Can I replace any of the information which was lost in the 1973 archives fire? The fire which swept through the National Personnel Records Center (N.P.R.C.) in 1973 led to the destruction of millions of Army and Air Force military service records from WWI through the early 1960’s. While the vast majority of the Army military service records which were at the NPRC during the 1973 fire will never be recovered, there are alternate records which can be used to rebuild and document your veteran’s story. These alternate record groups can be used to follow the individual veteran though their time in the service and to show important milestones in their military career. Let’s take a look at some of the records which can be used to fill in the gaps created as a result of the 1973 fire.
Army Morning reports. The morning reports are company-level unit records which document what was happening to the individuals assigned to a specific Army unit on a daily basis. The morning reports thus enable us to track individual soldiers day to day within the units to which they were assigned. This is useful because it allows us to determine things like combat participation, military duties, promotions, ranks, dates and locations where a veteran was wounded, injured or killed in action, and geographical locations where the Army veteran was stationed from day to day. Some morning reports actually provide daily combat reports at the company level. Because the morning reports detail activity at the foxhole level within the unit, these records provide researchers the opportunity to learn a great deal about the experiences of individual veterans during the war. The usefulness of the morning reports cannot be overstated since many of the details recorded in these daily unit records mirror those which were lost when your veteran’s file was burned in the 1973 fire. The Army morning reports exist for the time period from WWI through Vietnam.
Here is an example of an Army morning report from WWII. I like to think of the military abbreviations which are used as a form of military shorthand. They can seem confusing at first glance but after viewing a few pages and familiarizing yourself with the military abbreviations you will quickly become comfortable with these records. Notice that the date, exact unit designation and the geographical station location is listed at the top of each page. There is actually a Cassini grid map coordinate at the top of this particular morning report which can be translated into Google Earth, allowing you to pinpoint (with G.P.S. precision) the exact location where the men in the company were stationed on this date.
Notice the detailed description on the below morning report: On 4 April 1944 John R Patterson who is a Staff Sergeant with a duty code of 653 (this means he was a non-commissioned officer probably leading a rifle section) was lightly injured in action, dislocating his shoulder. He was subsequentlysent to the 91st Evacuation Hospital for treatment. Likewise, his fellow C Company companion John Owczarsac with duty code 604 (heavy machine-gunner) was SWA (or seriously wounded in action) due to artillery fire on 4 April and was also sent to the 91st Evacuation Hospital for treatment. These are incredibly detailed documents which provide information about both of these veterans which cannot be accessed in their military service records due the 1973 fire. This is just a snapshot of one event which is documented for both of these men. If we were to explore more of the morning reports for the units to which they were assigned we would be able to find out even more details about their service history. As you can see, the morning reports are a goldmine for historical research of both the individual veterans and the units themselves.
Safeguarded Military service records. The National Archives estimates that about 80 percent of Army/Air Force military service records were lost in the 1973 fire. It is important to remember that this is at least 80 percent of all documents. Even when a file is discovered to have some paperwork which survived the fire, there still may only be fragments of that particular file which still exist. It is always a good idea to make an attempt to access your veteran’s military service record even if there is only a small chance that it will have pages which survived the fire. If you are one of the lucky folks who finds that their veteran’s service record has pages which survived the fire then you are in for a rare treat. Once the National Archives preservation lab has removed any mild spores from the surviving documents, the recovered (and most likely partially burned) military service records can actually be viewed in person at the National Archives. The surviving military service records are placed in protective Mylar after the mold treatment process and are thereafter classified ‘safeguarded military service records’. Here is an example of a document which just barely survived the 1973 fire and which is now part of a ‘safeguarded military service record’.
Reconstructed service records. The vast majority of researchers seeking Army and Air Force military service records from the National Archives will find that their veteran’s service records were lost in the 1973 fire. In this case the National Archives may have what is referred to as a ‘reconstructed service file’ for your veteran. The most common form of ‘reconstructed service file’ consists of material which was sent in to the archives after the fire as a way for the veteran (or the veteran’s family) to verify eligibility for certain benefits or awards. This particular veteran’s paperwork was faxed to the National Archives in 2002, at which point the archives created a ‘reconstructed service file’ as a way to replace some of his original service documents which were lost in the 1973 fire.
Auxiliary service records. If there are no pages in your veteran’s military service file which survived the 1973 fire, and no ‘reconstructed file’, there may only be auxiliary records on your veteran. In most cases the auxiliary file is nothing more than a final pay voucher which stands in place of the military service records lost in the 1973 fire. The final pay voucher does provide clues which can be helpful for rebuilding the service history of the individual veteran and replacing some of the documents which were lost in the fire. Notice that the final pay voucher can show us the date that the veteran arrived in the U.S.A. after serving overseas, the date of discharge, place of discharge, date of transfer to the location of discharge, rank, serial, home address and previous station. While these final pay vouchers are not the most exciting documents at the National Archives, they can still provide some clues to help us rebuild some details of the veteran’s service history which were lost in the 1973 fire.
