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Military Research – Part 3 of 3

Military Research, continued from Part 1 and Part 2

Alternate Sources of Military Information

Ok, so let’s say you either couldn’t find a copy of your relative’s separation documents, or you could, but still want to learn more. You may be able to piece together information from other sources. Other places to look are:

Genealogy websites like Ancestry

Ancestry.com and other genealogical sites often return military records like,

  • Enlistment records (but will not include serial number)
  • Draft registration cards
  • Navy muster rolls
  • Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS death file record, which includes branch of service, enlistment date, and release date
  • Prisoner of War records

Fold3 military research website

Fold3.com is a paid site (on its own or with an Ancestry membership) for military information, but does offer a free basic membership so you can see what records are available before deciding whether to purchase a subscription or not. They also offer a 7-day free trial during which you can access everything. In my area, the local Mormon Church research library carries a subscription to Fold3, which I can use for free by visiting their location.

Fold3 does contain a lot of military records, even Missing Air Crew reports from the Army Air Forces, which you may not find on Ancestry.com.

The National Archives online search tool

The online electronic military records in the archival databases of NARA include,

  • World War II Army and Army Air Forces enlistment records (including serial number – see Note below)
  • World War II prisoner of war records
  • Korean War casualties, records of dead and wounded
  • Korean War prisoner of war records
  • Vietnam Conflict records of dead, missing in action, and prisoners of war
  • Vietnam Conflict records of awards and decorations of honor
  • Vietnam Conflict Army ground combat operations records, air sorties, and records about hostile fire against US and Australian warships
  • Civil War records
  • Cold War records

For detail on how to get started with your NARA online search, review the Getting Started Guide.

For information about what you can find in the National Archives’ online military records by era, visit

https://www.archives.gov/research/military/veterans/online

The NARA online search screen basic search, accessed through https://aad.archives.gov/aad/

Results screens

Selection list for enlistment records

If too many records are returned, you may “Search within a field” to narrow down the results. You may narrow results by ASN, Name, Residence State, Residence County, Place of Enlistment, Date of Enlistment Year, Source of Army Personnel, and Year of Birth.

Enlistment record

POW record

American Air Museum in Britain

This site describes itself as

The American Air Museum website records the stories of the men and women of the US Army Air Forces (USAAF) who served their country from the UK in the Second World War. It also records the memories of the British people who befriended them. Browse, edit and upload your own photographs and memories to help us build an online memorial to their lives.

Scroll down the home page to the Getting Started article or further down to search the Archives of People, Aircraft, Places, Missions, Units, and Media (photographs). In the People category, you do not have to fill in any search information other than the name in the Keyword field to begin your search.

If you know your relative served in the 8th Air Force in England in WWII, you may find much more information like group and squadron assignments, base location, names of crew mates, and mission detail.

Individual Unit/Group websites

Once you have discovered the exact unit or group of the military in which your relative served, use Google to see if any of the group’s records are shared online. For example, my father’s group, the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force in WWII, has a very detailed site dedicated to the group and the individuals who served in it. The site contains extensive records of personnel, missions, aircraft, etc., and a large photo gallery.

The 384th Bomb Group’s Web Site

My dad’s personnel record

The 384th Bomb Group’s Photo Gallery

Facebook groups

Many WWII groups of NexGens have Facebook groups to connect with others whose relatives served in the same group/unit. Group researchers will offer assistance with questions and help with research once you become a member of the group.

384th Bomber Group Facebook Group

Memorial websites

Headstones and obituaries sometimes include branch of service or even unit/group information.

  • Legacy.com may have an obituary that includes the group or unit of a deceased serviceman or veteran.
  • Findagrave.com may have a memorial or photo of the headstone that includes group or unit information.

Unit/Group Histories

If your military research takes you into researching unit histories, you may find information at:

National WWII Memorial Registry

The online registry may provide some information.

Uniform and Insignia/Decoration Clues in Photos

You may be able to determine your relative’s unit or group or at least branch, rank, and specialty through uniforms worn in wartime photos.

Left to right: Erwin Foster (ball turret gunner) with Armament patch, Sebastiano Peluso (radioman), and Lenard Bryant (top turret gunner/engineer) with Engineering patch. Patch identifications courtesy of Keith Ellefson.

