Finding your military history

29 Aug 2007 | Lance Cpl. Patrick M. Fleischman

During a Marine’s career, a tremendous amount of medical treatment and service-related paperwork is created. But what do service members, their family and history seekers do when the records are lost or damaged?

For Marines recently separated, it can be as easy as going online, but for those who separated prior to 1997, it can be complicated.

The National Archive’s National Personnel Records Center is responsible for all Marines’ service records prior to 1997, said Ron Hindman, director of NPRC. The only exception to this are Medical records created after 1994, which are sent to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

These records have value beyond the documentation of a person’s military career, said Hindman.

Genealogy seekers can view the information of service members, dependents, next of kin as well other auxiliary information listed on their records, said Hindman. These records were, for the most part, filled out very accurately and can open up new branches of a family tree.

Also, records on notable Marines such as Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Burwell Puller can be ordered for research purposes, said Hindman.

“We receive quite a few requests for the records of famous service members, but we are not only here for them,” he continued.

Although the NPRC processes many requests for history seekers, more than 50 percent of requests are for the military discharge form DD-214 to prove family benefit eligibility, he said.

The requests do not come without restrictions, explained Hindman.

A living veteran has to have been out of the military for 62 years before anyone can request his records without his permission, he said. This is the amount of time the Department of Defense has dictated before a record is placed in the public record for anyone to access.

“It’s uncommon to have someone alive 62 years after they have left the service, thus protecting their information,” said Hindman. “We also screen requests to only provide information pertinent to the purpose of the query and if information is sensitive we make an effort to ensure the query is of a legitimate nature.”

Processing the more than 1.5 million requests per year doesn’t come without a cost, he said.

Records prior to 1945 typically cost $50, except for benefit requests, which are provided at no cost.

Records dating from 1945 to 1999 are free. The $30 fee is assumed by the Marine Corps, he said.

With only 520 employees pulling records from three buildings with more than 4,000,000 cubic feet of storage, the NPRC is still able to average less than 10 work days to process a request of a DD-214 and most other requests in less than 15 work days, said Hindman.

“We use very advanced systems to maintain accountability for these records,” he said. “Our specialists are trained to handle these records to ensure they are here for generations to come.”

Records in the permanent public archive are taken care of with the same importance as the U.S. Constitution or the Declaration of Independence due to the federal requirements, said Hindman.

“In the early 1950s the Department of Defense recognized the need to consolidate the storage for all military services records to ensure their protection,” he continued.

In the years that followed the first consolidated record office was constructed by the DOD in St. Louis, he said. Over time the DOD recognized that storing records was not its primary mission.

As a solution, the DOD transferred authority over to the General Services Administration, he said. The GSA then created a unit that ultimately became the NPRC, which is a unit of the National Archive that is responsible of storing all our national records.

This storage has not been without issues, he explained.

A major fire in 1973 destroyed the entire sixth story of the building, said Hindman. Luckily very few Marine Corps records were lost.

Also, it is important to note there is no truth to the rumors that the records were going to be scanned and destroyed. In fact it’s just the opposite, he continued. The National Archive is building a facility to protect these valuable records hundreds of years into the future.

“We’re building this new facility, but our mission of storing new records of military service is really at its conclusion,” he said. “Our more than 56 million military records, for the most part is a closed collection.”

Records in the Marine Corps after Dec. 31 of 1997 are stored at the Personnel Management Support Branch at Headquarters Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., said Doris Piriak, assistant branch head of the Personnel Management Support Branch.

The process of obtaining records is completely digital, said Piriak.

Marines requesting records only need to fill out a Records Request Form located in the forms section of the MMSB Web site at

The process is simple, said Piriak. Submit the form to the address listed with the specific documents needed, and usually within five business days the person ordering will receive a CD with all of the documents in a digitally readable format.

“The goal is to eventually have a completely electronic OMPF”, said Piriak. “This would eliminate the need for paper copies and will save time and risk of it being lost when Marines change duty station.”

This method ensures these documents will not degrade for generations to come for the recipient, reduces the amount of time to process a request and it makes it easier to update the OMPF more often, said Piriak. It works out better for all parties involved.

For more information regarding OMPF’s for records post 1997 contact the Personnel Management Support Branch at 800-268-3710 or for records prior to 1997 visit the NPRC eVetRecs Web site at