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NARA Coast to Coast: “Pay Day” for Some World War I Military Personnel Records

by on September 27, 2010


Today, guest blogger Theresa Fitzgerald from the National Archives at St. Louis has written a special NARA Coast-to-Coast post sharing some recent discoveries in World War I era military records.


On July 12, 1973 a fire engulfed the sixth floor of the Military Personnel Records Center. This event destroyed 80% of all Army personnel records with discharge dates between November 1, 1912 and January 1, 1960; additionally, it destroyed 75% of all Air Force personnel records with discharge dates between September 25, 1947 and January 1, 1964, with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.

This fire greatly affected the ability of the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) to answer requests for information. In an attempt to reconstruct the destroyed records, the military branches of service, in conjunction with the Department of Veterans Affairs, provided the Military Personnel Records Center with all auxiliary documents in their possession.

Unfortunately, auxiliary documents contain limited information.  They do not completely replace the data in records that were lost, but they do provide evidence of service that might not otherwise be proved.  The most common types of auxiliary documents are pay cards and vouchers.  These pay documents usually reflect the name of the veteran, rank, amount of pay, and discharge date.  In general, this is only useful for establishing the service of the veteran involved and provides little of interest to historical or genealogical researchers.  However, in processing a collection of World War I Warrant Officer Pay Cards (ARC ID 3518560), I discovered some clues that led me to two stories of veterans’ fame in history.

My first discovery was a pay card that identified a German Officer, Lieutenant Hans Berg.  Upon further research I discovered that he was a WWI prisoner of war in Atlanta’s Fort McPherson. This was an enclosure for enemy servicemen, most of them German sailors interned as soon as the United States entered World War I. Berg was known for his successful use of the German Faustball Tunnel, a tunnel made famous by Steve McQueen’s movie The Great Escape.

Image of Steve McQueen from the National Personnel Records Center (Archival Operations Branch) (NRPAO), Persons of Exceptional Prominence, McQueen, Steven Personnel Record.

Image of Steve McQueen from the National Personnel Records Center (Archival Operations Branch) (NRPAO), Persons of Exceptional Prominence, McQueen, Steven Personnel Record.


Initially used by escaping prisoners in Germany to burrow under prison enclosures, Berg’s particular tunnel was a 143 foot shaft dug in fourteen days.  The escapees gained notoriety in the Atlanta Journal of October 26, 1917:

“Five tramps had been seen shivering around a small fire in the woods near Griffin. They were Germans! A soldier had dragged a civilian out of a soda stand near Five Points.  He was a German! A man with a red nose had asked a housewife in Decatur for a slice of pie.  He was a German! A stranger on a Forrest Avenue car had stared suspiciously at a soap advertisement. The police were notified.

So it went. But as rumor after rumor was run down by the secret service operatives from the Department of Justice, only to fizzle out, it became more and more certain that Lieutenant Hans Berg, reputed to be the hero of a hundred Gretchens’ hearts, Arnold Henkel, the modern Monte Cristo, and their companions had either put many a mile between them and the city or were tucked away in some secret place which the police had not yet been able to locate.”

Hans Berg Pay Voucher,  National Personnel Records Center (Archival Operations Branch) (NRPAO), Series: U.S. Army Warrant Officer Pay Cards, compiled 1917 - 1921, ARC ID: 3518560

Hans Berg Pay Voucher, National Personnel Records Center (Archival Operations Branch) (NRPAO), Series: U.S. Army Warrant Officer Pay Cards, compiled 1917 - 1921, ARC ID: 3518560


Image of Hans Berg found at, http://www.allworldwars.com/German-World-War-I-Postcards-Part-II.html,  The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Apr., 1917), pp. 443-453 Published by: American Society of International Law http://www.jstor.org/stable/2188069

Image of Hans Berg found at, http://www.allworldwars.com/German-World-War-I-Postcards-Part-II.html, The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Apr., 1917), pp. 443-453 Published by: American Society of International Law


In addition to Berg, I used a description from the Officer Pay Card of Smiley Blanton that stated he was the Captain at the Neurological Institute.  I followed the “Neurological Institute” clue and discovered that Smiley Blanton was among the earliest in America to work in the field of speech pathology. He combined his medical and psychoanalytic training from the military to create counseling and family therapies for children and adults who stutter and who have voice and articulation problems.  He was also the director of the first university speech clinic at the University of Wisconsin, called the “Speech and Mental Hygiene Clinic.”

Smiley Blanton Pay Voucher, National Personnel Records Center (Archival Operations Branch) (NRPAO), Series: U.S. Army Warrant Officer Pay Cards, compiled 1917 - 1921, ARC ID: 3518560

Smiley Blanton Pay Voucher, National Personnel Records Center (Archival Operations Branch) (NRPAO), Series: U.S. Army Warrant Officer Pay Cards, compiled 1917 - 1921, ARC ID: 3518560


Pay cards and vouchers, while they contain limited information, can be great resources for many different kinds of research.  Veterans utilize these documents to prove their service in the military.  Historians and genealogists may use this information to discover the prior military records of famed historical characters or relatives. For a variety of researchers, these pay documents can provide valuable information about the history of military service members.

