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Operation Neptune Manifest

This data set is a World War 2 Loading Manifest for Operation Neptune[1] better known as D-Day. In this form dated June 5, 1944, it includes fields such as Drop Order, Army Serial Number, Rank, Full Name, Remarks and additional soft-coded fields labeled Main and Reserve. This form holds information on the men and equipment loaded onto a specific aircraft as they embark on the largest and most important military mission known to man. The bottom portion of the manifest holds specific information on containers loaded onto the drop aircraft with respective fields Rack No., Type, Contents, Gross Weight, Prcht., and Color/light. This specific form represents the 82nd Airborne paratroopers who were dropped at St. Mere-Eglise, France on board a C-47 Skytrain nicknamed “Turf & Sport Special” with Tail Number 42-92841. The United States military has extensive data records such as this form that have developed throughout its maturity from the revolutionary war to modern day. This advancement in data collection and presentation is an inherent component of scalability and efficiency. The complexity and intricacy of data forms grows with time and size. The development and need of more complex data forms is apparent for the US military.

There is a stark difference between the detail and amount of information recorded in a New Jersey troop manifest[2] from the revolutionary war and the World War 2 loading manifest. The document from the 18th century records their name, company/regiment, date of appointment, term enlisted for, “for the war” and casualties. The information on the document is filled to the best of the author's ability with many fields missing information or being the same as the field before indicating few distinct entries. This occasional missing entry shows a lack of structure and organization from the governing body. The fields with only few entries also reveal a lack of importance for this field as it only applies to some soldiers. This is contrasted by the Word War 2 loading manifest which is filled completely at every entry even requiring soft coded fields to be added in. There is a further amount of detail for each soldier such as distinct army serial numbers and an added section for special remarks.

This shows the advancement of military data collection and its requirement for further information as forces and type of forces grows. Enlistment data alone no longer suffices for the military’s needs. They require further documentation per mission leading to more intricate forms of data such as the loading manifest. Although enlistment data is still an essential part of the military’s records and is available through a narrowing search using the army serial number if needed. The National Archives World War 2 Enlistment Records[3] provide similar details as the New Jersey troop manifest for every soldier on the World War 2 loading manifest. For example, information on Private First Class William L. Strieter can be found in the archives through his serial number “13145180”. There are general fields such as, State & County Residence, Place of Enlistment, Date of Enlistment Year, Source of Army Personnel and Year of Birth but a full record of the soldier is available as well. With this Army Serial Number the military is able to efficiently track soldiers across different documents and ensure proper identification. This advancement made military documentation quickly evolve to a multi-layered system.

A distinct feature of this dataset is the human component of the information and the way it was collected. These features are all susceptible to be lost through digitization as we would not be able to see the distinctions. The Operation Neptune loading manifest is filled with human error and corrections. The main human component of this document are the soft-coded fields Main and Reserve which were essential enough the author of the document felt the need or was required to include them. There are also entries on the form crossed out by different colored writing tools indicating that these soldiers were no longer dropping from this aircraft by different people. The soldiers crossed out on the manifest also do not have the soft-coded Main or Reserve fields. This hints at the meaning of Main and Reserve as parachute serial numbers as only soldiers confirmed aboard the aircraft are given these fields. Through database digitization these inferences would not have been possible. There are also different sets of handwriting on the manifest suggesting that the document did not have a primary author and was filled out by whoever was in possession of it. The different handwritings appear at the end of the personnel and containers section confirming these entries were added after the original author completed filling it out. D-Day was originally scheduled to occur on June 5, 1944 the exact date the document is dated, but due to inclement weather the operation was postponed to the following day June 6. This is not reflected on the document but through a historical analysis the reason for so many correcting markings would become apparent. Soldiers could have been reassigned or no longer able to jump throughout the disruption of the operation’s delay. The document had to be preserved and updated to reflect the changes aboard the aircraft.

Database digitization of this historical document would strip the artifact of its human component, arguably the most important factor. There is little value to be drawn from the data today. In the moment, the military relied on this documentation to track and identify aircraft and their personnel to ensure resources were being allocated and delivered properly. This singular document is only one instance of many like it that did not get preserved. This specific document was donated to the Air mobility Command Museum by TSgt. Winfield “Bing” Wood who was an aerial engineer on the aircraft listed on the document, the “Turf & Sport Special”. This indicates that the military found a short term purpose for these manifests and did not intend on making sure these made it back home to be archived. This revelation shows that a database digitization of this document would not be useful as the beauty in the artifact is in the human component.

A more beneficial and valuable way of digitizing this document would be in a way to leverage the visual component as much as possible. This could be achieved through an interactive document that is multi-functional allowing for many different uses from historical analysis to database usage. A unique feature of this interactive document would be adding hyperlinks to every army serial number which would then route you to their corresponding enlistment data on the National Archives website.[4] Text boxes that point out intracices not apparent at a glance such as the June 5 date discrepancy would be beneficial as well. Users would be able to extract as much information as possible from the historical document without destroying the human component. The digitization of historical documents is necessary in order to preserve and save our past, but if done incorrectly the nuances of these documents could be lost forever therefore changing the true meaning of the artifact.






[1] See Figure 1

[2] See Figure 2 | https://catalog.archives.gov/id/600986

[3] See Figure 3

[4] https://aad.archives.gov/aad/fielded-search.jsp?dt=893&tf=F