The Challenge of Research
Working in our Prescott, Arizona home on a cold January day in 2010, some of the photos and documents fell from the brittle folders. Captain David Jay Hindlemann had carefully placed them in a satchel after World War II. Luckily, many photos had dates or captions written on them. Others cried for their place in the story we wanted to recover for our family. It is the story of a young artillery officer and the slogging, suffering, brutal path his Generals carved across war-torn Europe in 1944 and 1945.
How will it be possible to do justice to the man, his times, and the powerful experiences that shaped him? We knew the challenges ahead, but had no idea unraveling his story would require so much enjoyable time and energy. We knew Dave well. He was reluctant to speak in depth of his wartime experiences. At 90, when he left us in 2006, the parts of him formed in those war years were his strength and the modifying factors that regulated his life. “I never feared death after those times,” he commented only months before he died. “I learned to deal with it then. I’m not afraid now.” Perhaps that is one of the important keys to understanding David Jay Hindlemann.
Like millions of other young men he was yanked from the comforts of his life. He left Denver, Colorado where he was a popular, fun, bright guy in his mid-twenties who, with a disarming smile, at 6’ 4”, in business for himself, had a good handle on life. All of that changed forever. In November 1942 he was sent to Camp Adair, Oregon for basic training. He was rapidly promoted to corporal and then to sergeant. Honorably discharged as a non-commissioned officer, he was then assigned to the Officer Training School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He spent 1943 and 7 months in 1944, first as a student in the Officer’s Training program and the artillery school, then as an instructor.
Dave first started relaying his military history to us in bits and small vignettes about 1995. Many years later, when Dave was 86 (2002), he decided to record a more complete history. To do that he needed his military records. His daughter Jo and I worked with him to try to recover them. At the time, in fact until his death, he believed that the file of photos and papers he kept had been destroyed or stolen. During a move, his uniform and medals were taken and have never been recovered.* He could not recall his service number (dog tag number). The Army’s central depository for military records near St. Louis, of which his records were evidently a part, burned in 1973 and uncounted soldiers lost their places in history.** We were told that the only way to rebuild his record was to write it and then get another survivor of the 80th Headquarters Division, Field Artillery who served with him to verify the story. Checking, we couldn’t find another survivor of the Headquarters Division.
We were seeking to record history within official history. What is recorded and easy to locate identifies those officers in charge, the geographical locations where they served, and the battles they led. What we were having a difficult time obtaining were the personal and battle records of two Generals – Searby and MacKelvie. Dave was assigned to their personal staff as Aide-de-Camp. He was with them through it all, their records are necessary for information about him.
* After his death in 2006, Dave’s photographs and documents were found in the back of an old file cabinet.
**On July 12, 1973, a disastrous fire at NPRC (MPR) destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files.
The affected record collections are described below:
Personnel and Period Affected
Personnel discharged Nov 1 1912 – Jan 1 1960
No duplicate copies of the records that were destroyed in the fire were maintained, nor was a microfilm copy ever produced. There were no indexes created prior to the fire. In addition, millions of documents had been lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the fire occurred. Therefore, a complete listing of the records that were lost is not available.
We tried every way we could think of to find records of Dave’s service and to help him verify his accounts. We contacted the Veterans Association through their “free” web sites, but even after paying the fees we could not find a record of a David Jay Hindlemann who served in the United States Army. We wondered if Dave’s lost records were somehow unique. We searched for the records of Brigadier General E.W. Searby. Nothing. We called Ft. Sill Oklahoma and they searched for records of the General. A week or so later, a soldier called and reported that Ft. Sill had a General Searby Ballroom, but that no one there at the time knew who he was or could find a record of him. (We learned later that the publication of the 80th Division history was available at the time, but the people we spoke with at Ft. Sill didn’t seem to know about it. This was before Google).
Frustrated and concerned, we talked to Dave and got more information. It seemed to us at that time that only his recollections would be available to tell his story.