Patches top left to bottom:  Communications, Armament, Photography, Engineering, and Weather from www.militaryspecialtiesinc.com:

 

Books and Articles

You can find old and new books with lots of military historical information. Of course, they likely won’t mention your relative specifically, but may fill you in on the history of the unit or group. Other than Amazon and eBay, search for used books on Abebooks and Alibris.

Military Times posted a good article on obtaining missing military records and awards here. And note the photo at the top of the article of a preservation technician restoring military personnel records damaged during the July 12, 1973 fire. More records are recovered every day.

Attend Military Historical Association Reunions, Connect with Veterans, and Connect with Other NexGens and Researchers

Many questions about a relative’s military history just can’t be answered through military records or information found online. Reach out to the historical association and attend one of their reunions. You will be able to talk face to face with veterans of the group. Their numbers are dwindling, so the sooner the better. By listening to the experiences of those who served in the same group as your relative, you will better understand the experiences of your relative.

You may even find yourself on the cover of the association’s magazine!

Start a Blog

If you can’t find enough information, let it find you. Start a blog – I suggest WordPress.com – and start writing about and posting all the information and names you have. Make sure to tag the information for which you think someone else might search. Include “Contact Me” information, specifically an e-mail address, and allow comments so it’s easy to be reached. I have had tremendous success connecting with relatives of airmen I write about in my blog. With every connection, my picture of my dad’s WWII service becomes a bit more complete.

Home page of TheArrowheadClub.com

Note

A note about the Army Serial Number (ASN). At the time of enlistment, an 8-digit ASN was assigned. However, if your relative became an officer, he/she would have been reassigned a new ASN beginning with O- and followed by 6 digits. The enlistment record will include only the original serial number, not the reassigned officer serial number.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

Military Research – Part 2 of 3

Military Research, continued from Part 1

Most of my military research experience is WWII-related, primarily Army Air Forces and secondarily Navy research, and therefore it will be the focus of my suggestions here. If you are researching a different timeframe or branch, hopefully you will be able to apply some of my methods to your own search.

Researching Military History – Where to Start

Who are you researching?

Gather copies of the information you have – documents, letters, and military photos – on the person you want to research. Write down the stories you remember hearing. Every bit of biographical data you can record – full name, parents’ names, birth date, birth place, state of residence when joining the service, military service/serial number (see note below regarding ASN), and branch and location of service, if known – will become helpful in finding out more.

What do you want to learn?

Are you looking for basic information like branch and dates of service, or do you want to dig deeper and learn about training and military occupations, the exact unit and location, battles, awards, and decorations?

What do you want to do with this knowledge?

Just something to think about, but your answer will probably determine just how much research you want to do…

  • It’s personal? Maybe you just wanted to know and that’s enough.
  • Do you want to record your family history for future generations?
  • Do you want to connect with other next generation members (NexGens), share your knowledge, and learn more about your common family history?

Resources – Where to Look

There are several places to start that will likely just scratch the surface of the information you can find. If you already have an interest in genealogical research, once you get going, you may find yourself digging deeper and deeper for more knowledge.

First things first

If you have separation papers, you are way ahead of the game. Known today as the DD 214, the separation document before 1950 was form WD AGO, so if you’re looking for WWII Army or Army Air Forces records, look for an Honorable Discharge certificate and Enlisted Record and Report of Separation WD AGO Form 53-55. Accompanying this form for the Army and Army Air Force branch should be the Army of the United States Separation Qualification Record, indicated as WD AGO Form 100. Here’s the information I found on each form:

Honorable Discharge certificate

  • Name
  • Army Serial Number (ASN)
  • Rank
  • Group
  • Branch of Service
  • Place and Date of discharge

Enlisted Record and Report of Separation includes above and adds

  • Home address
  • Date of birth
  • Identifying features
  • Civilian occupation (prior to service)
  • Military history including enlistment date and place
  • Military occupational specialty
  • Battles and campaigns
  • Decorations and citations
  • Wounds received in action (date)
  • Dates of service outside the United States
  • Service schools attended

The Separation Qualification Record offers more detail on

  • Military occupational assignments
  • Military education
  • Civilian education
  • Civilian occupation

I have never found these documents available online. If you don’t have this document for the relative you’re researching, it may be obtained two ways. Separation documents can be ordered through the National Archives or possibly through the county courthouse records of the home county of the veteran.

WWII Navy separation records were a bit different. A handwritten record may be found in the seaman’s Naval Reserve Service Record booklet. The Navy Notice of Separation from the U.S. Naval Service form is NAVPERS-553. WWII Navy separation papers listed rate and class, Navy service number, place and date of separation from active service, and length of foreign or sea service in WWII.