Army Medical Records from WWII and the Korean War. The medical extracts (hospital admission records) are an excellent resources for replacing medical service records which were burned in the 1973 fire. The medical extracts are organized by serial number and they document the medical treatment of WWII and Korean War veterans. The information contained on the medical extracts come directly from the original medical records of your veteran allowing us to salvage some of the medical history for individual veterans. . From this particular medical extract we can see that this veteran was in the infantry and was wounded in action on 12 May, 1944 as the result of enemy artillery fire. We can see from his medical diagnosis that he took artillery shrapnel to his back. The medical extracts are vitally important for researching individual veterans because the fire wiped out most medical documents which were maintained within the military service records lost in the 1973 fire.
Medical Corps service extracts for W.A.A.C.’s and Physicians. For those who are researching doctors or nurses (W.A.A.C.S.) who served in the Medical Corps during WWII, the medical service extracts are an excellent alternate source for rebuilding the service chronology of individual veterans. The breakdown of units and hospitals to which the veteran was assigned are listed on the Medical Corps service extract allowing us to piece together service information on the individual veteran which might have been lost forever due to the 1973 fire.
Individual Deceased Personnel Files (I.D.P.F.’s) and Burial Case Files. The Army/Air Force fortunately maintained a separate deceased personnel file for veterans who were killed in action or who died in the service. These are the burial case files (for WWI) and the individual deceased personnel files (WWII and Korea) which are primarily focused on the death, and burial of the individual veteran. Still, there are many documents in these deceased personnel files which allow us to uncover information about the individual’s military service history which was lost in the 1973 fire. Here is a page from a WWII Individual Deceased Personnel File which provides a great deal of information on the veteran’s unit, how he was killed in action, his place of death, burial location, personal effects and more.
General orders and medal citations. For veterans who were awarded medals for gallantry in action, the Army created a permanent copy of the citation which is known as a ‘general order’. The general orders are essential for researching veterans who were awarded gallantry medals while serving with the Army. The citations contained within the general orders allow us to access the details surrounding the award of gallantry medals for veterans from WWI, WWII and the Korean War-even if the military service file was lost in the 1973 fire.
Casualty Reports. For veterans who were wounded in action there may be unit casualty reports which can flesh out more details on what happened when they were injured. The casualty reports are useful because they preserve information about individual soldiers which cannot be accessed from the military service records due to the 1973 fire.
Air Force Pilot Flight Logs. Flight logs were created for Air Corps/Air Force veterans who were pilots from 1911 through the 1970’s. The flight logs provide a wealth of information pertaining to the service history of the individual pilots who flew combat missions during wartime.These records were maintained separately from the military service record and were thus not destroyed in the 1973 fire. The flight records are an excellent tool for rebuilding service details for pilots whose service records were lost. Notice how this pilot’s flight logs show us the units to which the veteran was assigned, dates and times that he was in the air, and the type of aircraft flown. The flight logs are a must-have for anyone researching Air Corps/Air Force veterans who participated in aerial flight, and they allow us to rebuild a great deal of information which was lost in the 1973 archives fire.
Army and Air Force Award cards. Award cards can help us to uncover information about the medals which were awarded to veterans. While the award cards typically do not provide a detailed citation, they do provide us with the general order number which we can use to find the actual citations for the medals. These records are another valuable tool for rebuilding the service history of veterans whose records were lost in the 1973 fire.
Pension Claim Files. Department of Veterans Affairs pension files were created when a veteran applied for benefits from the government. Both military and medical records were placed in the pension claim file, so these files contain a great deal of alternate paperwork which can be used for rebuilding aspects of the individual veteran’s service history. In many instances, crucial documents from the veterans service record (the discharge for example) would have been duplicated and placed within the pension claim file in order to verify the veteran’s eligibility for benefits. This page from a V.A. pension claim file actually contains a statement from the individual veteran describing how he was wounded in action during the Great War.
After action-operational reports. Once you have constructed a chronology of your veteran’s military service using the records detailed in this article, you will be ready to access the combat reports for the unit to which your veteran was assigned. Combat after action reports are normally maintained at the squadron, battalion or regimental level. The after action reports are the final piece of the puzzle and they will provide you with detailed accounts of the action taking place within the unit to which your veteran was assigned. Here is an after action report from the 101st Airborne Division, 501st Parachute Regiment during Operation Market Garden.
How can I rebuild the service history of my veteran? This article should give you a good idea of some of the alternate records which can be used to replace many of the historical documents which were lost in the 1973 National Archives fire. The most convenient way to access all of the records that are available for your veteran is to contact a reputable research company. Golden Arrow Military Research actually has researchers who are physically on site at several U.S. National Archives record storage facilities. They are able to mine all of the available records at the National Archives in order to access all of the available material pertaining to your individual veteran. If you are interested in rebuilding to the service history of your individual veteran you can contact them through their research page here: Research a veteran. Or you can fill out the contact form below: