The People Closest to You and a FREE Military Record

As genealogists and family historians, we tend to focus on documenting the lives of our g-grandparents, gg-grandparents, etc.  We sometimes neglect our own parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents. 

At a minimum, you should secure birth, marriage and death records for these folks (you will need them for your immediate line if you ever plan to join an organization such as DAR, SAR, Mayflower Society, etc.) 

For those with parents, uncles and grandparents who were in the US Military, the following record may be of interest.

Did you know that most veterans and their next-of-kin can obtain FREE copies of their DD Form 214 (Report of Separation) and other military and medical records at NARA?

Military personnel files are stored at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).

The NARA website provides a list of the information included on the DD Form 214:

  • Date and place of entry into active duty
  • Home address at time of entry
  • Date and place of release from active duty
  • Home address after separation
  • Last duty assignment and rank
  • Military job specialty
  • Military education
  • Decorations, medals, badges, citations, and campaign awards
  • Total creditable service
  • Foreign service credited
  • Separation information (type of separation, character of service, authority and reason for separation, separation and re-enlistment eligibility codes)

I submitted a request and received the form (image below) within 3 weeks.  My neighbor wasn’t so lucky, she was informed that her dad’s record was destroyed in the fire and could not be recreated:

Surviving a Fire

A fire on July 12, 1973, left the top floor of the military personnel records facility in ruins. This floor had contained some 22 million personnel folders, filed alphabetically, for U.S. Army personnel discharged from 1912 through 1959 and of the U.S. Air Force discharged from September 1947 through 1963. At the time of the fire, one-third of the air force records already had been relocated and thus saved, but overall, fewer than 4 million records were recovered, either entirely or with as little as one identifiable document. A subsequent renovation included frequent firewalls within the storage areas as well as a comprehensive sprinkler system.

Since 1973, NPRC has obtained alternative sources of documents to verify the dates of individual military service and the character of separation for many of the veterans whose files were destroyed. Among these are final pay records, enlistment registers from induction stations, an index of World War II service numbers and dates they were assigned, morning reports, unit rosters, and discharge orders. Many state and federal agencies, particularly the Department of Veterans Affairs, assist NPRC in the reconstruction effort.

NPRC reconstructs a file only after receiving a request involving that veteran, and even then, replacement of an entire folder is impossible for these one-of-a-kind documents. Medical information is especially difficult to replace. NPRC has provided several million reconstruction replies since the fire, but as the number of living veterans from the affected years declines, so has the volume of requests. Nevertheless, NPRC still processes up to 3,000 reconstruction inquiries each week.


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