Keep in mind, though, if you are researching a relative killed in WWII, there won’t be a separation document, and all of its detailed information in one place, for that serviceman/woman.

What kind of information is available through the National Archives?

For an overview and answers to general questions regarding Research Using Military Records, visit https://www.archives.gov/veterans, or specifically,

Obtaining Military Service Records from the National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center (NPRC)

You can search for military personnel records stored at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri by mail or in person. I have done both.

Alternately, you could hire an independent researcher at the NPRC. A list of researchers is available on the website.

You may or may not find the records you seek at the St. Louis NPRC. A fire in 1973 destroyed the majority of Army and Air Force personnel records, so no or very few documents could still be available for your search. Navy records were not affected by the fire.

If you opt to visit the NPRC in St. Louis, you can make your own copies by photographing available records for free. You must schedule an appointment and request records well in advance, though, so records can be made ready for your visit.

Camera stands are available for your use and the research staff at the center is very helpful. The quality of photographic images can be much better than copy machine copies if you have a good camera to use for the task. Even cell phone cameras can record high quality images, but I found the cell phone stands the NPRC had available at the time not to work very well. I would take a cell phone camera tripod mount attachment if I were to return to gather more records, although it may not be allowed in the records room.

Other than a personal visit to the NPRC in St. Louis, records may be requested online, by mail, or by fax. Available records are separation documents, personnel records, replacement medals, and medical/health records.

The online process of requesting records is accomplished using the eVetRecs process and is not completely digital. Once you request records through eVetRecs, you must either mail or fax your written signature. From

https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records

begin by clicking “Start Form Online (then Print and Mail).” If you prefer to completely fill out a paper form by hand to mail or fax, click “Mail or Fax Form.” The link will direct you to a page to print out the SF-180 Form. Or you can order the form through the mail by sending a request to National Personnel Records Center, 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138.

Generally, archival records of military personnel are open to the public 62 years after the serviceperson has left the military, which includes most WWII veterans unless they pursued military careers after the war. But if the person you’re researching did have a long military career and/or separated from the military less than 62 years ago, their non-archival records are only open to the veteran and the veteran’s next-of-kin. See this further explanation from the NPRC.

While most requests from the NPRC are for only a copy of the separation documents, about ten percent request a copy of the entire file, as I did. Since the 1970’s the center’s standard procedure for requests for entire files has been to provide only copies of key documents and vital information. However, for files more than sixty-two years old – as are the archival files of WWII veterans – all documents are provided if requested.

Some of the information contained in a personnel file could include separation documents, military service dates, character of service, promotions and reductions, duty stations and assignments, foreign or sea service, military schooling and training, awards and letters of commendation, disciplinary actions, lost time, enlistment contract, entry and separation physical exams, immunizations, dental examinations, and clinical summaries.

I already had a copy of my dad’s separation documents. My interest in obtaining his entire file was mainly to see medical records and his physical condition after his liberation as a prisoner of war. I had read that the prisoners that were liberated on the Black March were not weighed or their deteriorated conditions recorded in their medical records. I had some unanswered questions and hoped to find some of those answers in his service record.

I started, like many others, with an online request through eVetRecs for my dad’s entire service file.

My Personal Experience Obtaining Military Records

I requested my dad’s records online through eVetRecs and mailed the signature verification on September 10, 2014. Maximum wait time was supposed to be ninety days, by December 9, 2014.

I received a letter on January 21, 2015 from an NPRC archives technician. Unfortunately,

The complete Official Military Personnel File for the veteran named above is not in our files. If the record were here on July 12, 1973, it would have been in the area that suffered the most damage in the fire on that date and may have been destroyed.

However, the letter stated that the NPRC had reconstructed some of my dad’s service record which I could obtain for $70. I only had thirty days to decide and opted to order the reconstructed records.

To read more detail about my personal experience obtaining military records, read this previous post.

Military Records Received

I received fifteen pages of copies from the NPRC shortly after they mailed them on February 18, 2015, in addition to a letter noting that “the copy quality is the best that can be obtained.”

