RICHMOND, Va. –
When he’s asked what is the Virginia National Guard’s most prized historic artifact, command historian Al Barnes’ answer may illicit some surprise. It’s not a weapon or a uniform, and it’s not patch or a photo.
Instead, Barnes calls a 1940 Virginia National Guard mobilization roster a “pearl without price.”
The hefty, green manifest contains the name and service number of every Guard soldier activated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1940. Barnes calls the historic resource invaluable, and rare to boot.
He gestured at the other historic documents surrounding his desk at the Virginia National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters.
“If this building ever catches on fire, I’m leaving this stuff and I’m taking this roster, because nothing else we have, that I know of, has the same value,” said Barnes. “This is the only copy I’ve ever seen anywhere.”
The time-worn rosters contained inside are organized unit by unit, and include every Soldier mobilized from the Virginia National Guard’s 116th Infantry Regiment, 111th Field Artillery Regiment and 176th Infantry Regiment.
“Every guy is in here, plus his service number, which is important because with that, we can look them up in the National Archives,” said Barnes.
Today, the roster serves one main purpose: It provides historians the opportunity to verify or disprove service for anyone who was purportedly in the Virginia National Guard during World War II.
“Because they’re stamped with a true date and time we can say if your grandfather isn’t in here, he didn’t get mobilized in 1940, no matter what he told you,” said Barnes.
There are some historic military figures included on the roster, including a Pfc. John R. Slaughter. He’s better known as Sgt. Bob Slaughter, a soldier with the 116th who fought at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, and later led the charge to bring the National D-Day Memorial to Bedford, Va.
Also included is the 116th’s Tech. Sgt. Frank Peregory, the Virginia National Guard’s only Medal of Honor recipient during World War II.
“We used this to validate the spelling of his name, because there was a controversy. Was it Peregory or Peregoy?” explained Barnes.
Barnes hopes to eventually be able to make the records contained in the roster even more valuable.
“We’ve been trying to get it digitized. Our goal is to put all of this online,” said Barnes.
The idea is for anyone who wants to verify a family member’s service to be able to look it up themselves via the internet. Until then, Barnes is encouraging families to come to him with their inquiries, and he can use the mobilization roster to help them.
He also hopes to get something from them in return.
“If you think your grandfather or great-uncle was mobilized, let us know,” said Barnes. “We’ll check it out for you, and in return, can you share a picture? What can you tell us, so we can add on to this?
“It’s so sad, we have better records for World War I guys than we do for these guys. Then we’ve got nothing for guys who served in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Nobody thought it was important to keep.”