note by General McLaws. VA-2 (Image 2)


Map of Malvern Hill Battlefield owned by General McLaws. VA-2

The map of the Murfreesboro battlefield below includes a notation on the reverse that it was “Found at Macon, GA” by a clerk on July 20, 1865, showing yet another way that the National Archives came to hold some of these maps and items and yet again illustrating the unique information that can be found on the backs of many of these maps.


Map of the Battle of Murfreesboro with handwritten notation on back. TN-3


Reverse of a map of the Battle of Murfreesboro showing handwritten notation. TN-3

All of the maps may be viewed at the following link: Confederate Maps. Take some time to browse through these maps, enjoying both the fronts and the backs!

If you wish to view maps from a specific state, see the following link: RG 109 maps by state and click on the state you wish to view. Next, click on the blue link that says “item(s) described in the catalog” that is located near middle of the catalog entry.


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How to Research: Photographs Relating to WWII Marine Corps Units

In this fourth and final post of How to Research WWII photographs, we will provide an example of how researchers can search for and identify images related to a specific US Marine Corps unit.

As is true with the WWII Army, Army Air Forces, and Navy photographs, prior to beginning your search in Still Pictures, it is important to gather as much information as possible about the USMC unit of interest. With that said, the basic information you should have includes:

  • The location(s) and dates where the unit served;
  • Names of personnel attached to the unit;
  • Important facts about the unit, such as battles the unit participated in and the type of equipment they used;
  • and the hierarchical structure of the unit (including any changes).

For the purpose of this blog post, we have chosen to search for photographs related to Marine Observation Squadron Six (VMO-6). Much of the information gathered for this post was found through the use of war diaries, as well as a published history of VMO-6. The following timeline covers the locations, dates, and hierarchical structure of VMO-6 (please note that this is not a comprehensive timeline):

January – February, 1945 – Deployed to Guadalcanal and reassigned to Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific.

February 10th, 1945 – Arrived and disembarked at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands. Attached operationally to the 15th Regiment of the 6th Marine Division.

March 1st, 1945 – Reassigned to 2d Marine Aircraft Wing.

March 27th – March 31st, 1945 – Underway for Okinawa.

April 1st, 1945 – VMO-6 came ashore during the Battle of Okinawa and commenced operations from Yontan Airstrip.

July 1945 – The squadron departed for Agaña, Guam where it remained until the end of the war.

The following is a partial list of personnel that were attached to VMO-6 at various times during WWII:

  • Captain Joe W. Fitts, Jr.
  • Captain Donald R. Garrett
  • 1st Lt. Thomas G. Alderson
  • 2nd Lt. Lester E. Bartels
  • 2nd Lt. James A. Calhoun
  • 2nd Lt. Charles Hanmer
  • 2nd Lt. Richard F. Hoffman
  • 2nd Lt. Glenn R. Hunter
  • 2nd Lt. Emanuel Noyses
  • 2nd Lt. Donald H. Rusling

Important facts about VMO-6:

  • As an observation squadron, VMO-6 flew and maintained OY-1 Sentinel aircraft. OY-1 airplanes were referred to as “Grasshoppers.”
  • Grasshoppers were not only used for observation, but they were also used by VMO-6 for medical evacuations.
  • The unit received a Presidential Unit Citation for their activities on Okinawa.

Having gathered all of the pertinent information, the first place to begin WWII Marine research is in Record Group 127, series GW (127-GW): Photographs of World War II and Post World War II Marine Corps Activities, ca. 1939 – ca. 1958.

Unlike the Army, Army Air Forces, and Navy, which provided NARA with a card catalog index that includes caption cards and photo numbers, the Marine photographs in 127-GW are organized by location and subsequently by subject. As a result of not having a caption card index, researchers must physically go through the boxes of prints, reading caption information attached to photographs, in order to identify photographs related to their research subject. Captions vary in detail and specificity. So, while some captions are vague, some will include the unit information. However, more often than not, a researcher will need to use details about the unit and historic context to determine if a photo is relevant to their unit.  

Based on our research, we know that VMO-6 was very active during the Okinawa Campaign. Therefore, we decided to first review the 127-GW boxes that cover Okinawa. However, within 127-GW, there are 14 boxes dedicated just to Okinawa, and each box contains hundreds of photographs. Further, within those 14 boxes, there are photographs that document the activities of many different units. Recognizing that it would take quite some time to review each photo, we wanted to make our search more concise. In order to narrow our search, we reviewed the finding aid (available in the finding aid drawers in the Still Picture research room) and identified several subject headings that appeared to be relevant to our unit. Researchers should note that each subject listing is assigned a divider number. Additionally, the same subject heading might appear more than once.

Here are the photographs we located that are relevant to VMO-6 and their work on Okinawa, which we have organized by the divider number/subject:

127-GW-Divider 519: Camp

While this photo does not specifically list VMO-6 in the caption, it does state that it is a camp for Marines of the 2nd Air Wing, which VMO-6 was assigned to while in Okinawa. Additionally, the photograph shows Yontan Airfield, which is where VMO-6 operated during the Okinawa Campaign.

127-GW-519-117903 (127-N-117903).jpg

Local ID: 127-GW-519-117903

127-GW-Divider 529: Scouts, Observation

In our review of divider 529, we were able to identify VMO-6 photographs because several of the captions included the names of VMO-6 personnel, as well as information about the aircraft (OY-1 Sentinel Grasshopper) that VMO-6 flew and maintained. However, there was only 1 photograph within divider 529 that actually listed the unit information in the caption.