For more information on these records:

If you are interested in learning more about the World War I Warrant Officer Pay Vouchers specifically, and how to request or view the files, please visit http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/standard-form-180.html. Print, fill in, and mail the Standard Form 180 to the National Personnel Records Center 9700 Page Ave, St. Louis, MO, 63132, or make an appointment in our research room by calling 314-801-0951.

A successful request will contain the individual’s complete name, Archival Research Catalog (ARC) ID number, and military service number.  To confirm that we have referenced the correct file, it is also helpful to provide the individual’s date and place of birth and, if possible, the date of release from military service.

If you are interested in pay vouchers other than World War I Warrant Officers, follow the above instructions, but do not include a specific Archival Research Catalog ID number.


Comments

Momma September 27, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Woo-hoo! Way to go baby!

Leslie Lawson September 27, 2010 at 10:22 pm

For those of us who have copies of these records because they’ve been handed down to us, would the Army want a copy of our originals? I have my grandfathers discharge papers. His name was Louis Wallace Brinkley.

Theresa Fitzgerald September 28, 2010 at 10:50 am

Unfortunately, we cannot take copies from the public. Since we may not be able to prove the information printed on the copy with the original record, if for some reason the record has been altered by the public, it may compromise the factual service of the veteran. We prefer to use government authorized means to reconstruct a record.

We do always appreciate the offer though and urge those with the military records of their veteran relatives to honor, preserve, and keep them safe.

Thank you,
Theresa Fitzgerald
Archivist
NRPAO
9700 Page
St. Louis, Missouri 63132

Theresa Fitzgerald September 28, 2010 at 2:21 pm

I would like to make an amendment to my previous response. We cannot openly solicit records from the public. However, if you make a specific request for a veteran’s record and find you have more information that we do, we will accept a copy of the record. The record will be stamped “received from an unofficial source” to advise us the factual service of the veteran may have been compromised. We still prefer to use government authorized means to reconstruct the records.

Tuffy September 28, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I would listen to Theresa becuase she is one of the smartest women I know.

Michael Lester Warner November 12, 2010 at 12:40 pm

I really need some guidence as I have ran into so many dead ends! My grandfather,DeWitt Eleazer Warner, enlisted in the regular army on Apr. 24, 1915 and went thru basic training at Columbus Bks., Ohio. While there, he was attached to Co. I ; 12 Inf. until June 01, 1917. From there he was transfered to Co. I ; 63rd Inf. until his discharge on June 04 , 1920.
All of the above information was located at the Michigan State Library’s Archives section which is located in Lansing , Mi. For the past two weeks I have been looking at all the web sites that I could think of in hopes of finding any and all information on these two Army units.Could anyone there point me in the right direction ? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
Best Regards,
Michael L. Warner

Theresa Fitzgerald November 12, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Mr. Warner,

If you are looking specifically for a record on your grandfather, we do have a final pay voucher associated with him. Unfortunately, the rest of the record was lost in the fire.

If you are looking for unit information specifically, we have muster rolls, morning reports, and rosters for World War I. They explain the day to day functions of each unit. The process for these records is explained much more easily over the phone or by email.

Please contact me at 314-801-0951 or by email at theresa.fitzgerald@nara.gov

Thank you!

melina lounsbury November 13, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I am trying to locate personnel listing of all the lounsburys; lounsberry; lounsbery millitary personnel. I am NOT looking for one person in particular, however just list with that spelling. It will be used a military tribute in the Lounsbury Genealogy Tree website. How can I get such a list?

thanks
melina

Theresa Fitzgerald November 15, 2010 at 9:05 am

Melina,

Our records are determined to be open to the public on a case by case basis. We would be unable to release such a list without knowing names of individuals in order to determine whether their information is releasable. If you have more questions or do have some names that are of interest to you, please feel free to call or email me.

Thanks!
Theresa

Karen Gray March 20, 2011 at 10:21 am

Theresa, I am also interested in obtaining the muster rolls, morning reports and unit rosters for my grandfather’s unit during WWI. William Edward Stephens served as SGT., Co. A., 28th Infantry, 1st Division. How do I obtain copies of those records?

Thank you,
Karen Gray

Theresa Fitzgerald March 22, 2011 at 8:53 am

Ms. Gray,

In order to view the muster rolls, morning reports and unit rosters for World War I you may come to our archival research room or hire a researcher. If you would like to make an appointment, please call 314-801-0850. Also, a list of researchers for hire is located on the NARA website.

If you have further questions please do not hesitate to contact me at theresa.fitzgerald@nara.gov.

Thanks!
Theresa

Jason February 8, 2013 at 2:22 pm

I’m trying to find discharge papers for my grandad. help

Meredith D. (admin) February 8, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Hi Jason,

Veterans and their next-of-kin can obtain copies of military discharge papers (DD-214) by filling out a Standard Form 180 (SF 180). Information about starting your request can be found on our website: http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/index.html

Also, you can find more information about military records at the National Archives here: http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/about-service-records.html

Best of luck with your research,
Meredith

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