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Reconstructing the Past – Part II: The National Personnel Record Center Fire of 1973

This month we welcome back special guest contributor Michael Strauss, an Accredited Genealogist from AncestryProGenealogists®. In September, he wrote a blog on reconstructing military records lost in the fire at the National Personnel Record Center in 1973. Due to the number of responses and additional questions, Michael has graciously volunteered to follow up with more information. Click here to see Part I in this series.

The loss of records of the United States Army between 1912 and 1960 and the Air Force from 1947 to 1964 can be disappointing. However, other sources can be searched to locate details lost from the service files that can help to reconstruct your veteran ancestor’s military service. Here are three more sources to consider:

Frederick William Bender

Pension and claim files

Beyond looking at service files, many veterans and their dependents applied for benefits based on their prior military service after their discharge. The National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri, has custody of the pension/claim files. In 1921 the United States Congress created the Veterans Bureau to assist veterans seeking benefits. Later in 1930, President Herbert Hoover combined the Veterans Bureau with the Bureau of Pensions and the Home for Disabled Veterans to form a single office called the Veterans Administration. Later in 1989, this office was changed to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The indexes to locate veterans who applied for benefits cover multiple years. The earliest index dates from 1917 to 1940. This index covers veterans of World War I, the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916, and older Civil War and Spanish-American War veterans or their dependents who lived into the twentieth century.

The index is available on Ancestry®, and you can search the names of veterans here. Digitized images of the original cards are available at FamilySearch and can be found here. The original card indexes usually contain the following:

  • Name and address of the veteran
  • Branch of service
  • Military unit or organization
  • Military rank or grade
  • Service number
  • Dates when veterans mustered in/out of the military
  • Claim number

The upper right corner of the card index includes a claim number beginning with either a “C” or an “XC.” The “C” indicates the veteran applied for their own benefits. The “XC” indicates the veteran died and someone else applied for the benefits.

Frederick William Bender – Military Pension Index Card (Note the “XC” designation)

The master card indexes often include other prefixes beginning with letters for other documents included in the veteran’s pension or claim file. For example, the letter “A” followed by a series of numbers was only for World War I veterans eligible for a bonus owed for military service. The master index of codes can be found here. A later master index for pensions covers 1940 to 1972, covering veterans of World War II. Searches in the index are only available by request from the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Regardless of which master index is searched to obtain copies of the pension file, the same research office must be contacted.

Military discharges filed in the courthouse

Other sources for military records beyond the service files can be found locally where the veteran was domiciled at the end of their military service. Many veterans filed copies of their discharge or separation papers at the local courthouses where they resided. Requests for copies of separation papers should be directed to your local courthouse. On discharges, the military issued a form referred to as the Reports of Separation for the veteran authorized by the Adjutant General Office of the United States War Department (you will see WD AGO, representing the War Department Adjutant General Office, listed at the bottom of the paper). The term DD214 for separation from military service was not formally adopted until 1 January 1950. Since then, the new form has undergone multiple revisions and is still in use today for discharged military personnel.

Statement of service cards

Following the end of World War I on 11 November 1918, the United States Congress passed an act on 11 July 1919 (41 Stat. 109) authorizing the creation of service cards for each soldier who served in the Army in the late war. The cards were sent to individual state Adjutant General Offices to be processed after the war. On 4 June 1920, Congress passed the Naval Act of 1920 (41 Stat. 815) authorizing that veterans of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard also have their military service recorded on service cards.

Frederick William Bender – Statement of Service Card

For veterans of the United States Army, two different forms were used. For enlisted personnel Adjutant General Office (AGO) form 724 was used, and for officers, Adjutant General Office (AGO) form 84 was filled out. Officer cards were sub-divided into Regular Army (RA) form 84a-3, National Guard (NG) form 84b-1, Officer Reserve Corps (ORC) form 84c-1, and National Army (NA) on form 84d-1. The last-named group for the national army was officers that were conscripted. For enlisted personnel, the 724 series of cards were numbered between 1-9, indicating the cause of separation from the military, and used different card color stock.

