WWII American Graves Registration Service: And the Story of Sergeant John J. Kubinski

 

June 1944 Omaha Beach (Normandy, France) U.S. Graves Registration Service Collection Point for dead American and German soldiers being processed and prepared for temporary burial.  Photograph WW2 US Medical Research Centre. 

 

In WWII the United States Army Quartermaster Graves Registration Service was responsible for the care of the dead in all the branches of military service.  They worked with reverence and respect to preserve the dignity of those who sacrificed their lives.

 

WWII researcher and author, Jennifer Holik, has studied and written in-depth about the United States (U.S.) Graves Registration Service (GRS).  The following excerpts are from two of her articles:  

“In 1867 … Congress gave the Quartermaster General in the U.S. Army the responsibility of establishing permanent military cemeteries, handling burials, keeping records, and handling ongoing maintenance of these cemeteries.

When the U.S. entered World War II  … they planned to establish several cemeteries near the active front and would bring Soldier Dead to these cemeteries. Collection points would be established so the combat units could assist in the collection and identification of Soldier Dead.

The GRS in World War II were not only responsible for collecting, identifying, and burying the Soldier Dead, but also handling personal effects. The men had a system by which they worked on the stripping line to handle effects so they would be returned to the owner’s family.

GRS workers were responsible for locating suitable cemetery sites. They examined the terrain, soil quality, and distance to enemy lines. Upon selection of a site, they plotted the cemetery. Maps were drawn, processing tents were set up and the men assigned tasks. Local civilian workers were called in to dig graves and bury the dead.

It was important to bury all the dead primarily for health concerns. Decomposing bodies out in the open spread disease and lowered troop morale. It was better that the troops didn’t encounter the remains of Soldier Dead very often, lest the fear and panic they already felt increase, making them unable to do their job effectively.

Soldiers were buried for forensic reasons also. Information was gathered from the Soldier Dead to not only identify them but also gather information on how they were killed.

GRS claimed the remains of Soldier Dead from a unit, along the road side or battle ground. They worked on both sides of enemy lines in the mud, rain, deep snow, jungles and on beaches in their recovery efforts.

Effects recovered were bagged and sent to Kansas City, Missouri, for disbursement. They were cleaned of blood and grime.

When a soldier was located after death, every attempt at identification took place. The process began at the stripping line where troops initially removed explosives and equipment. Another soldier took these items to an ammo and equipment area so they could be reissued.

Next, medical sergeants stepped in with a clerk. The sergeants cut pockets and other pieces of clothing to locate identification tags and personal effects.

An Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF) was created for every Soldier Dead upon receipt of remains by the GRS.

A Report of Burial contained the soldier’s name, serial number, rank, date of death, place of death, a copy of his identification tag is stamped onto the form using an addressograph machine. The report also contained the grave location of the soldier along with the man buried on either side of him. … A list of personal effects were included if any were found on the body.

If the deceased was unable to be identified then a form that allowed for fingerprinting and dental records was used and inserted into the Soldier Dead file. This form also contained space to list a physical description and information on personal effects or other things that might help identify the deceased.

The Report of Death was a form for the Adjutant General’s Office that listed name, rank, serial number, branch of service, date of birth and death, date of active entry in service, where he was killed, emergency contact and beneficiary information.

Request for Disposition of Remains. This form was sent to the next of kin to complete so the government would know what to do with the remains. The choices were:

  • To be interred at a Permanent American Military Cemetery Overseas.
  • To be returned to the United States or any possession or territory thereof for interment by next of kin in a private cemetery.
  • To be returned to [insert foreign country] the homeland of the deceased for interment by next of kin.
  • To be returned to the United States for final interment in a National Cemetery.

Disinterment Directive.  This form contains the basic identifying information on the Soldier Dead: Name, rank, serial number, date of death, cemetery name and location of grave, name and address of next of kin, condition of remains, date disinterred and remains prepared.

Not all Soldier Dead were identified because of the condition of the body when it was received by the GRS. Unknown Soldier Dead were assigned an X number since there was no serial number by which to identify them. … Unknown remains were placed into a mattress cover and the X number was painted on the bag.

The family was notified of Missing in Action and Killed in Action statuses within a couple of months of the event. When the family was notified, they were done so through the War Department.

After the war ended, the U.S. government began working with overseas officials to secure the authorization to use ports, disinter remains in private cemeteries, and to use rail and waterways to transport remains to major sea ports. Once this was in place, the government was able to contact families of the Soldier Dead to inquire about their wishes for the final burial.

The government began notifying families of the location of their Soldier Dead beginning in late 1946 and continuing for several years afterward. It is possible a family’s soldier had been buried overseas for two or more years before the family was notified of the location.

