Researching Veterans' Military Service

I am often contacted by veterans or descendants of veterans seeking assistance in finding information about a veteran's service, unit information, and how to contact other veterans with whom one served.  This page hopefully provides some guidance in finding that information.   Please feel free to if additional information is desired or if you have questions about any of the information presented here.

In addition to the sources listed below, the following document contains references of use in researching military records.  This is an AMAZING document with many, many links to sites of assistance in this research.  The document was graciously provided by Ms. Sharon Lawrence.

 Researching Military Service Records (Adobe Acrobat document)

  • PERSONNEL RECORDS:  These records are maintained by the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.  Unfortunately, a fire in 1973 destroyed many records, but you should always start here.  If you are not a family member you will be prevented by the Privacy Act of 1974 in the amount of information you can obtain via this source.

    Records requests will be accepted if you are the veteran, or the next of kin of a deceased veteran.  Next of kin is defined by the archives as: surviving spouse that has not remarried, father, mother, son, daughter, sister, or brother.

    The 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis destroyed about 80 percent of the records for Army personnel discharged between Nov. 1, 1912, and Jan. 1, 1960.  Also destroyed were about 75 percent of the records for Army Air Force and Air Force personnel, with surnames from "Hubbard" through "Z", discharged between Sept. 25, 1947, and Jan. 1, 1964.

    Officials have never determined what exactly was lost in the fire because there are no indices to the blocks of records involved.  They were simply filed in alphabetical order for the following groups:

    • World War I (Army) - Sept. 7, 1939, to Nov. 1, 1912
    • World War II (Army) - Dec. 31,1946, to Sept. 8, 1939
    • Post-World War II (Army) - Dec. 31, 1959, to Jan. 1, 1947
    • Post-World War II (Air Force) - Dec. 31, 1963, to Sept. 25, 1947

    (Feb 2007 article on the 1973 Fire from American Legion magazine)


    The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) will attempt to reconstruct a veteran's records only if asked by the veteran or by the next of kin of a deceased veteran.  Next of kin are mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, husbands or wives.  Given sufficient information, NPRC may be able to reconstruct a file.  This includes:

    • Full name used during military service
    • Date of birth
    • Branch of service
    • Approximate dates of service
    • Service number
    • Place of entry into the service
    • Last unit of assignment
    • Place of discharge

    (Editor's Note:  Specifically ask for a "Compiled Record of Service including medical records."  This basically requests NPRC to look in other places where the records are kept.)

    Send this information to:

    National Personnel Records Center
    Military Personnel Records
    9700 Page Ave.
    St. Louis, MO 63132-5100

    This can also be done online:

    General Information on requesting records from the National Personnel Records Center

    eVetRecs: Request Copies of Veterans Military Personnel Records

    If a veteran doesn't have any of the necessary documents or information, they may be available from VA or a state veterans service officer.

  •  Great online forum and many research pages dedicated to the USAAF.  This site has been around since 1998 and offers a wealth of information.

  • World War II Army Enlistment Records (National Archives):  These records are for persons who enlisted in the Army, Army Reserves, and Women's Auxiliary Corps during World War II (1938-1946).  These records do not include Army officers.  However, some officers enlisted first and were commissioned later when they finished their training, so you may be able to locate their initial enlistment records.

  • Unit Histories, War Diaries, Daily Reports, Station Memorandum, Special Orders, Public Relations Reports, Loading Lists:  These documents are archived by the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) at AFHRA, Maxwell AFB, Alabama.

    Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA)

    600 Chennault Circle
    Maxwell AFB, Alabama 36112-6424

    You can sometimes obtain squadron and group histories at no cost, depending on the length of the document and if it is available on hard-copy (printed document).  You should also be able to obtain a specific monthly squadron diary upon request.  Larger requests may necessitate a copying fee.

    However, most of these documents have been archived to microfilm (and now available on CD), which you can purchase for $30.00 per roll (or per CD) from AFHRA.  The microfilm rolls/CDs are usually divided up between Group histories, Squadron histories, and tenant command histories.  You can to obtain the roll numbers/CD for the unit you are researching.

    For units whose lineages are still carried by current USAF units, these unit histories are available on their website along with many historical documents from WWI to today.

