Its been almost 2 years since I began my search for my dad’s military records. I did like everyone else has done…download the form online…fill out the basic information…and wait. Seven days later I received a form letter saying that my father’s military records were “most likely” lost in a fire in St. Louis in 1973. Nope…I don’t believe it…so I sent a second request. Again, I got the same exact packet and form letter…I bet they didn’t even look for his record. Frustrated, I just pushed it aside and did nothing with the packet where they were asking me to recreate his military experience with dates, locations, and information that I didn’t have…if I had that information, I wouldn’t be requesting the military file in the first place.
Two years later…July 22nd, I sent a new request for the information. This time thru the local Veteran’s Affairs office. They said they might be able to help in the process. Once again, on Monday, July 29th, I received my 3rd identical packet of forms and the same form letter. I still don’t believe that everything is gone and I don’t believe they even looked for them.
Anyone that has tried to get their own or a relative’s Military Records has heard the story of the fire that swept thru the National Archives in St. Louis on July 12, 1973. With the 40th anniversary of the fire just passing by, there has been a lot on the internet about, not only the fire, but the recovery and reconstruction of the records. I have read these stories with open eyes. Is it possible that my dad’s records partially survived this fire? Is it possible that I might be able to get something from the National Archives? Yeah, I think it’s possible. I’m not going to give up. Somebody somewhere has something. I know this deep in my heart.
In 1992, when my father passed away, we sent the paperwork for the bronze plaque, available thru the government, for the back of his headstone. My mom filled out tons of paperwork with the help of the funeral home. She gave them all the information to get the plaque…including his military rank…Master Sergeant. However, when his plaque arrived and was installed it gave his rank as Sergeant First Class. With this rank change, somewhere someone was able to verify his rank…so what were they looking at and what have I not been able to get a copy of. I just want to be able to fill in a few details that I haven’t been able to figure out. Things like what military base he served at in Ulm, Germany, what military hospital he had his surgery at during his service overseas, what exactly the surgery was and how long was he in the military hospital, what were his specific jobs (we knew he was a cook and oversaw the motor pool….what a combination!), and what was his Unit (many of them have websites).
So here I sit….waiting and wondering what will be in the envelope when it finally arrives in my mailbox. It could be a week (like the last time) or it could take several weeks (which would mean they at least looked for the file). I really want to just see the papers. I want to know if he received any commendations, when were his promotions, and get a better idea of his time in the military. I have tons of pictures that he said were from his time in Germany, but he never talked about them and none of them identify anything or anybody. But first I need to make sure I fill out everything I can….
I started writing this blog post in July…it’s now Labor Day weekend and I just found this draft copy. I was going to re-write it, but decided to just continue it. So let me start from today….
I have almost finished filling out the packet of paperwork that the National Archives sent me…I’ve decided to not only play their game, but I’m gonna win! Thru my own research I have found newspaper clippings stating when he left to be sworn in, where he was going to serve his basic training, and thru the help of a total stranger I have found out what Military Base he served at in the States…including his unit identification!
As I was piecing together the information, I pulled up my dad’s Find a Grave memorial. I needed to see the plaque on the back of his headstone to make sure I had the right information. When his memorial opened on my screen I just sat and stared at it…I don’t think I even blinked for a good 5 minutes. There was my dad in his military uniform staring back at me! A photo I have never seen before! Just remembering that moment brings tears to my eyes.
That one photo, uploaded by a kind gentleman that had HUNDREDS of photos in a Camp Atterbury Yearbook, opened up a whole new piece to my dad’s military mystery. I contacted him to get more information about the photo, and found out so much more! I now have information on his military unit, I have dates of when shipped out to Germany, when he arrived, and even the military ship he sailed over on. I have purchased the 2 yearbooks from his unit and have hundreds of pages to go thru…but the books are mine and I can take my time and really absorb the information. But this gives me even more information to send off to the National Archives in hopes of getting my dad’s records and hopefully a list of commendations that I can then purchase as replacements.
I’m finalizing his paperwork this afternoon…I finally think I’m ready to send it off and see what happens. A part of me is scared to drop the envelope into the mail, for fear of yet another form letter ad no closure. Another part of me is excited that maybe, finally, I will get some answers.
Stick with me…I’ll post my findings when the answer appears in my mailbox!