I’m often asked if the AAF Collection has information on a specific person. The collection does have hundreds of training class books. These are like high school year books, except they were produced for a training class at a particular Army Air Field or other training facility. Classes lasted anywhere from four to ten, or even twenty, weeks. Separate classes sometimes overlapped their training at the same base.
Thus at a particular facility, there may have been dozens of class books produced during a given year. Once a class graduated, cadets were generally stationed at another Army Air Field to begin their next class. For example pilots underwent pre-flight, then Primary Flight, then Basic Flight, and then Advanced Flight classes, all at separate Air Fields.
Unfortunately I do not have additional information or records about individual cadets or instructors beyond what you see in the class books. At one time I wanted to index the names and hometowns of those pictured in the class books. That would now be a monumental undertaking, but I may do so in the coming years.
How Do I Find a Particular Person?
To find your parent, grandparent, or relative in a class book, you need to know approximately when they trained and where they were stationed. Hopefully you will have the veteran’s discharge certificate. On the back of that document is the Enlisted Record and Report of Separation which gives the date of induction or enlistment and a brief military career summary. This may also list bases at which they were stationed.
You may also have a Certificate of Service, which lists dates, bases assigned, military occupational specialties, and citations earned. If you are really lucky, you’ll have the veteran’s Separation Qualification Record. This form lists all training classes and base locations.
If you don’t have discharge paperwork from the veteran’s estate, check the county where they resided when they were discharged. They were usually required to file these papers at their county courthouse.
Some veterans saved their 201 File. This would be a folder that contains the military orders applicable to them, as well as certifications and flight time records. The cadet usually saved the pages that listed their name from any general or special orders of the commanding officer. These often listed their next unit and base assignment, and promotions.
Check photograph albums. If the veteran took snapshots, an album may indicate dates and locations.
You can also check the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). They have a Veteran’s Service Records page where you can request services records via their eVetRecs facility. Most Army Air Force records were destroyed by a fire years ago. However, they may have some records, or they may be able to piece together fragments of records from many sources. Usually, they will ask you to provide a copy of any discharge paperwork you have.
Once you know the dates and locations, you can make an educated guess as to which class they may have been assigned. Remember to add eight to ten weeks from their induction or enlistment date for regular army basic training, prior to starting the Army Air Forces training program. Class numbers usually signified the year in which the cadet graduated from that class. So class 44-A generally started training near the end of 1943 and graduated in early 1944.
Pilot classes were usually lettered A, B, C while navigator and bombardier classes were numbered 1, 2, 3. I found no correlation between the letter (or number) and the month of graduation. Thus it cannot be said that class 44-D or 44-4 graduated in April 1944. It depends on the number of weeks in the class and whether separate classes were taught concurrently at the facility.
You can browse the AAF Collection for class books from a particular Army Air Field, then look for a particular time period. For example early 1944 might include classes 44-A, 44-B, 44-C and so on. You’ll have to look through each class book. Often, but not always, cadets were assigned to units and squadrons alphabetically by surname. Cadets may therefore be pictured in roughly alphabetical order. Be sure to look at pages at the end of each squadron. Sometimes there were last minute additions after the other pages were laid out.
With a little luck, you may discover your relative’s picture in a class book! If not, remember to check back, as more class books are added to the collection.