The documents included copies of:

  • Informal Information Reply (a reply for information requested by my mother, dated October 31, 1994)
  • A copy of the envelope in which my mother mailed a request for records on September 28, 1994 (exactly 50 years after my dad’s mid-air collision).
  • Request Pertaining to Military Records (filled out by my mother, her request for my father’s “Military history, where trained and where sent overseas, also record of being a Prisoner of War in Germany, dates and camps, and what battles.” She noted her purpose for the request was “Since he is deceased, we would like to have the Military history to include in our Family history and for the benefit of me and our children. Also what medals issued.”)
  • Instructions
  • Two National Archives and Records Administration MPR Finding Aid Reports (one noted NOT Found and the other noted some unexplained codes regarding an SGO Hospital List)
  • Army of the United States Honorable Discharge certificate and Enlisted Record and Report of Separation, Honorable Discharge form (copies of Dad’s original separation documents provided by my mother)
  • Army of the United States Separation Qualification Record (copies of Dad’s original separation documents provided by my mother)
  • 2 Transmittal of and/or Entitlement to Awards forms (one noting approval of the Prisoner of War medal, the other unreadable)
  • Veteran Identification Screen printout
  • National Archives and Records Administration – National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records), dated 8/23/88 (the same information as on the National Archives and Records Administration MPR Finding Aid Report)
  • Prisoner of War (POW) Medal Application/Information form (my mother’s 1988 application for a posthumous POW medal for my dad)

To read more detail about the military records I received from the NPRC, read this previous post.

A Visit to the NPRC

In 2016, my husband and I attended the 8th Air Force Historical Society’s reunion in St. Louis. We arrived a couple of days early and I spent two days in the NPRC’s records room copying the service files of thirty-four WWII servicemen. In my dad’s file, I found a few documents that weren’t included in the records I received from my previous request by mail.

  • Final Payment Worksheet (when my dad received his final pay at discharge)
  • US Army SGO Hospitalization File Listing 1945
  • Information from Hospitalization Admission Cards Created 8/30/2016 … Information for the Year 1945.

The last form (according to the document’s date, apparently created after I had requested records by mail) was a good find and told me that after Dad’s liberation (which was May 2, 1945), he was treated in a field hospital, and then was admitted on May 14, 1945 to an unidentified hospital for ten days. His type of case was classified as “Disease” and his initial diagnosis was “Acute Tonsillitis.” I consider this an incredible diagnosis for a man who had been forced to march over 500 miles in 86 days with very little food. And no, there was no mention of his weight or further description of his condition.

I would have liked to have found much, much more information on my dad’s years of service in the Army Air Forces, but this is all that is left of his official military personnel record.

Finding Separation Documents at the County Courthouse

If you do not have your relative’s separation documents and it is unavailable through the NPRC because of the 1973 fire, the only alternate method of obtaining it that I know of is to check with the county courthouse of the county in which he/she returned from WWII.

My dad followed orders and had his separation documents recorded at the courthouse of his county upon his return home. This stamp appears at the bottom of his Honorable Discharge certificate.

Note

A note about the Army Serial Number (ASN). At the time of enlistment, an 8-digit ASN was assigned. However, if your relative became an officer, he/she would have been reassigned a new ASN beginning with O- and followed by 6 digits.

To be continued with Military Research Part 3…

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

Military Research – Part 1 of 3

How did I get interested in military research?

When I was a child, my dad often told me a story at bedtime that I doubt many other kids growing up in America ever heard. Dad’s story was about a time when he was in the service in WWII that his plane was “knocked down.” He was a waist gunner aboard one of the Mighty Eighth Air Force’s B-17’s and on September 28, 1944, another B-17 in the formation collided with his over Germany.

My dad’s B-17 split in half. He was knocked unconscious and was thrown from the ship in the impact. There isn’t a lot of room on a B-17 and most of the airmen didn’t wear their chutes. They mostly used chest chutes rather than parachutes worn on the back and would generally wear only the harness, keeping the chute nearby so they could grab it quickly if they needed it. My dad was wearing his that day, but not completely hooked up to the harness.

Free-falling toward earth, he woke up when he heard his mother call his name, something he always included in his story, but never mentioned in official reports. He hooked up and opened his chute, and then passed out again. When he woke up again, he was on the ground and an old woman was beating him with a stick.

As I got older, the telling of the story stopped, but I would never forget it and the images it had burned into my mind.

In 2011, a cousin who had also heard the story growing up was living in the Netherlands and she and her husband were touring the American military cemeteries of Europe. She thought of my dad and his story and asked for the name of his unit and the date and location of his last mission.