    Air Force History Support Office (AFHSO):  AFHSO is located at Bolling Air Force Base, Washington, D.C.  Along with AFHRA (which is the primary repository of historical information), AFHSO may be able to provide additional information.

    Reference and Analysis Division
    200 McChord Street, Box 94
    Bolling AFB, DC 20332-1111
    Phone 202-404-2261

  • American Battle Monuments Commission: WWII Honor Roll:  If the veteran you are searching for was killed in action and is still buried overseas he should be listed in this database.  Burials in the domestic United States are not covered.

  • Department of Veterans Affairs: National Cemetery Administration - Nationwide Gravesite Locator:  If your veteran is buried in a national cemetery, this database covers almost all 120 of them.  Burials abroad are not covered.

  • WWII POW Database Search at NARA:  The records identify World War II U.S. military officers and soldiers and U.S. and some Allied civilians who were prisoners of war (POWs) and internees.  (Select the orange "Search" button, then "Wars / International Relations: World War II" link, Records of World War II Prisoners of War, created, 1942 - 1947 "Search" button).  You can enter a search term right away if you know what terms to search for, or click the "Search" button link for more detailed search options.

  • World War II Honor List of Dead and Missing Army and Army Air Forces Personnel:  Indexed by State.  This resource is not searchable yet, the information presented online consists of image scans from the NARA publication.

  • World War II records held by NARA:  Overview of the NARA holdings.

  • 293 file, Individual Deceased Personnel File:  This file is maintained by the Department of the Army in Washington, DC. and covers veterans who were Killed in Action.  This file documents the activities of the Graves Registration Command and the Army to locate, identify, and provide a final resting place for the deceased.

    The U.S. Army Personnel Command handles these requests.

    U.S. Army Personnel Command, Public Affairs Office (FOIA)
    200 Stovall Street
    Alexandria, VA 22332-0404

    Enclosed in the letter the requestor should cite the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and provide full name of the relative, service number, and date of death (or whether the death was during WWII, Korea, or Vietnam).

    Return mailing address is required. Please allow up to 20 weeks for the research process.  FOIA fees are waived for requests from family members for death/burial records on their loved ones.

  • Missing Air Crew Reports (MACR):  If your research involves the loss of an aircraft in a combat situation and not in Allied territory, the MACR will be invaluable.  This document was generated shortly after the loss of the aircraft (usually within a day or so) and lists the crew roster, aircraft, and basic details of the loss including eye witness statements if they were available.

    These records are maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration II in College Park, Maryland.  Over time, the MACR report became a file, containing a collection of documents relating to the aircraft loss.  You should request the entire file.

    National Archives and Records Administration
    Textual Reference Branch
    8601 Adelphi Road
    College Park, MD 20740-6001

    Phone 301-713-7250

    Other Sources for MACR's:
    Aviation Archaeology

  • Accident Reports:  Maintained by the Air Force Historical Research Agency (AFHRA) on microfilm.  An accident report can run from just a few pages to a half dozen or more pages and may even include photos of the accident.

    Sources for Accident Reports:

    600 Chennault Circle
    Maxwell AFB, Alabama 36112-6424
    Aviation Archaeology

  • Veterans Administration:  The VA handled claims by the families of those KIA.  You can write and obtain the VA's file on your claim.  If your veteran made any VA claim in the postwar period there is a record of that as well (benefit claims, etc.).

    To obtain records relating to your veteran and the VA you can submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  Read more about it here.

    Department of Veterans Affairs (VA):  The VA has procedures to help you find surviving service members.  There is no guarantee that this will work, but it's a good resource.  The procedure is for you to write a letter to the service member, place that in a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) which is in turn mailed to the nearest VA office to the person in question.  The VA will then try and forward the letter to that person, and it is up them to respond.

  • The veteran's hometown newspaper:  This overlooked resource can be a huge asset.  Dig through those archives and look for notices about service members.  The public relations guys in WWII were great about getting notices posed in local papers about local servicemen; when they graduated from boot camp, training phases, were promoted, sometimes even in action overseas - it's worth your time.

  • Personal Items:  Look for photos, old letters, telegrams, local newspaper clippings, government documents, diaries, uniform items, anything that might provide information on your veteran.

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