How did a member of the Texas “T-Patchers” 36th Infantry Division acquire the ID bracelet of a sailor serving on the other side of the world?
My late father-in-law, Paul Balkin of the Texas “T-Patchers” 36th Infantry Division, had this bracelet among his keepsakes from the war. I don’t know how he came by it and would like to try to return it to its rightful family.
—Henry Kliman, Plano, Texas
Forging connections between artifacts and uncovering the stories behind them—as with this bracelet inscribed with “Benedict G. W.,” and Paul Balkin, who had it in his possession—is a large part of my job as a curator at the National WWII Museum. Unfortunately, it is difficult to uncover a story lacking paperwork to support it, and harder still to reunite an artifact with its original owner. Without a personal account, diary, or interview, research into items like this is typically based on documents that create only a timeline of a soldier’s or sailor’s service. To guide readers on similar searches, I’ll share my process with you.
Balkin’s son-in-law mentioned that he was in the 36th Infantry Division, so I located a postwar division history with a roster. In this case there was one in the museum’s collection, but they can often be found online. It confirmed that a man named Paul Balkin served in Company M, 141st Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division. It also gave me an address in New York. Using that information, I ran a search on a publicly accessible, subscription-based genealogical website and found a Veterans Administration BIRLS (Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem) file confirming that he enlisted in the army on January 3, 1944, and was discharged on January 30, 1946. The next step was to look into the history of the 141st Infantry Regiment: I learned it served in France and Germany beginning in August 1944.
Getting an initial identification on G. W. Benedict was easier since the bracelet bears his service number. Using the same genealogical website, I accessed U.S. Navy muster rolls—quarterly accountings of sailors assigned to a ship or shore station. Benedict was listed as a passenger on the USS Chaumont (AP-5) in October 1942, when he and the rest of the 21st Naval Construction Battalion were transported to the Territory of Alaska. I then checked the Naval History and Heritage Command website and found a battalion history confirming that a Gould W. Benedict had served with the battalion, and that it was based in the Aleutian Islands and, later, on Tinian in the Pacific Theater. Unfortunately, I could not establish a connection or crossover point between these two men. As research often does, it created the even bigger question of how Balkin came to possess the bracelet of someone who literally served on the other side of the world.
To reunite this artifact with the Benedict family, solid research into the past is the best way to start. Given Benedict’s year of birth (1912) in his U.S. Navy paperwork, I searched the “Find a Grave” website. There I found the headstone for G. W. Benedict in Duncan, Oklahoma—and in the middle of the stone was a Freemason symbol like the one on the bracelet. But how to reunite the bracelet with its owner marks the moment when the past becomes the present and I cannot publish any contact information. His final resting place, though, provides a good start for locating any current family through an obituary or local records. ✯
—Josh Schick, Curator
Have a World War II artifact you can’t identify?
Write to Footlocker@historynet.com with the following:
— Your connection to the object and what you know about it.
— The object’s dimensions, in inches.
— Several high-resolution digital photos taken close up and from varying angles.
— Pictures should be in color, and at least 300 dpi.
Unfortunately, we can’t respond to every query, nor can we appraise value.
This article was published in the October 2021 issue of World War II.