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This article provides an overview of the archival military service records of 20th Century Army veterans (also known as the official military personnel file or O.M.P.F.) which are maintained at the U.S. National Archives. The military service records maintained within the Army O.M.P.F. are essentially a collection of administrative papers which document the service history of the individual Army veteran. So, for example when an Army veteran enlisted, was promoted or died in the service, the paperwork pertaining to these events would have been filed away inside of the Army veteran’s O.M.P.F. folder. Today, these records can be viewed in person at the National Archives. Access to these important military service records allow us to understand where an Army veteran was and what they were doing during the war.
It is important to note that about eighty percent of all Army and Air Force official military service records which were housed at the National Personnel Records Center were destroyed in a fire in 1973. The remaining twenty percent of military service records of Army and Air Force veterans survived partially, however these personnel files typically contain only fragments of the original personnel files. For this reason, it is often necessary to reconstruct the service history of individual 20th Century Army and Air Force veterans. (Click this link for more information about our unique process for researching WWII veterans)
Despite the 1973 fire there are still millions of military service records of individual Army and Air Force veterans at the National Archives with pages which were salvaged and painstakingly assembled in the years after the fire. You may indeed find that your Army veteran’s military service records are among those which survived at least partially intact. The surviving military service records within the Army O.M.P.F. can provide an excellent resource for both genealogists and those who are interested in documenting the military service of individual 20th Century Army veterans.
Army O.M.P.F.’s: archival Vs. non archival
When military service records of military personnel become accessioned by the National Archives and are opened to the public they are considered to be ‘archival’ records. Currently, this process occurs 62 years after the date the veteran separated from the service. For the purposes of this presentation we are going to focus on the historical military service records maintained at the National Archives which are considered to be public domain or ‘archival’ records.
Let’s take a closer look at what records you can expect to find inside of the 20th Century Army O.M.P.F. folder if your Army veteran’s military service records are among those with portions which survived the 1973 fire.
Army enlistment documents
Military service records documenting the individual veteran’s entry into the service were placed inside of the Army O.M.P.F. These records provide a wealth of information on the individual at the time of enlistment including: date of birth, place of birth, physical description, education level, marital status, prior civilian occupation, race, citizenship, prior military service, next of kin, and medical conditions.
The Army Service Record Book
The Army service record book is the heart of the Army O.M.P.F. and it condenses many important details on the military service of the individual veteran into a neatly compiled booklet. The Army service record book was pre-formatted with sections which highlight certain elements of the individual Army veteran’s military service including enlistment, ranks, basic training, units of assignment, qualifications, performance, medals, battles and campaigns among other events in the Army veteran’s military career. The Army service book was carried with the veteran and updated throughout their time in the Army. One of the most important features of the Army service book is the chronology of military occupational specialties (MOS) awarded to the Army veteran throughout their career. The MOS tells us exactly what the individual veteran was doing while in the service.
Army promotion documents
Military service records detailing the advancement in rank were filed in the Army O.M.P.F. when the veteran was promoted. These records are important for tracking the advancement of the individual Army veteran during their military service.
Army medals, citations and commendations
Army veterans were awarded medals for conspicuous gallantry in combat as well as for meritorious service and good conduct. The Army created permanent citations for these awards and placed the original paperwork within the military service records of the Army O.M.P.F. Medal citations can describe exactly what an Army veteran did to distinguish themselves on the battlefield.
Army medical records
A wide array of medical records are found inside of the O.M.P.F.’s of individual Army veterans. It is common to find medical records detailing routine medical examinations, service related injuries and wounds received in action among many, many other types of medical documents.
Official and handwritten correspondence is commonly found among the military service records of Army O.M.P.F. ‘s. For example, if you are researching a WWII Army veteran who was killed in action you might find telegrams, and letters from the war department to the Army veteran’s family notifying them of their loved one’s death. If family members wrote back to the war department asking for the deceased veteran’s belongings or inquiring about how exactly they died, those unofficial letters would have also been placed in the Army O.M.P.F. along with any response the family received. This is just one example of the many, many variations of correspondence which can be found among the military service records of the Army O.M.P.F.’s.
Army veterans vital records
Proof was often required to determine benefits eligibility for both Army veterans and their beneficiaries. It is common to find marriages licenses and birth certificates among other vital records in the O.M.P.F.’s of Army veterans.
Army veterans insurance documents
Life insurance and beneficiary documents can highlight important details on the Army veteran’s family life outside of the Army. These records typically include information on the Army veteran’s next of kin, their dependents, their addresses, birth dates and more.
Army Veterans disciplinary documents
Many of the veterans who served during the major wars of the 20th Century were still in their teens. This means that immature hi-jinks and minor military infractions were common- and usually well documented inside of the veteran’s Army personnel file. Some of these are comical while others led to serious consequences for individual Army veterans. Criminal offenses were tried before a military tribunal and while some details of these crimes may appear in the Army OMPF the official charges and transcript of trial would have been maintained in a separate courts martial folder.
The Army O.M.P.F. report of separation
When an Army veteran was released from active duty they were provided with a separation document which summarized their military service. This document is often referred to as: the honorable discharge, report of separation or DD214. This record provided a basic overview of the veteran’s service and signified the honorable separation from the Army. After the war when a veteran applied for military benefits they normally were asked to provide a copy of this document as proof of honorable service and discharge.
Access your Army veteran’s O.M.P.F.
Keep in mind that in this article we have covered the more common military service records found in the Army O.M.P.F.’s. Since every Army veteran’s military service was unique to their experiences there is no way to show exactly what every Army personnel file will contain. You may well find that your Army veteran’s O.M.P.F. contains much more than what we have featured here. The only way to discover exactly what military service records are contained in your veteran’s Army O.M.P.F. is to order their records.