I had a box of dad’s military documents and letters, and gave her the info. He was in the 384th Bomb Group based in Grafton Underwood, England and his last mission was to Magdeburg, Germany on September 28, 1944.

My cousin, Terry, performed an internet search and found dad’s record on the 384th Bomb Group’s website. I hadn’t thought about my dad’s WWII service in years – he had died in 1982 at the age of 61 – and I wasn’t even aware of the website. Not only did I find a list of all of his missions, I found the Missing Air Crew Report for the mid-air collision. Scrolling through the pages, I found Dad’s official statement in his own handwriting.

Dad’s story. It was so familiar. He continued with a question, a request, that led me into my research of Dad and his crew mates and the airmen on the B-17 that collided with his. What happened to the boys, and something he didn’t ask, why.

While this was a great find and gave me much more detail of the information I had on my dad’s military career, it was not the find that almost knocked me out of my chair.

Terry found a narrative of Dad’s story on the internet, too. Only it wasn’t told by my dad. It was told by a man named Wallace Storey, a WWII pilot who witnessed it happen right in front of him. I read and re-read Wallace Storey’s account, not believing it possible to hear Dad’s story twenty-nine years after he died.

Wallace Storey was flying co-pilot in the right-hand cockpit seat in his crew’s B-17 that day and had the controls at the time of the collision. In an excerpt from his book, A Pair of Silver Wings and the Eighth Air Force, which I read online, he wrote:

Flak was extremely heavy that day and the Wing had been somewhat disrupted by the heavy opposition. We found ourselves on a crossing course with another Group and just after “bombs away” the lead ship made a sharp descending right turn. Our high element, being on the inside of this steep turn, had to move quickly by reducing power while climbing slightly.

Glancing to my right, I saw that “Lazy Daisy” was sliding toward me. I pulled back on the control column to climb out of her path while keeping my eye on the #2 ship of the lead element, Lt. Buslee [the pilot of the plane my dad was on] … on whose wing our element was flying.

I yelled to Gross [the pilot of Storey’s plane in the cockpit’s left seat] to watch for him to come out on the other side and, sure enough, he slid under us and right into Buslee in the lead element.

I watched the two planes as they collided. It cut [Buslee’s plane] in half and the wings on [“Lazy Daisy”] folded up and both planes fell in a fireball. They were 18 men lost in those two ships. We didn’t see any chutes as we continued our turn to the right.

Copyright (C) 2002—Lt/Col. Wallace A. Storey

After reading his account, I found Wallace Storey and spoke to him on the phone. Then I visited him at his home and sat next to him as he told me the story.

Cindy Farrar Bryan and Wallace A. Storey, June 2011

He gave me contact information for a few relatives of the two crews, and I have since discovered more through Facebook. I started the blog to share transcripts of the letters I had from the families of the boys missing in action on my father’s plane. Relatives found the letters online and contacted me.

My interest in military research has grown, but mainly centers around the two crews involved in the September 28, 1944 mid-air collision, my dad’s bomb group, and other bomb groups of the Mighty Eighth Air Force based in England in WWII. I have been attending reunions in the US since 2014 and in September this year traveled to England to tour my dad’s base at Grafton Underwood.

I help other NexGens (next generation members) start their own research and have even had a hand in connecting British children and grandchildren to their American families. It seems some of the American airmen who served in England left more than their footprints behind.

For more information on Wallace Storey, see this December 11, 2013 post, this December 13, 2013 post and this December 16, 2013 post. Wallace Storey’s A Pair of Silver Wings and the Eighth Air Force may be downloaded from the 384th Bomb Group’s Stories page.

The excerpt from his book, A Pair of Silver Wings and the Eighth Air Force by Lt. Col. Wallace Storey, USAF (Ret.) and Mrs. Martha L. Storey, is provided for use on The Arrowhead Club website by the kind permission of the authors, who assert full ownership of copyright for the material. Use of this material is limited to the following provisions.  This excerpt is intended for unrestricted private use. Please copy and use as needed to support your WWII research. If you wish to incorporate this information in a commercial product of any kind, request authorization from Lt. Col. Wallace Storey, USAF (Ret.) in advance.

