Military Service Records, Awards, and Unit Histories: A Guide to Locating Sources

This guide provides information on locating military unit histories and individual service records of discharged, retired, and deceased military personnel. It also provides information on locating and replacing military awards and medals. Included is contact information for military history centers, websites for additional sources of research, and a bibliography of other publications, including related CRS reports.

Military Service Records, Awards, and Unit Histories: A Guide to Locating Sources

Updated August 7, 2018 (RS21282)
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Summary

This guide provides information on locating military unit histories and individual service records of discharged, retired, and deceased military personnel. It also provides information on locating and replacing military awards and medals. Included is contact information for military history centers, websites for additional sources of research, and a bibliography of other publications, including related CRS reports.


Personnel Files: Military Service and Pension Records at the National Archives

The Military Personnel Records division of the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), a component of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) located in St. Louis, Missouri, holds most existing U.S. military personnel, health, and medical records of discharged and deceased veterans of all services from World War I to the present. Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) records may be requested online at https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records, by mail (the appropriate address listed on the back of the form), or fax (314-801-9195) using the Standard Form 180.

Veterans and their next-of-kin (NOK) may request these records. According to the NPRC, for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, the NOK is defined as the unremarried widow or widower, son, daughter, father, mother, brother or sister; for the Army, the NOK is defined as the surviving spouse, eldest child, father or mother, eldest sibling or eldest grandchild.

If an individual does not meet the definition of a NOK, he or she is considered a member of the general public and may request military personnel records via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). See "Access to OMPFs by the General Public" at https://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/public/general-public.html.

In 1973, a fire at NPRC destroyed approximately 16 million to 18 million Army and Air Force official military personnel files. In such cases where files were lost, NPRC uses alternate sources of information to respond to requests.

More information about obtaining military personnel files can be found on the NPRC website, http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/, or by contacting the center at

National Personnel Records Center
Military Personnel Records
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, MO 63138
Tel: [phone number scrubbed] congressional line
Tel: [phone number scrubbed] public line
Status Update Request Form: https://www.archives.gov/st-louis/forms

Older military personnel records (generally prior to 1917) are located at

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Textual Archives Division
Washington, DC 20408
http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/pre-ww-1-records.html

Correcting Military Service Records

For guidance on the review of discharges and military corrections boards, see NARA's "Veterans' Service Records: Correcting Military Service Records" at https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/correct-service-records.html.

For links to the service review boards (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, and Navy and Marine Corps) see "Boards for Correction of Military Records (BCMR)/ Discharge Upgrades" at https://www.archives.gov/personnel-records-center/vso/boards-for-correction-of-military-records. NARA's site also provides the following BCMR guidance:

"Prior to submitting a request to a Board for Correction of Military Records, ALL administrative avenues must be used. Generally, that means a request to NPRC for a correction (minor corrections can be made by NPRC), then a request to the military service department (service departments can make more corrections than NPRC), and finally if both these fail, then submit DD Form 149, with supporting evidence as instructed on the form."1

Military Awards and Decorations

The NPRC also provides information and guidance on how to request military awards and decorations online and by mail for veterans and their NOK; replacing certain military medals; and obtaining a Cold War Recognition Certificate.2 Note: This is available for the records of a servicemember who separated before or during 1956. For records for individuals who separated after 1956, these records can be requested through FOIA. The general public may also purchase a copy of the veteran's OMPF to determine the awards due and obtain the medals from a commercial source.

Individuals can request information on military service medals, decorations and awards online through https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records.

By military service (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force including Army Air Corps & Army Air Forces) via mail:

National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, MO 63138

For Coast Guard:
Coast Guard Personnel Service Center
4200 Wilson Blvd., Suite 900 (PSC-PSD-MA)
Stop 7200
Arlington, VA 20598-7200

Cold War Recognition Certificate

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 1998 (P.L. 105-85) in Section 1084 required the Secretary of Defense to prepare a certificate recognizing the Cold War service of qualifying members of the Armed Forces and civilian personnel of DOD and other government agencies contributing to national security. This certificate, known as the "Cold War Recognition Certificate," may be awarded upon individual request to all members of the Armed Forces and qualified federal government civilian personnel who served the United States during the Cold War era from September 2, 1945, to December 26, 1991.3

Additional information regarding requesting a Cold War Recognition Certificate is available at https://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/public/awards-and-decorations.html#cwc.