Another form 724-1 ½ was also used by the Adjutant General Office (AGO) for the United States Army, where the type of enlistment would be inserted, followed by the place and date and place where the event was recorded. The type of enlistments was RA for Regular Army, NG for National Guard, ERC for Enlisted Reserve Corps, and NA for National Army conscripted men.

During World War I, several states published their card indexes and later made them available online. Many other states kept the original cards in their state archives maintained by the Adjutant General Office (AGO) locally, but Ancestry® and FamilySearch have digitized them. Other states have lost their extant records completely. One of the states that suffered a record loss includes Illinois. Searching their online card catalogs using the keyword “statement of service” will locate the records. 

Statement of Service Cards was again authorized for World War II. This was part of the passage of the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940 passed by the United States Congress on 16 September 1940 (54 Stat. 885) that required all men between the ages of 21-45 to register. The Office of Selective Service Records (OSSR) used form number 4 to record the statement of service for World War II veterans who served. The same form was used for all military branches and included the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Very few of the forms are online for World War II. Forms for North Carolina from 1940-1948 are available on Ancestry® by clicking here.  Alaska records from 1948-1949 are available at FamilySearch by clicking here. For other states, look to state archival collections. For example, the Nevada State Library and Archives have cards from 1948-1953 for World War II and the Korean War.

Putting everything together

World War I veteran Frederick William Bender (1897-1921) served in Battery A of the 69th Coast Artillery Corps (CAC) during the war. His Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) was destroyed in the fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Both his military pension index card and World War I statement of service card were found using these search techniques. Both records point to new information making the additional searches well worth the time.

To search military records dating back to the Revolutionary War, visit Fold3® today.


  1. Jim Pitts says:

    The WW1 Statement of Service cards for Mississippi soldiers, sailors, and Marines are available on-line through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The WW2 Statement of Service cards for Mississippians were not completed due to the reinstatement of the draft during the Korean War. Only a few counties were completed and those cards are not open to the public at this time. As an employee of the department, I was directly responsible for processing both of these collections, including overseeing the digitization of the WW1 cards.

  2. Theron P. Snell says:

    For people with little background, either the county cleark of residence or the State are good sources for WWII discharge papers. The VA may also hold records that can be used to piece together a veteran’s service. These records were not affected by the fire.

    Another source: Daily reports for the unit in question, also available via St. Louis NARA.

    With the unit designation, then NARA holds unit records including message logs and After-Action Reports and other documents.

    Caution: In some cases, the unit recorded on the Discharge may not be the unit the veteran spent most of his time serving. Be sure to check the dates of overseas service against the unit designation.

    • Maus Patricia says:

      If the Service member is discharged before the end of WWII would the Organization- – – – In this case the 90th is on the Enlistment/Separation paper- – would this be the actual Field Artillery Battalion my Father served with ?

    • Theron P. Snell says:


      I would think so.

      The unit of record often depended upon what the individual told the officer involved with the discharge at the discharge location. Given that the discharge was during the war, I would guess he would have used the unit he just left.

      One way to check is to compare the dates of service overseas listed for him on his discharge with the dates the 90th was overseas..

    • This article has been of great value, and I am intrigued by your suggestion that Unit Daily Reports might also have useful information. I am stumped though as to how to find these – can you provide a pointer? Many thanks!

    • Theron P. Snell says:

      They are called “Morning Reports” and are held by NARA at St. Louis. These reports filled out each day record statistics for the unit: how many were there; who was absent, casualties, ill etc. NOT much personal information about each person, but you can trace someone into and out of the company and their status each day.

  3. Bobbi says:

    I had a father born in 1919 who registered in LA, Ca for the WWII draft, and went AWOL from his wife & kids after his discharge. Certainly he is dead by now, but I would like to know when & where. Social Security admin requires a Social Security number. Any suggestions @ how I can find that # ?