To be continued with Military Research parts 2 and 3…

With the exception of material in this post copyrighted by Wallace A. Storey, © Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2019

Researching a Family Member from the 384th Bomb Group

I have been researching my dad’s (George Edwin Farrar) WWII history for several years. Dad was a waist gunner for the 384th Bomb Group of the 8th Air Force. When I first started researching, I wasn’t quite sure where to look, but along the way found many resources. For anyone just starting their own search of a family member who was in the 384th Bomb Group, here are some places to start. The headings below are clickable links.

The 384th Bomb Group’s Web Site

You should begin your search on this site. For starters, enter first and last name of the 384th member in the Personnel Database Search box on the home page and click the Lookup button. The member’s Individual Personnel Data page will display.

A lot of interesting information is presented on this one page and note that several fields contain links for more information on the other members of his original crew if he was on a combat crew, mission numbers, sortie reports, and aircraft.

At the top of the Personnel Data page to the right of the Name field, click on the white “Experimental: Personal War Service Records” button to produce a more detailed report on the 384th member. You may find some of the most interesting information at the bottom of the report. There you will find two lists. One list displays all of the aircraft in which the member flew during his service. The other list displays all of the other 384th members with which he flew missions.

This detailed report is also printable. Follow the instructions at the top of the report to convert it into a PDF file. Once converted, the PDF file can be printed to produce a record of the member’s missions with the 384th Bomb Group.

If the member was involved in an accident or was part of a missing air crew, you will most likely find a link to the accident report or missing air crew report at the bottom of the sortie report for that crew for that mission. On the member’s Individual Personnel Data page, click “Sortie” for the particular mission to display the Sortie Report. At the bottom of the Sortie Report, click on the link for the Accident or Missing Air Crew Report for available information.

The 384th Bomb Group’s Photo Gallery

The 384th Bomb Group’s photo gallery contains thousands of photos and tens of thousands of documents. You can browse through the gallery, or enter a specific search in the Quick Search box on the left side of the screen. You may find an original crew photo or other interesting information here. If you have any photos that you do not see on the gallery, we request that you register for an account and upload photos to share with the group.

You may also access the photo gallery through the menu of the 384th Bomb Group’s web site. You will find the Photo Gallery in the menu at the top of the page.

384th Bomber Group Facebook Group

The 384th Bomb Group has its own Facebook page. It is a closed group, and you must request membership in the group to view and become part of the ongoing discussions. The group consists of 384th Bomb Group veterans, 384th NexGens (the next generation – sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, nieces, and nephews of 384th members), friends of the group, and others interested in WWII history.

Many NexGens have connected with other NexGens whose relatives served on the same bomber crews with each other. The 384th Bomb Group researchers also frequent the page and can help with questions and research.

National Archives WWII Enlistment Records

Enter first and last name in the search box and click the Search button. Click View Records in the “Series and Files” returned in the search. You may find the person you are looking for in the list and you may not. If you do find the record you are looking for, click the “View Record” icon to the left to see the record’s detail.

American Air Museum in Britain

You can search for personnel at the American Air Museum’s web site. You may also add and edit information at this site.

Fold3

This is a paid site for military information, but does offer an unpaid trial subscription.

Ancestry

This is another paid site for all kinds of genealogical information, but military information can be found here as well.

National Archives

You can search for military personnel records at the National Archives by mail or in person. I have done both. Depending on how many records exist, the price to receive records by mail could be very costly. On the other hand, a fire in 1973 destroyed many records, so no or very few documents could still be available for your search.

If you opt to visit the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri, you can make your own copies by photographing available records for free. You must schedule an appointment and request records well in advance, though, so records can be made ready for your visit. Camera stands are available for your use and the research staff at the center is very helpful.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

My Personal Experience Obtaining Military Records

In an effort to complete the picture of my dad’s war service, I decided to obtain his military records and asked for his entire file. I requested his records online through eVetRecs on September 10, 2014 and mailed the signature verification that day. I was given a maximum wait time of ninety days, so I expected to hear something by at least December 9, 2014.

December 9, 2014 came and went without any word on my request. I hoped this was a good thing, that there was so much information in my dad’s military file that it was taking longer than usual.

On January 21, 2015, an archives technician from the NPRC (National Personnel Records Center) mailed me a letter. The letter began:

The complete Official Military Personnel File for the veteran named above is not in our files. If the record were here on July 12, 1973, it would have been in the area that suffered the most damage in the fire on that date and may have been destroyed.

My heart sank, but I kept reading. The letter continued:

Fortunately, there were alternate records sources that contained information which was used to reconstruct some service record data lost in the fire. However, complete records could not be reconstructed.