The disinterment and repatriation process took a couple years or more after the war ended. This was due in part to a shortage of materials for cases for the coffins and a shortage of metal for the coffins themselves. … When a Soldier Dead was placed in these coffins, they were sealed and placed into a wooden shipping case. The shipping case had the name, rank, and serial number of the soldier inscribed on the case.

Soldier Dead from World War II were returned home or reburied in a permanent American Military Cemetery overseas from late 1947 through 1951.”

 

Picture postcard of U.S. Military Cemetery Margraten, Holland, circa 1946.  Note: Identification “dog tags” affixed to the temporary grave markers.  Original photograph by Jean Smeets of Maastricht, Holland.  WWII Historical Collection of Josephine Pescatore Reaves, WWII U.S. Army Nurse, 24th Evacuation Hospital.

 

U.S. military deaths in WWII totaled over 400,000.  Every serviceman and servicewoman had a story.  This is the story of the life and death of  John J. Kubinski and his journey back to his home state of Ohio after WWII ended.

John Joseph Kubinski was born in Ohio on April 10, 1919, to Polish immigrants Stanley and Nellie Kubinski.  He attended Warren G. Harding High School in Warren, Ohio.  John married Susan Billock on November 29, 1941, and he was employed at the Republic Steel Corporation plant in Newton Falls, Ohio, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941.

On March 26, 1942, John enlisted in the U.S. Army.  His Enlistment Records noted he was 73 inches tall and weighed 149 pounds.  He was given the military rank of Private.

Private John J. Kubinski was assigned to the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division, 401st Glider Infantry Regiment, as a Glider Infantryman.  

The 401st Glider Infantry Regiment participated in the June 1944 Normandy Invasion (codenamed Operation Overlord) landing on Utah Beach with the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division.   

On September 18, 1944, 750 gliders from the 401st Glider Infantry Regiment would land in Holland as part of Operation Market Garden.  The mission of the 401st was to keep open the road between Sint-Oedenrode and Eindhoven.  The road was of vital importance as British armored units advanced north from the Belgium and Netherlands border with the objective to reach the bridge at Arnhem.  Fighting was fierce and combat losses were heavy as the 401st fought 72 days to keep the road open between Veghel and Son, Holland.

 

Waco CG-4 gliders awaiting launch in England as part of Operation Market Garden. Photograph U.S. Army Signal Corps.

 

It was in that 72 day period that then promoted Sergeant (SGT) John J. Kubinski was seriously wounded.  He was transported to the U.S. Army 24th Evacuation Hospital, which at that time was working out of the Saint Maarten Kliniek (Clinic) in Nijmegen, Holland.  It was here that John would die from his wounds.

 

Saint Maarten Kliniek, Nijmegen, Holland, circa 1940s.  Picture postcard from  the WWII Historical Collection of Josephine Pescatore Reaves, WWII U.S. Army Nurse, 24th Evacuation Hospital.

 

One of SGT Kubinski’s nurses at the 24th Evacuation Hospital was Lieutenant (LT) Josephine Pescatore.  In a 2011 oral history interview she still remembered a courageous young soldier who often spoke of his family and how much he loved them.  John asked LT Pescatore if she could find a priest for him to talk to before he died.  After visiting with the priest, SGT John J. Kubinski, age 25, died at five o’clock in the afternoon on November 16, 1944.

SGT John J. Kubinski was buried in Plot F, Row 3, Grave 50 at U.S. Temporary Cemetery 4655 at Molenhoek, Holland.

After WWII ended, John’s wife, Susan, made the decision to bring his body back to the U.S. for burial in Newton Falls, Ohio.

In November 1948 the remains of SGT John J. Kubinski were disinterred from U.S. Temporary Cemetery 4655 and travelled by train to Antwerp, Belgium.  John’s casket along with the remains of 3,384 WWII dead sailed from Antwerp to New York City on the U.S. Army Transport Barney Kirschbaum.  His casket would travel by train from New York City and arrive in Newton Falls, Ohio, on January 31, 1949.  SGT Kubinski’s casket, draped by an American flag, was met by the James Funeral Home and The American Legion.

John was survived by his wife, Susan;  his parents Stanley and Nellie Kubinski; and his brothers Alex, Edward, Stanley, and Joseph.

John was laid to rest at St. Michael’s Cemetery in Newton Falls, Ohio, on February 3, 1949.

 

Photograph of tombstone from Find A Grave.

 

 

 

Thank you to Jennifer Holik, World War II Research & Writing Center.  Links to the full text of her “The Graves Registration Service in World War II” articles Part 1 and Part 2.

Thank you to Dr. Vernon Williams, Director, East Anglia Air War Project.

Thank you to Mallory Duriak, Reference Associate, Newton Falls Public Library and the Warren-Trumbull County Public Library in Ohio.  

Thank you to Carlos Alvarado, Archivist, U.S. Army AMEDD Center of History and Heritage, Fort Sam Houston, Texas.