SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Among the thousands of names Jack Kennedy punched into his computer for the New York State Military Museum's World War II project were scores of men he knew while growing up in an upstate mill town. Many were sent to the Pacific, and more than a few didn't come back.
"They had a tough go over there," said Kennedy, 90, himself a veteran of the fighting in Europe.
Kennedy was one of more than a dozen volunteers who spent nearly a year at their computers filling Excel spreadsheets with information on almost 29,000 soldiers in the New York National Guard who were called up for federal service in October 1940. In total, 300,000 National Guard soldiers reported for duty that fall.
Jim Gandy, the project's coordinator, said the resulting database is unique in the United States because it's apparently the only one online listing an entire state National Guard organization called up for active duty during World War II.
The museum, located in an old armory in Saratoga Springs, posted the information online so it can be used by people researching their family genealogy or the history of World War II.
Gandy, the museum's assistant librarian and archivist, said he got the idea after some local veterans spent a week painstakingly going through paper records to find every National Guardsman from their town who was called up with the 27th Division in 1940.
"Now you can have that information in a minute," he said.
The online project is a boon to researchers such as Tom Kelly, a retired college history professor who has interviewed many 27th Division veterans, a process that involved mailing out hundreds of questionnaires.
"This obviously would make life much simpler," he said of the museum's online tool. "I'm excited to get access to it."
Bruce Scott got involved after helping out with another museum project. He was also frustrated over trying to trace his genealogy, hitting dead-ends because some records aren't posted online.
"You know there's all this information but it's hidden in some file cabinet somewhere," said Scott, a retired state worker from Albany. "So anything I can do to get this information out there, it's a bonus to somebody."
Al Miller, chief of historical services for the U.S. National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va., called the project significant. He said he didn't know of other places with the resources to accomplish it.
"There may be other (National Guard) units as large and as famous as the 27th that have done this, but I have not heard about it," he said.
Gandy was helped by a group of 15 volunteers, most of them from New York, but some from as far away as Missouri and Florida, including Kennedy, a retired Army colonel from Elfers, Fla.
Starting in early February 2011, Gandy sent volunteers copies of the index cards in numerous batches of between 100 and 300 — 28,969 in all. Each typewritten card, 6 inches wide by 4 inches high, lists a soldier's name, rank, date and place of birth, street address and hometown, unit and enlistment dates. Some bear handwritten notes, added later, that say the soldier was killed or wounded.
Kennedy punched in information for some 6,500 soldiers, including about 100 he knew from his hometown of Cohoes, just north of Albany.
"You know the guy, how old he was, what outfit he was in, what town. There was some attachment there," he said in a telephone interview from his home near Florida's Gulf Coast.
The 27th Division's original index cards fill up a six-drawer filing cabinet in the military museum's basement, home to the state's Veterans Research Center. Cards with a red tag attached to the top indicate a soldier was killed in action; a yellow tag indicates wounded in action. When each drawer is opened, scores of red tags form a broken line across the tops of the faded cards.
Among the soldiers whose information Kennedy handled were at least two men he knew from Cohoes who were killed during the fighting on the Pacific island of Saipan in 1944. Although many of the 27th's troops from the 1940 call-up had transferred to other Army units by then, the division still had several thousand New Yorkers spread among its three regiments: 105th (recruited mostly from the Albany area), 106th (Binghamton and the Hudson and Mohawk valleys) and 165th (New York City).
On July 7, 1944, the 105th bore the brunt of a nighttime assault that would be the Japanese army's largest suicide ground attack of the war. Hundreds of Americans were killed or wounded before most of the 3,000 attackers were virtually wiped out. Three members of the 105th were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for their heroics during the battle, including two National Guard veterans from Troy: Col. William O'Brien and Sgt. Thomas Baker.Comment on this story
Also serving with the 105th at Saipan were numerous soldiers from the rural towns outside Troy. Several were killed and many others wounded, including John Carelli of Hoosick Falls. In a letter to one of his three brothers also serving in the Army, Carelli wrote: "All of the fighting in that raid was at close quarters and a lot of it was hand-to-hand. Two days after this attack the Stars and Stripes was flying high over Saipan. The island was secure."
Carelli, who died in 1970, rarely talked about the battle, according to his son, Chuck Carelli of White Creek.
"But later in his life he said he knew he killed three men and wasn't proud of that," Chuck Carelli said.
Online: New York State Military Museum, http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/mil-hist.htm