Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The 1973 Fire at the National Personnel Records Center

Public Service Announcement: Legacy Family Tree is taking 2 weeks off from broadcasting webinars for Rootstech and a vacation.  To keep the webinar junkies happy they have made two of their popular webinars free once more!  If you missed these the first time around here is your chance.

Share Our Garden asked:
”I have been trying to be creative with alternative sources for military records.destroyed in the 70s you might suggest? I am specifically looking for a DD214 from the 1945 era.Thanks!”

The fire that Share Our Garden is referring to is the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.  You can read more about this devastating event HERE.  A DD Form 214  is a Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty.  Veterans use this form to prove their military service and to access VA benefits.   Another thing that you need to know when researching military records is that records created after 1951 are protected and only the veteran’s themselves or their next-of-kin have access to them.  Next-of-kin is defined HERE. When my dad died, I was able to get a copy of his entire personnel file. The military also sent me all of his medals and ribbons free of charge.  Records created prior to 1952 are public record and accessible.  

Share Our Garden, have you tried requesting the DD 214?  It was not a complete records loss and NARA has also reconstructed a portion of the lost files.  It would be worth your while to try.  You can make the request HERE.  Your veteran most certainly had a copy of his DD 214 in his possession.  Another strategy would be to locate his children/grandchildren to see if it was passed down in his family (I am assuming he is deceased).  If the veteran ever used a VA hospital the hospital would have a copy of his DD 214 on file (he would have presented it to them and they would have copied it).  Medical records are protected but if one of his children were to make the request for you,  you could get it.  If your veteran went back to school under the GI Bill, the school would have a copy of the DD 214.  Again, you will need one of his children to request the school records.  Depending on the school, you might have to go the court order route.  If the veteran has a military marker that was provided by the VA free of charge, the next-of-kin would have presented the DD 214 as proof of service.  You can contact the US Department of Veterans Affairs and request the veteran’s cemetery marker file under the Freedom of Information Act.

Good luck!

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. Something else to consider - if the veteran ever received disability benefits, there may be a copy of the DD214 at the Board of Veterans Affairs or the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Most records are filed under the veteran's SSN. Also - check the local American Legion or VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars). They frequently help veterans with pension claims and disability claims, and may just have a copy of the DD214 as well.

  2. Excellent! SOG might still need help from a family member to access these.

  3. Michell,
    Some of these might help - I'm retired Air Force

  4. This comment is actually from Rhonda. She was having a problem getting her comment to post so she sent me an email. She has some good info so I wanted to make sure y'all got it.

    "Soldiers and Sailors were usually given more than one copy of their DD214 - I know that is the case when my husband retired but that was in the 1990's but I believe it was the case for veterans of earlier periods as well. It was recommended that they put on file in their home county court house a copy of the DD214 for safe keeping. My maternal grandfather, a WWII veteran, did this. My father, a Korean War veteran, did this. Also my husband has put a copy of his DD214 not only in the county where he enlisted in another state but also in the two counties we have lived in since his retirement. I'm sure that the same rules of privacy and access only to immediate family are required but may be another option if your veteran followed the suggestion.

    Another thought - If they ever applied for and received a VA Certificate for use in obtaining a home loan there would likely be a copy of the DD214 with that application - again like others have suggested – with the VA Department of Veteran Affairs.

    One other thought - If your target individual had a civilian job that required a security clearance there might be a copy of the DD214 in his file with his employer and with the FBI. I had a friend who worked with the archived files years ago so I know they exist somewhere just not sure where. She screened files for classified or sensitive information prior to the files being released from a Freedom of Information Act Request."

  5. We sent for my father-in-laws WWII records and found out that his file had been destroyed in the fire. We later found that a family member had his original (Yippee!). We sent a copy to the National Personnel Records Office and received a nice letter back thanking us and telling us that they will keep the copies on file. If you find a copy of a DD214 or other military records of someone that had their records burned please forward a copy to the office so others are able to obtain a copy as well.

  6. Hi, Michele and Everyone! I SO appreciate all the comments and ideas! The veteran in question is my husband's father, who died in a plane crash in the 60's...hence the problem with recreating records. All of his personal effects were kept by his mother, who lived to be 102. When she passed her daughter took possession of all papers and photos. In her later years, she developed Alzheimers and threw everything out. :( My husband was only 12 when his father died and his family kept all the details from him. His mother remarried and he was kept from his fathers family. Now we are reestablishing contact and everyone is so friendly and helpful.Michele, thanks for the great idea and I did contact the nearest Veterans Hospital at the time, and talked at length with their records section and sent a written request, so cross fingers!

    Trudy, We also utilized the National Personnel Records Center and they were able to find his last pay stub and determine that he was entitled to medals, and they sent them to wonderful! My husband was so hoping to read the citations that accompanied them but they did not have them. Our dilemma is that the unit he enlisted in, in Iowa, was a tightly knit group and I was able to trace their history quite far. The enlisted men in this particular unit were kept together throughout most of the war, BUT his military gravestone lists a completely different unit. His rank is also different from when he exited the just a few inconsistencies to followup. My question you think I would be able to find my way thru the government records route? Thanks so much again.We were so excited to read the blog this morning!

  7. Thank you all for such great suggestions!!!

  8. If you know the exact unit he was in, you can try There is a subscription price. If anyone is still alive that was in his unit you just might them here. They have to also be registered but this is the way that many vets set up their unit reunions.

    Your husband can request his entire personnel file and in there it will tell you the unit he was assigned to.

    One thing I wonder, did the Personnel Records Center send you the info on the correct person? There are men with the same name. It makes me a bit curious since his burial info and his rank don't match.