127-GW-529-117519 (127-N-117519)

Local ID: 127-GW-529-117519

127-GW-529-117769 (127-N-117769)

Local ID: 127-GW-529-117769

127-GW-529-120606 (127-N-120606)

Local ID: 127-GW-529-120606

127-GW-529-121235 (127-N-121235)

Local ID: 127-GW-529-121235

127-GW-529-125956 (127-N-125956)

Local ID: 127-GW-529-125656

 127-GW-Divider 557: Maps

Again, the caption for this map does not include information that specifically lists VMO-6. However, VMO-6 was part of the 6th Marine Division.

127-GW-557-30255 (127-N-30255).jpg

Local ID: 127-GW-557-302255

127-GW-Divider 569: Coastline, Beach

We have included this photograph because it was taken on April 1, 1945, which is the same day that VMO-6 came ashore on Okinawa.

127-GW-569-117242 (127-N-117242)

Local ID: 127-GW-569-117242

127-GW-Divider 637: Aerial

Given that VMO-6 operated from Yontan Airfield, we felt this aerial was relevant to the history of the unit.

127-GW-637-127797 (127-N-127797).jpg

Local ID: 127-GW-637-127797

127-GW-Divider 638: No Subject- Aircraft

The date and location of this image indicate that VMO-6 would have witnessed the invasion.

127-GW-638-123414 (127-N-123414).jpg

Local ID: 127-GW-638-123414

After their activities on Okinawa were complete, VMO-6 traveled to Guam. Therefore, for the next step in our research, we decided to search through the 127-GW Guam boxes. Since there are only 6 boxes dedicated to Guam, rather than selecting and sampling subjects, we tried a different approach and reviewed all of the photographs within these boxes (with the exception of subjects that covered civilian activities). Our research paid off because we did locate a group photo of VMO-6. The group photograph was found filed under 127-GW-Divider 1404: Relaxation. Had we done a sampling of subject headings, as we did with the Okinawa boxes, we likely would not have found the image. It appears that the group photo was filed under “relaxation” due to the information provided in the caption, which reads: “Guam…With combat operations on Okinawa behind them, these Marines of Marine Observation Squadron-6, 6th Marine Division, pose for a photograph during a rest and relaxation period.”


Local ID: 127-GW-1404-A332834

Beyond 127-GW, there are other Marine photographic series that may enhance your research. For example, another place to look is within 127-GR: Photographic Reference File, ca. 1940 – ca. 1958. This series has been digitized and made available in the NARA catalog here.

Prior to being sent to NARA, 127-GR was a series of photographs that were selected and maintained by the USMC in order to provide a concise, representative collection of images documenting their activities and personnel. While some photographs can be found in both 127-GR and 127-GW, there are some photographs that were chosen for inclusion in the reference file that may not be easy to find in 127-GW, or may not exist in 127-GW at all.

Like 127-GW, 127-GR is organized by location.  A search through the Okinawa boxes in 127-GR did return a few additional images related to VMO-6 that we did not find (or we accidentally overlooked) in 127-GW:


Local ID: 127-GR-95-121039. Caption: Marine pilots of the little “Grasshopper” observation planes on Yontan airfield, Okinawa, have a sign over the entrance to their bomb shelter which tells how rapidly they take cover when it is necessary. Left to right: 2nd Lt. Donald H. Rusling; Captain Donald R. Garrett; 2nd Lt. Lester E. Bartels; and 2nd Lt. Glenn R. Hunter.


Local ID: 127-GR-103-121629. Caption: RESULT OF AIRBORNE INVASION — This is the wreckage of one of the Japanese bombers converted to a transport for the attempted suicide invasion of Yontan Airfield on Okinawa. One the moonlit night of May 24th, the desperate enemy air invasion was thwarted.


Local ID: 127-GR-103-123728. Caption: On a “go” signal from the traffic control man, a cub plane takes off from the road-runway with a Marine casualty on board. From this improvised airbase near the Okinawa front lines at the town of Itoman, a squadron of the tiny planes shuttled the wounded to rear aid stations.


Key Points to Take Away:

  • As illustrated through our findings, captions can and will include pieces of information that, taken out of context, do not mean much. However, combining the historic context with all of the pieces of information included in a caption, including dates and locations, may help a researcher identify photographs that they may otherwise overlook.
  • Research can be as narrow, broad, or in-depth as you want to make it. 127-GR and 127-GW are by no means the only two available series for WWII Marine research.

The following links will guide users to descriptions of notable photographic series relating to WWII Marine Corps research:

  • 127-GC: Photographs of Marine Corps Activities taken in the United States and Foreign Countries, ca. 1939 – 1958
  • 127-GR: Photographic Reference File, ca. 1940 – ca. 1958
    • This series has been digitized and made available in the NARA catalog here.
  • 127-GS: Photographs of Marine Corps Training and Activities, 1939 – 1958
  • 127-GW: Photographs of World War II and Post World War II Marine Corps Activities, ca. 1939 – ca. 1958
  • 127-MM: Photographs of African Americans and Women in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1943 – 1969
  • 127-MN: Photographs of Navajo Indian “Code-Talkers” in the U.S. Marine Corps, 1943 – 1948
  • 127-PG: Marine Corps Officers, 1804 – 1945
  • 127-PL: Logbooks for U.S. Marine Corps Photographs, 1943 – 1981
  • 127-PX: Indexes to Photographs of Marine Corps and Noted Civilian Personalities, 1927 – 1981

The United States Marine Corps History Division is a great resource that can be used to gather pertinent unit information prior to beginning photographic research. For researchers specifically interested in USMC activities during WWII, the following websites and publications may be of interest:

Looking for another branch of the Military? The following links will take you to previous posts in the “How To Research” series:

  1. WWII Army Units
  2. WWII Air Force Units (Army Air Forces)
  3. WWII Navy Ships and Crew




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