B-17 “Wee Willie” going down over Berlin on April 8 1945, just one month before the end of the War in Europe. This photo inspired my WWII research. I originally viewed the crash of “Wee Willie” in a TIME-LIFE history of World War 2 around 1971 at the age of 13.—Bill Beigel
American researcher Bill Beigel talks about his collection of American airmen’s casualty records, now available on the AAM website:
Today, I’m a full-time historian and American military casualty researcher. But as a young man, trying to help my dad learn what happened to a close relative who was killed in WWII, I learned how murky a process it is to learn the details of military deaths from that time. People received little or no information about how their family members died during wartime. It is possible today, but it’s not easy. Thousands of Americans are left searching for answers about what happened to their loved ones in World War II, and far too many have died not knowing. So, for about 15 years, I worked during evenings, weekends, and on family vacations helping people to piece together their families’ histories, or maybe to search out all the guys who died from a town or a county, or from a university like UCLA, my alma mater. In 2013, I bade adieu to corporate America to dedicate myself full-time to researching military casualties and telling their stories.
When I learned about the American Air Museum website project, I knew that I wanted to donate all of the American airmen’s IDPFs (Individual Deceased Personnel Files) that I had located between 1999 and 2014. I receive most of my researched records as paper files, so I hired a vendor to scan my entire collection of about 1,600 records into high-resolution, searchable PDFs.
At that time, I had records on more than 230 American flyers who were based in the UK. These flyers played pivotal roles in winning the war and I want each one to be remembered. I was more than pleased when the AAM accepted my donation offer and undertook the enormous task of importing the thousands of pages of PDFs into their website so that now, anyone can access them. In addition to donating the IDPFs, I wrote summaries for each of my guys (they really do feel like “my guys”) and added those to the site also.
I want these donated records to be a tribute to these lost airmen – to keep their stories alive. And I want to try to help a few more people find the answers they've been seeking.
You can find a list of the donated records here: http://bit.ly/-beigel-american-air-museum. At the American Air Museum website, in addition to the IDPFs, you will also find summaries of how each of these men died if you search their names in the site, or simply by searching on my name.