    • Jim S. says: will likely help. They have a 7 day free trial.

    • Theron P. Snell says:

      As next of kin, you have access to his Veterans Administration File. Try that. I was able to trace my father’s service from post to post as well as seeing a great deal of the information usually found on his discharge.

      Secondly, many WWII vets filed copies of their discharges with their county-of-record (most counties offered a monetary bonus). Again as next of kin, you do have access even in the states that limit access.

    • Adam Halberstadt says:

      You can search the Social Security Death Index if you make a free account on

    • Chuck Warner says:

      The National Archives Access to Archival Databases website,

      includes the Social Security Numerical Identification Files (NUMIDENT)
      This series contains data from the Social Security Administration’s Numerical Identification Files (NUMIDENT). The Claim Files contain information extracted from Social Security life or death claims for 25 million deceased individuals. The records include information such as name, social security number, birth date, and birth place. This is in addition to the nearly 50 million NUMIDENT death records and 72 million NUMIDENT application (SS-5) records already on AAD.

      This site is available to anyone, free, anytime, but takes some patience to navigate. can be easier, but it quickly becomes an expense and does not provide nearly as many advanced search options to refine a search when you want to use say specific from/to dates, parents names, middle names, wildcards, etc. I have experienced huge rewards and mega-frustration here, but the huge rewards have made it worthwhile for me.

      Happy Hunting, Chuck

    • Kerri Walton says:

      I also have a father who served in World War II and I have not been successful in locating information he served in Ireland from 1943-1946

  4. I am trying to find a service record for my cousin Seymour David Demby. He served in the Army during WWII in Europe. He was born in New York,
    7 May 1922 and died 29 Nov 2000. Possibly served in the 70th Division.
    More information would be desirable.

  5. Jim S says:

    Seymour Demby comes up on You can do a free 7 day trial. I think you will find it quite helpful.

  6. June Shelly says:

    I’ve been looking for my father for years but don’t have a lot of info. My mother was a very young German girl and she believes my father was appx 10 yrs older. He was stationed at Reese Kaserne in Augsburg Germany during the Fall of 1956. She remembers his name as Gerald Novicky and thot he was a Master Sargeant. However, spelling could be off slightly. She would go to the gate and ask for him and they would contact him which makes me think he had an office. Even if I could get the list of the units/rosters stationed there at that time, listing the men alphabetically, so I could get the correct spelling would be helpful.

  7. Loretta G Hardy says:

    I am looking for WW2 service records for my deceased maternal uncle who was stationed in the Pacific. He had no offspring (that I know of)and my mother (very much younger) is only surviving sibling.
    I am curious as to his whereabouts in the Pacific particularly if he was ever in Australia. I have a DNA match in Ancestry coming up as first cousin who lives in Australia. The age of the DNA match correlates with a birth during ww2. His birth mother was single and gave him up for adoption.

    Any ideas on if service records with whereabouts exists and if so, where?

    Vet. Robert Wenzel, Camp McHenry, Illinois. Enlisted shortly after PEARL HARBOR.

    • Theron P. Snell says:

      Read the other responses. Check for a V.A. file with the VA or check the county of record for him when enlisting/drafted and request a copy fo his discharge.

      The VA may be problematic unless you are the next of kin

  8. Phyllis Sitler says:

    I believe my great-uncle’s WWI army portrait was destroyed in the 1973 fire. He was KIA in France. EBay has a group photo of those at Camp Hancock in mid-1918, the same time as my great-uncle would have been in training there. Of course, there are no names. I would love to have a photo of him someday.

    • Theron P. Snell says:

      For photos try:

      US Army Military History Research Center
      Library of Congress
      National Archives

      All three have web sites and search engines.
      Also try for leads. If you know the unit he was with when KIA, search on that as well as his name.