Ah, some hope. Not much, but some.

We have located a file created during our reconstruction attempts for the veteran named in your request. This partially “reconstructed” file is a record in the legal custody of the National Archives and Records Administration. Access to this record will be granted by providing a copy of the documents in the file. A reconstructed file typically contains limited service data from some of the alternate records sources, working notes from the reconstruction efforts and miscellaneous correspondence or unofficial documents sent to the NPRC with previous requests for information.

Hmmm… At this point, I was not sure how much information they had, but they did have something. And my curiosity was getting the better of me. I really wanted to know exactly what information they had.

The charge for reproducing this reconstructed file is shown on the attached ‘Order for Archival Reproduction Services’ form.

The total cost listed on the Order for Archival Record Reproduction Services was $70.00. Now I was confused. They didn’t have much information, but what they had was worth $70.00. Could this be something interesting, or could it be not much more than I already knew. I had failed to note on the website when I initially made the request – or maybe I did note it and had forgotten by the time I received the letter – that the fee schedule for five pages or less was $25.00, and six pages or more was $70.00.

Please return this form with your payment within 30 days. Once payment is received, the photocopies will be mailed to you. If payment is not received within this period, we will assume that you no longer desire a copy of this reconstructed file and your request will be closed automatically without further notice.

Now they’re getting to me. My take:  We don’t have much info for you, but what we have is worth $70, and you have to decide quickly if you want it or not, or else you can start this process all over again at a future date. And then there’s this…

Please keep in mind that the record may contain few military documents and NPRC will not refund your payment if the photocopies you receive do not contain the information you seek.

Oh, now what to do. I tried to translate what this cryptic letter meant. We don’t have anything interesting for you. We have something juicy that’s worth $70.00. Couldn’t they just tell me exactly what they had so I could make an informed decision? Obviously not. They had to tease me into paying up front to find out what was in this treasure chest. Of course…

As an alternative to purchasing copies of the file, you may view the original reconstructed file in our archival research room located at the National Personnel Records Center (Military Personnel Records), 1 Archives Drive, St. Louis, MO 63138.

How much would it cost for me to travel to St. Louis? Much more than the $70.00 fee for having my dad’s records copied and mailed to me. On February 3, 2015, I mailed back the form and a check.

To be continued: Records received.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016

Military Service Records for WWII Veterans

In researching my dad’s time in WWII, I decided to obtain his military service record from the National Archives. While I would have liked to have visited the Archives in person, at the time I did not want to travel to St. Louis to do so. I chose to request his records online and started here:

http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/index.html.

Other than a personal visit to the archives, records may be requested online, by mail, or by fax. Available records are the DD 214 (separation documents), personnel records, replacement medals, and/or medical records. The online process of requesting records is accomplished using the eVetRecs process and is not completely digital. Once you request records through eVetRecs, you must either mail or fax your written signature. The process is fairly simple, and you can begin by clicking “Submit your request ONLINE with eVetRecs.” If you wish to proceed through mail or fax, click “Submit your request by MAIL or FAX using the SF-180 Form.”

Only a veteran or next-of-kin of a deceased veteran may order personnel records online through eVetRecs. Depending on the information requested, fees can vary.

While most requests from the NPRC (National Personnel Records Center) are for only a copy of the separation document, about ten percent request a copy of the entire file, as I did. Since the 1970’s the center’s standard procedure for requests for entire files has been to provide only copies of key documents and vital information. However, for files more than sixty-two years old – as are the files of WWII veterans – all documents are provided if requested.

Some of the information contained in a personnel file could include separation documents, military service dates, character of service, promotions and reductions, duty stations and assignments, foreign or sea service, military schooling and training, awards and letters of commendation, disciplinary actions, lost time, enlistment contract, entry and separation physical exams, immunizations, dental examinations, and clinical summaries.

I already had a copy of my dad’s separation documents. My interest in obtaining his entire file was mainly to see medical records and his physical condition after his liberation as a prisoner of war. I had read that the prisoners that were liberated on the march were not weighed or their deteriorated conditions recorded in their medical records. I had some unanswered questions and hoped to find some of those answers in his service record.

I started, like many others, with an online request through eVetRecs for my dad’s entire service file.

To be continued: my personal experience receiving my dad’s service record from the NPRC.

© Cindy Farrar Bryan and The Arrowhead Club, 2016