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Tag: veterans

“I was a gunner and a gun captain on a 90MM-AAA gun during World War II…”

Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

Now, maybe it’s happened to you: that “needle in a haystack,” “home run,” unbelievable find that blew you away, and brought joy to a researcher. We archival folks live for that moment.

Let me share with you one such moment from my career. During busy times in the Still Picture Branch, the processing staff can be called upon to help answer reference letters, or staff the research room. One day in early 1995, I was asked to help with the backlog of letters.

This one from Mr. Evan Evans looked promising:

A 90mm antiaircraft gun? No problem! We have tons of photos of various artillery pieces and vehicles in our files. Or so I thought.

I spent half the day trying to track down a decent shot of the antiaircraft gun Mr. Evans requested, and I came up empty. Then I read through his letter again. He and his gun crew set a record for downing 12 Japanese bombers over Rendova? Maybe they had been photographed after their feat; the military services are always on the lookout for a good story to tell the folks back home.

So I checked out series 127-GW, under the heading Rendova . . . and what do you know?

Needless to say, … [ Read all ]

Top 14 Moments at the National Archives in 2013

Wow–what a year! Our editorial panel tried to limit this list to ten, but eventually we gave up and picked 14 instead. (For more great National Archives moments, check on out the Top 10 Innovative Moments of 2013.)

We also want to send a big thank you to the staff members of the National Archives across the nation, who worked so hard to make these moments possible. And a huge thank you to our partners, sponsors, researchers, visitors, and social media followers who share in our love of history. We are grateful to be able to make your history accessible to you in so many ways in 2013!

FOURTEEN

40th Anniversary of the Fire in the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis

If you have served in the U.S. military, your file is part of the holdings in the National Archives in St. Louis. Each year, staff respond to one million requests for direct military benefits and entitlements from veterans and their next of kin. In the Research Room, staff pulled more than 41,000 military personnel records.

And Preservation Programs in St. Louis responded to more than 200 daily requests for burned Army and Air Force records. The fire that swept through the sixth floor of the National Personnel Records Center on July 12, 1973, damaged and destroyed millions of documents. Each … [ Read all ]

Executive Order 9981: Equality in the military

Cast your vote for Executive Order 9981 to be displayed first in the new “Records of Rights” gallery. Polls close on November 15!

Today’s post comes from Tammy Williams, archivist at the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library

President Harry S. Truman spent his entire young adulthood in Missouri, a border state during the Civil War. Both of his sets of grandparents owned slaves. Many voters and politicians believed that Truman would carry his region’s prejudices to the White House and would do comparatively little to advance the cause of civil rights. And so Truman’s decision to issue Executive Order 9981 to provide for equality of treatment and opportunity in the military surprised many people.

What led President Truman to this decision? As African American soldiers returned to the United States from fighting overseas in World War II, they hoped to return to a more equitable society. However, many soldiers experienced openly hostile reactions from white Southerners as they wore their uniforms in their hometowns.

Two such cases made national headlines. In Aiken, South Carolina, a bus driver kicked Sergeant Isaac Woodward off a bus for allegedly being disruptive, and a police officer beat him and gouged out his eyes, blinding him. In Monroe, Georgia, a group of white men dragged two soldiers and their wives from a car and shot them.

In September 1946, shortly … [ Read all ]

Burned and brittle records are in good hands

Over 5,000 requests for veterans’ military personnel records are received every day at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO.

Donna Judd spends each day carefully searching for valuable information for veterans in the documents left burned and brittle by the 1973 fire at the NPRC building. She looks for separation documents so that veterans can get benefits, and she sifts through damaged files to find information for medals.

“One record could take 5 minutes, another record could take 5 hours,” she says.

The fire that swept through the sixth floor of the National Personnel Records Center on July 12, 1973, damaged and destroyed millions of documents. These records are needed—often urgently—by veterans in order to claim health benefits, receive medals, or secure a military burial.

When a request for a damaged record comes in, the file is pulled and then sent to a triage area where the Preservation staff assesses its condition. If the record is heavily damaged, it remains with the Preservation team. If it’s damaged but the information could be retrieved with care, the record will go to Judd.

An average of 200 to 250 records arrive in her office every week. Judd and another staff member, Jeannette Crowder, and three part-time staff members—Wanda Dalton-Devore, Quintin Braggs, and Carol Berry—processed over 11,000 records last year.

On a good day, … [ Read all ]

Burnt in memory: Looking back at the 1973 St. Louis fire

This blog post is condensed from the article “Burnt in Memory,” by Marta G. O’Neill and William Seibert, from the Spring 2013 issue of Prologue.

By the time it was daylight on July 12, 1973, at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, one thing was painfully clear: the loss of records to fire and water was staggering.

The fire had swept through the top floor of the building just after midnight. At its peak, 42 fire districts were fighting it. The fire burned uncontrolled for more than 22 hours.

About 73 to 80 percent of the approximately 22 million individual Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) stored in the building were destroyed. The records lost were those of former members of the Army, the Army Air Force, and the Air Force who served between 1912 and 1963.

Up on the sixth floor, reinforced concrete columns had sheared off, causing the roof to collapse. Metal shelving and metal filing cabinets were bent and twisted by the fire’s heat. Bricks of ash remained where cubic foot boxes of records once sat. Aisles between shelving rows were filled with debris up to three feet deep, and several inches of water covered the floor.

Fire officials did not declare the fire to be out until July 16. There were no sprinklers or smoke detectors in the 1950-era … [ Read all ]