Ted Wiliams high schoolUnited States Marines have protected America’s—and other—shores for almost 240 years. More than 750,000 Marines served in World War II and the Korean War, and almost 25,000 were killed in the two conflicts.

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Muster rolls (monthly) and unit diaries (daily) were prepared to help track and report on a unit’s personnel. Now, you can use these Marine Corps documents to follow an ancestor through their years of military service. Discover your family story today.

The Marines have had plenty of famous—and a few infamous—personalities in their ranks:

  • Ted Williams — The perennial MLB All-Star served in both World War II and the Korean War. At the onset of World War II, Williams was classified as 3-A because his mother was dependent on him. The public wanted none of it. One of Williams’ sponsors, Quaker Oats, withdrew their endorsement contract after getting word that Williams would not be enlisting. On May 22, 1942, after much public criticism, Williams enlisted in the Navy Reserve and was later commissioned as a Marine Corps aviator and served as a flight instructor in Pensacola, Florida. His skills as a pilot were put to the test when he was called up during the Korean War. In February 1953, the hydraulics and electrical systems of his aircraft were knocked out by a piece of flak. Despite damage to the aircraft, Williams was able to land at a nearby U.S. airbase.
  • Bea Arthur — Also joining the war effort was actress Bea Arthur, best known for her role on The Golden Girls 40 years after the conclusion of World War II. At the time of her enlistment at Marine Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Arthur went by her maiden name, Bernice Frankel. Starting as a private, Arthur worked her way up to the rank of staff sergeant before her honorable discharge in September 1945.

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oswald gunshotLee Harvey Oswald — Along with name, rank, and enlistment date, Marine Corps muster rolls can also record remarks on service and prison/punishment details. Searching the records for Lee Harvey Oswald reveals that Oswald began his career in the Corps at the El Toro Air Station in October, 1956, seven years before the assassination of JFK. At that time, Oswald held the rank of private. A year later, in 1957, the rolls show that Oswald moved from El Toro Air Station in California to Atsugi Naval Air Facility in Japan. Oswald was promoted to the rank of private first class, only to be demoted back to the rank of private and given medical treatment after he accidently shot himself in the arm.

Other celebrities you can track down in Marine Corps muster rolls include Steve McQueen, F. Lee Bailey, Gene Hackman, Jim Lehrer, Harvey Keitel, Ed McMahon, and Mills Lane.

Celebrity names make fun finds, but the real value in the Marine Corps muster rolls is the record of millions of Americans who have fought their country’s battles “in the air, on land, and sea.”

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