Finding Unit Histories

The Modern Military Records office of NARA has custody of records relating to World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The records vary by conflict and branch of service; for example, the records for Army units active during the interwar periods (1920-1939 and 1945-1950) are incomplete. For more information, contact the Textual Records office at

Textual Records Office
National Archives and Records Administration at College Park
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
Tel: [phone number scrubbed]
Email: [email address scrubbed]

If a military unit record is not publicly available, a FOIA request may be submitted to the agency where the record is held. For example, for special access records held at the National Archives at College Park, contact the Archives FOIA office at the following:

Special Access and FOIA Division
National Archives at College Park
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
Tel: [phone number scrubbed]
Email: [email address scrubbed]

For more information on how to submit a FOIA request, visit https://www.foia.gov/how-to.html.

Other types of auxiliary and organizational records, including Army morning reports, Army unit rosters, Army officer pay cards, Navy muster rolls, U.S. Army Surgeon General's office records and Veterans Administration index cards are maintained at the National Archives at St. Louis, Missouri. Further information regarding these records, as well as the timespan of available records for each category, are available at http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/archival-programs/other-records/index.html.

Certain published unit histories can also be found in the collections of the military departments (see Table 1).

Table 1. Military History Centers and Museums

Center or Museum

Telephone Number

Air Force

U.S. Air Force Historical Research Agency
600 Chennault Circle
Maxwell AFB, AL 36112-6424
Email: [email address scrubbed]
http://www.afhra.af.mil/

[phone number scrubbed]

Air Force Historical Support Division
HQ USAF/HOH
3 Brookley Avenue, Box 94
Joint Base Anacostia Bolling
Washington, DC 20032-5000
Email: [email address scrubbed] (preferred method)
http://www.afhistory.af.mil/

[phone number scrubbed]

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force
1100 Spaatz Street
Wright-Patterson AFB, OH 45433
Email: [email address scrubbed]
http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/

[phone number scrubbed]

Army

U.S. Army Center of Military History
Collins Hall
102 4th Avenue Bldg. 35
Fort McNair
Washington, DC 20319-5060
Email: [email address scrubbed]
http://www.history.army.mil/

Congressional Inquiries Division*
[phone number scrubbed] for House offices
[phone number scrubbed] for Senate offices
*For those inquiring from the office of a Member of Congress.
All others should use email.

U.S. Army Heritage & Education Center (USAHEC)
950 Soldiers Drive
Carlisle, PA 17013-5021
Email: [email address scrubbed]
https://ahec.armywarcollege.edu/

[phone number scrubbed] research assistance
[phone number scrubbed] information desk

Coast Guard

U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office
Commandant (CG-09231)
ATTN: Coast Guard Historian's Office
U.S. Coast Guard Stop 7031
2703 Martin Luther King Jr Ave SE
Washington, DC 20593-7031
Email: [email address scrubbed]
https://www.history.uscg.mil/ <del> </del>

[phone number scrubbed]
[phone number scrubbed]

Coast Guard Museum
U.S. Coast Guard Academy
Waesche Hall
15 Mohegan Avenue
New London, CT 06320-4195
https://www.history.uscg.mil/Museum/

[phone number scrubbed]

Marine Corps

Edwin H. Simmons Marine Corps History Center
Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division
2044 Broadway Street
Quantico, VA 22134
http://grc-usmcu.libguides.com/marine-corps-archives/main

[phone number scrubbed] general inquiries

Marine Corps Heritage Foundation
18900 Jefferson Davis Highway
Triangle, VA 22172
Email: [email address scrubbed]
http://www.marineheritage.org/

[phone number scrubbed]
[phone number scrubbed]

Merchant Marine

American Merchant Marine Museum
300 Steamboat Road
Kings Point, NY 11024
Email: [email address scrubbed]
http://www.usmma.edu/museum

[phone number scrubbed]

Navy

Naval History & Heritage Command
805 Kidder Breese Street, SE
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060
Email: [email address scrubbed] (archives branch)
Email: [email address scrubbed] (public inquiries)
http://www.history.navy.mil

[phone number scrubbed] archives
[phone number scrubbed] library
[phone number scrubbed] public inquiries

Source: Table compiled by the Congressional Research Service.