  9. Stephanie Baril says:

    My dad was a Korean War veteran and during his first tour he was shot and wounded during his 2nd tour he was a chef
    I have not been able to get any of his info only the former he had
    All his records where burned in the fire my dad never collected any benefits
    And I was able to get a couple of his medals but not all
    His 93 year old brother say he should have a Purple Heart for being wounded in action but we can’t find anything on that

  10. Betty Hand-Gordon says:

    My husband enlisted in the US Navy when he was 17 yrs of age, and served four years during the Korean War. He was on Guam for one year, ordering and maintaining inventory of all parts for planes. (He was never on a ship, but flew with a captain each month while the captain did his required flights while searching for enemy planes.) He has been told that his military records were lost.

    Currently my husband has cancer throughout his body as well as stage III Kidney Disease. His death seems to have been prolonged, however, his life and situation is grim. It would be nice if his records of his military service was found or rebuilt, and he could be recognized as a Veteran and had a military headstone.

    Sincere thanks,
    Betty Gordon

    Birth Date: 30 August 1937
    Birth Place: Huntington, Emery County, Utah, USA
    Date Entered Service: 5 November 1954

    Service No. 369 98 54
    Mechanic Ratings
    Volunteered for Aviation Duty
    USNTC, San Diego, California signed 1/3/55 by ROBERT J. HORAN, PNC, USN

    • Susan E. Gould says:

      He would have a discharge record. Not sure if it was referred to as DD-214 at that time. Please look for a Veteran Service Officer in your local city or county. They should be able to assist you in getting the record you need.

  11. Tanna says:

    My Grandfather was wounded in action. And eventually discharged. Years ago before my grandfather passed away. I tried very hard to track down all his metals. Which I got except one. He was told he would receive a Purple Heart. He never got it. I wanted nothing more than for him to have it. But he passed away in 2001. I tried to get it for my mom his only child. Because all his records were lost until the fire. I have no proof of any of it. Including being wounded. All I have now if what what my grandpa came home with. A map, some foreign money, his army suit. I have the enlistment papers and a very brief discharge paper.
    My grandpa spent his 21st birthday on a front line. He even drove Patton around. He was wounded in Anzio. I won’t give up on getting what my grandpa was told he would get. But it’s frustrating I have no proof!

    • Theron P. Snell says:

      Do read the other posts here.

      I would start with the VA and ask for his file. You most likely have to go to a VA office to read it, but it should have everything you need. Be sure to say in your correspondence that you need the read the file to verify his being wounded.

      If the discharge does not list his wound and list of awards, try obtaining a copy from the county of his residence when he enlisted.. My father’s certificate of discharge lists his purple heart (the date awarded) , other decorations as well as battle-stars etc.

  12. Erma Erikson, MSgt retired says:

    My father, MSgt Glenn T Erikson, was drafted in 1941 and served in the 2nd Army and 8th Army, Corps of Engineers during WWII. He was stationed at the 2nd Army Headquarters, Shelby County Fairgrounds, Memphis TN until 1943 when he was transferred to the 8th Army and served in New Guinea and then The Philippines. I have his promotion papers, discharge papers and other papers which list number of other service people. There is also an undated pair of photos of his unit, One is the enlisted and the other is of the officers. My mother wrote the names of the people on the back of the photos. His papers were burned in the St Louis fire but his file has been partly restored. Would anyone be interested in his information?

  13. Tim B. says:

    I encountered a HUGE obstacle a couple of years ago to basic research into “remote” DD214 searches. I was told, in no uncertain terms, by a Texas county recorder that all such records were unavailable to anyone other than proven descendants of the veteran since they contained sensitive personal information. Makes it very difficult to conduct research (not stealing identities…) and isn’t even logical. The records were RECORDED in a PUBLIC RECORDS office. Why wouldn’t they be available?

    • Theron P. Snell says:


      I faced the same issue; If I remember correctly, Illinois and Wisconsin both restricted access.

