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On Ancestry.com [library edition] U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 there is a record where the Branch and Branch Code is listed as "Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA". What does that mean?

The particular entry I was looking at was for: Joseph K. MEAGHER (b. 1910, NY; residence Livingston Co., NY; enlistment date 26 May 1942).

Name: Joseph K MEAGHER Birth Year: 1910 [...] Enlistment Date: 26 May 1942 Enlistment State: Texas Enlistment City: Fort Sam Houston Branch: Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA Branch Code: Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA

[Abbreviations used in this post: b. = born; standard 2 letter postal abbreviation for states; Co. = County]

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I found a related question with an answer that might be illuminating. The answer reads in part:

Mariano S. Malapit was a Private in the US Army, when he went in. The “Branch Immaterial or Warrant Officer” is what they put on everyone’s Enlistment Record, unless they went in as Commissioned Officers.

It would appear the appointment "Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA" should be read "Branch Immaterial or Warrant Officers, USA".

If the above is true (and it should be verified!) then at the time Joseph K. Meagher was enlisted they did not care where he was going just yet - just that he had been drafted.

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The State Library of Kansas has a detailed discussion of possible entries in each field of the Army Serial Number Enlistment Card Records.

It is difficult to imagine that large numbers of men were drafted as Warrant Officers (a highly trained, experienced and responsible position). These were positions to be filled by professional soldiers. Yet a Google search using {Branch Immaterial} turns up a surprisingly large number of uses of this code.

This suggests that what began as a very specific reference (WO were not assigned to a service branch, but stood outside that structure) may have generated to be used to mean "not yet determined" (or even "I don't know.")

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My father was a WW2 veteran and he said it was also men who had been in the service and reenlisted they were in as a Warrant Officers and obtained rank over new enlisted persons for training and some obtained Sargent rank because of past service even though they were never Sargent before.

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My first step when examining the search results from any online database is to learn more about the nature of the original source material. The US National Archives has selected articles from Prologue Magazine online -- one of which is The World War II Army Enlistment Records File and Access to Archival Databases Spring 2006, Vol. 38, No. 1, by Theodore J. Hull.

Note especially Hall's caution:

As with most archival records now used for genealogical research, the records were originally created for a very different purpose than identifying specific individuals.

Hall's article provides an overview of this source, including the purpose for which the information was collected, and discusses the migration path from the original index cards to its current home in electric format as part of NARA's Access to Archival Databases (AAD).

In the US Army, the term branch refers to what type of service the soldier is performing -- a list of modern-day branches can be found on the page Military Science at Hofstra University. Some examples are -- Infantry, Artillery, Aviation, the Signal Corps, Quartermasters, etc.

If you look for your relative in the database U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946 or at the US National Archives' own electronic database on their AAD (Access to Archival Databases) website, and the entry reads "Branch Immaterial - Warrant Officers, USA" it means that the Army wasn't assigning the recruit to a branch at that time. Dictionary.com and other online dictionaries define 'immaterial' as not pertinent; irrelevant.

The term 'Warrant Officer' refers to a military rank (and the corresponding pay grade).

Pay grades are used by the uniformed services of the United States to determine wages and benefits based on the corresponding military rank of a member of the services. While different titles or ranks may be used among the seven uniformed services, pay grades are uniform and equivalent between the services and can be used to quickly determine seniority among a group of members from different services. They are also essential when determining a member's entitlements such as basic pay and allowances.

Pay grades are divided into three groups: enlisted (E), warrant officer (W), and officer (O).

Wikipedia's article on Warrant Officers says:

On August 21, 1941, under Pub.L. 77–230, Congress authorized two grades: warrant officer (junior grade) and chief warrant officer. In 1942, temporary appointments in about 40 occupational areas were made.

In his Prologue article, Hall says:

In general, the records contain the serial number, name, state and county of residence, place of enlistment, date of enlistment, grade, Army branch, term of enlistment, longevity, nativity (place of birth), year of birth, race, education, civilian occupation, marital status, height and weight (before 1943), military occupational specialty (1945 and later), and component of the Army. As noted earlier, at the end of each "best guess" record appear the box and roll number of the microfilmed punch cards.

But if your relative's entry in the database refers to a "Warrant Officer -- Branch Immaterial" it appears to mean that for the Army's analysis, the statisticians didn't need the information about what branch the service member was assigned to -- they were counting all the Warrant Officers as a single group.

More documentation on this database can be found via the National Archives' catalog -- see NAID 1263923, Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, ca. 1938 - 1946.

Resources:

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