Selected Additional Sources for Research

Selected CRS Reports

CRS Report R41386, Veterans' Benefits: Burial Benefits and National Cemeteries, by [author name scrubbed]

CRS Report R42324, Who Is a "Veteran"?—Basic Eligibility for Veterans' Benefits, by [author name scrubbed]

CRS Report 95-519, Medal of Honor: History and Issues, by [author name scrubbed]

CRS Report R42704, The Purple Heart: Background and Issues for Congress, by [author name scrubbed]

Selected Federal Government Web Resources

American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) at http://www.abmc.gov

The website contains databases of veterans interred or memorialized at overseas American military cemeteries and memorials.

The Civil War Soldiers and Sailors System, National Park Service

https://www.nps.gov/civilwar/soldiers-and-sailors-database.htm

This website contains a database of the men who served in the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War, as well as information on regiment histories, significant battles, and some prisoner-of-war records and cemetery records.

Confederate States of America (CSA) Records at the Library of Congress

https://www.loc.gov/collections/confederate-states-of-america-records/about-this-collection/

The records of the CSA span the years 1854-1889, with the bulk of the material concentrated in the period 1861-1865, during the Civil War. Provides links to Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies External; Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies External; and War Department Collection of Confederate Records.

Military Resources: Veterans at the National Archives Library Information Center (ALIC) https://www.archives.gov/research/alic/reference/military/veterans-related.html

This site provides links to veterans' information, military casualties, Prisoners of War/Missing in Action (POW/MIAs), and medals & honors.

Philippine Army and Guerilla Records at the National Archives

http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/philippine-army-records.html

The collection includes records of the Philippine Commonwealth Army of the United States Armed Forces Far East (USAFFE), including recognized Philippine Guerrilla forces (not the Army of the United States or Philippine Scouts) during World War II.

Veterans History Project (VHP), the Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov/vets/

VHP collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American veterans.

Veterans Affairs (VA) Nationwide Gravesite Locator at http://gravelocator.cem.va.gov/

The database contains burial locations of veterans and their family members.

Selected Bibliography

Beers, Henry Putney. The Confederacy: A Guide to the Archives of the Government of the Confederate States of America. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1998.

Borch, Fred L. For Military Merit: Recipients of the Purple Heart. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2010.

Center of Military History. Order of Battle of the United States Land Forces in the World War. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1988. 3 volumes.

Controvich, James T. United States Army Unit and Organizational Histories: A Bibliography. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2003.

——. United States Air Force and Its Antecedents: Published and Printed Unit Histories, a Bibliography. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2004.

Dinackus, Thomas D. Order of Battle: Allied Ground Forces of Operation Desert Storm. Central Point, OR: Hellgate Press, 2000.

Dornbusch, C. E. Military Bibliography of the Civil War. New York: New York Public Library, 1971.

Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. New York: T. Yoseloff, 1959.

Johnson, Lt. Col. Richard S., and Debra Johnson Knox. How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military: Armed Forces Locator Guide. Spartanburg, SC: MIE Publishing, 1999.

Owens, Ron. Medal of Honor: Historical Facts and Figures. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing

Company, 2004.

Plante, Trevor K. Military Service Records at the National Archives. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2009.

Stanton, Shelby L. World War II Order of Battle, U.S. Army (Ground Force Units). Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2006.

——Vietnam Order of Battle. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2003.

U.S. Department of the Army. Office of Military History. Order of Battle of the United States Army Ground Forces in World War II, Pacific Theater of Operations: Administrative and Logistical Commands, Armies, Corps, and Divisions. Washington, DC: Department of the Army, 1959.

U.S. Naval War Records Office. Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion. Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1987. 30 v.

U.S. War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington, DC: GPO, 1880-1901. 70 v.

Author Contact Information

[author name scrubbed], Senior Research Librarian ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])
[author name scrubbed], Senior Research Librarian ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])

Acknowledgments

Sandra Delaney, CRS intern, assisted in the update of this report.

Footnotes

1.

NARA, Boards for Correction of Military Records / Discharge Upgrades at https://www.archives.gov/personnel-records-center/vso/boards-for-correction-of-military-records.

2.

NARA, Military Awards and Decorations at https://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/public/awards-and-decorations.html.

3.

NARA, Cold War Recognition Certificate at https://www.archives.gov/personnel-records-center/awards-and-decorations#cwc