  14. Judy McFarland says:

    Just to reinforce the information already provided by others…my mother’s brother served in WWII, and gave his parents and siblings only the smallest information possible about his service. He passed away in 1975, and we were all surprised to find that he had medals; his wife buried the medals with him in his casket! They had no children. I tried to help my mother find out what the medals were, with no success due to the fire. After my mother died, I was in the courthouse in the county where he lived and where he enlisted, just doing general family research. As I was about to leave, I noticed a book titled something like “World War II”, and I was overjoyed to find his Army discharge papers detailing his service and locations, and that he had 2 Bronze stars! I wish I had known to look there first; the employees in the courthouse said the discharged men had been told to file them in the location where they enlisted. I advise everyone to check there first.

    On another question: on my uncle’s headstone, there is an inscription about what unit he was in, and then that he was in “2 D-day invasions”. I do not believe he was at Normandy. What could that mean?

    • Theron P. Snell says:

      D-day was a generic term used to ID an invasion. I recommend you find a unit history (check with the US army military history research center). Look at the discharge paper to see if it provides dates too.

  15. Judy McFarland says:

    Thanks for that information.

  16. Linda Fox says:

    My dad was in Korean War. I have a copy of his discharge papers, but dad said he had several metals. Since his records were burned, I’ve been told the only one they have is Sargent.

    Any ideas on finding metal information?

  17. Loretta G Hardy says:

    Illinois is a pain in the butt to find anything. Everything is restricted.
    I appreciate everyone who has contributed their journey to this thread. It is more useful than the standard “you should look here”.

  18. Mary Harris says:

    My direct blood ancestor John R Harris (or Harriss) had a wife Nancy Rebecca Hall. He had 7 Children. He was born in Burke County, NC (renamed McDowell County in 1842) in about 1827. It is said that he went to the Civil War and never returned. We can find any real proof and the county courthouses say the discharges are off limits to the public. His last child was born late 1863. His Father’s name was Harbert (or Harboard) Thornbush Harris Harriss). Anything anyone can tell me will be most appreciated.

    • Theron P. Snell says:

      Keep in mind when reading this that I have not researched Civil War records for a long time.

      If I remember correctly, there are roster lists for regiments who served in the war. …I know there are for Union regiments.

      If he fought for the Confederacy, my first step would be to google NC civil war regiments; then see if there are roster lists..

      If he moved north and fought for the Union, check out the regiments from that State

      In either case, ALSO check google for the county in which he was living when he went off to war. County historical societies often have lists of those who served, especially if they were Killed in action.

      Once you (if) you can identify the regiment or unit in which he served, you can then check the volumes of operational reports available for both Union and Confederate units.

    • Mary Harris says:

      Thank you! I’ve just hit a tremendous brick and have been searching everywhere and in anything I can get my hands on. I welcome any feedback anyone can share.

  19. Buff Gering says:

    I have copies of my BCF Military records. I love to send a copy to St Louis to be added back into their database.
    What address should I use and suggestion?

    Also, how do I apply for him to get his Bronze Star Medal? I understand from a newspaper article years ago that most of the veterans were eligible for one. I think I have all of his medals but that one.
    He has long been deceased.

    Thank you

  20. Linda Chelette says:

    I have tried to find my husband’s foreign service records for 2 yrs now & worked with the VA daily & including judge hearing. His foreign service is not listed on his DD 214 & it is stamped that it when into a “BLMPS IMPLEMENTED”. I have been told this represents that all his Jungle training & time served in Vietnam was entered into this computer system but no one can tell me how to get this information or if it was destroyed & not accessible. How do I get this military information. Ancestry doesn’t provide any of this information either.

  21. Karen Cloudt says:

    My relative was on a training mission that went missing, which was in the Bermuda Triangle, according to family history. It may be difficult to find any information if the records were destroyed. Any suggestions?

  22. Milton J Davis says:

    When asking for help post information about the person, ie name, service time, DOB. They are a lot of people who have time and will help you research.