One of the interesting things about being a librarian is getting to answer not only the standard how much, how many, how big type questions, but also the ones that make a really profound difference in a person's life.
I recently had this type of question, and perhaps the story of what we did and what we suggested may help someone out there.
A young man from our town graduated from high school, enlisted in the army, and was sent overseas. As young men are wont to do, he met a young lady, and some short while later they became parents. There the story diverges. The young man was posted back to the States and kept in contact with the mother and daughter. However, it not being a regular marriage relationship, the parents of the young woman eventually put a stop to the communication, and destroyed all the letters and presents, so the mother did not have a U. S. address. The child grew up overseas.
But the mother married another man and moved to the States. She is getting elderly now, and does not clearly remember the man's name. Yes, the ravages of time and memory loss can dim even a close relationship. This is where we came in. The mother did know that that man was from our town.
Meeting the half-sister of the original little baby of the story, we suggested the following: get the name of the unit that served in the area overseas. Then get a list of the men serving there at that time. Contact the men who are still alive - this is over 55 years ago, of course - using tools such as the Social Security death index and veteran's burial records to take out the names of the men who are not available to interview. See if the men you talk to have any memories or better yet, pictures of the buddies they had in the service. Since the man was from our town, look in the high school yearbooks from 1945-1949 (the child was born overseas in 1950), to compare a picture to the faces in the city and suburban yearbooks to get a name.
Check with the VFW posts to see if they can ID a picture. The commander and quartermaster of such groups are good contacts. Ask about nicknames. Examine the roster of men who served, and if there were specific assignments, such as a cook, see which of the men on the list would have been a cook. This way, a starting regiment of 3000 men may be pared down to 150 or so; if they are from a general area, then leave items to be published in the newspaper for that area, a human interest story. Look in burials indexes that can be searched online by nickname, to see if there are any matches.
Don't give up. You may find that someone passed 25 years ago. Or you may find your father.