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Tag: veterans

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.

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The Military Personnel Records Center after the July 1973 fire. Vast numbers of personnel records for veterans from 1912 to 1963 were destroyed or damaged by fire and water.

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 … [ Read all ]

It’s why I do what I do

Today’s blog post in honor of Memorial Day comes from Michael Pierce, preservation technician at the National Archives at Saint Louis.

It’s called “the Forgotten War.” But like any conflict, the Korean War is always remembered by the men and women who fought in it, and by their families.

A grief-stricken American infantryman whose buddy has been killed in action is comforted by another soldier. In the background a corpsman methodically fills out casualty tags, Haktong-ni area, Korea. August 28, 1950. Sfc. Al Chang. (Army, 111-SC-347803)

The Preservation Lab at St. Louis occasionally get requests from JPAC (the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command) for information from records of men who went missing in Korea and other places. Our lab deals primarily with records that were damaged in the 1973 fire at our old facility in St. Louis. Millions of Official Military Personnel Files from the Army and Air Force were destroyed, or heavily damaged, by fire, smoke, and water.

Sometimes, the requested record is part of that registry. We clean the record, make copies of the necessary documents, and send them on. Normally, we don’t hear anything about the results of our efforts.

I’m always telling my fellow technicians that we’re the “unsung heroes” of the National Archives at Saint Louis. Everyone else gets the accolades and the thank-you letters, while we work in the background, … [ Read all ]

Archives Spotlight: National Personnel Records Center

If you have served in the military or worked for the Federal Government, your personnel file is held at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri. More than 34 million files  are held in this facility, filling 2.3 million cubic feet of records on 385,000 shelves. There are 6.2 billion feet of paper in the military records alone.

The National Personnel Records Center building (shown under construction in 2011) includes 29-foot-high shelves for storing records. (Photo by Lenin Hurtado.)

About 600 full-time staff work in St. Louis. In 2011, the NPRC  received 1,093,522 written requests for records, about 3,000 requests per day. They have received about 889,283 so far in 2012.

This part of the National Archives provides vital services to veterans. Former servicemen and women can use the documentation in their files to receive veterans benefits (form DD-214), help with replacement medals, or receive a military burial.

Not all the records in the NPRC are held in the permanent archives. Records with a discharge date of 1950 or earlier are archival records and are open to the public. But records from 1951 are non-archival, so they are restricted for privacy. Usually only the veteran or the next-of-kin can access these files.

For historians, each pre-1950 archival records is a possible treasure chest. The Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) … [ Read all ]