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How to Find Military Service Records for Veterans

Peg is the daughter of a U.S. Naval Officer who served at military stations during the 1940s, 50s and 60s.

Military records are available to relatives wishing to discover their family history.

Military records are available to relatives wishing to discover their family history.

Finding the Ships Where Dad Was Stationed

I always intended to ask my Dad for the names of the ships where he was stationed during his twenty-four years in the U.S. Navy. Unfortunately, I waited too late. But all was not lost. I found a way to get the official records that would answer my questions and it was surprisingly simple.

For example, he served as a Plank Owner aboard the USS Rich, a Gearing Class Destroyer. A "plank owner" is an individual who was a member of the crew of a ship when that ship was placed in commission.

USS Rich DDE-820 Gearing Class Destroyer

The U.S. Navy Gearing-class destroyer USS Rich (DD-820) underway probably during the 1970s, By USN (U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 99851) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Navy Gearing-class destroyer USS Rich (DD-820) underway probably during the 1970s, By USN (U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph NH 99851) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Who Can Request Naval Records?

Filling in the gaps as I reconstruct the timeline of my father's military service assignments was definitely easier with help from the Naval Archives. Here is the criteria for requesting records:

If you are a veteran or a deceased veteran's next of kin, you can request records through the National Personnel Records Center. There's no charge for this service, and it's straightforward whether by mail, fax, or online.

The next of kin can be any of the following:

  • A surviving spouse that has not remarried
  • Father
  • Mother
  • Son
  • Daughter
  • Sister
  • Brother

USS Augury 149, A Minesweeper

Dad served on the Augury, a minesweeper built for the U.S. Navy during World War II and in commission from 1943 to 1945

Dad served on the Augury, a minesweeper built for the U.S. Navy during World War II and in commission from 1943 to 1945

What Do You Need as Proof?

During the time spent in the service, the names of ships changed as often as the names of the cities where Dad was stationed. Brooklyn Naval Yard, Key West Naval Station, Charleston, SC, and Norfolk, VA were ports in the short span of a couple of years.

Remembering these along with the names of the corresponding ships became hard after years had passed along with my father.

The information needed to request the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) includes the following:

  • The veteran's complete name used while in service
  • Service number
  • Social security number
  • Branch of service
  • Dates of service
  • Date and place of birth (especially if the service number is not known).
  • If you suspect your records may have been involved in the 1973 fire, also include:
    • Place of discharge
    • Last unit of assignment
    • Place of entry into the service, if known.
  • All requests must be signed and dated by the veteran or next-of-kin.
  • If you are the next of kin of a deceased veteran, you must provide proof of death of the veteran such as a copy of death certificate, letter from funeral home, or published obituary.


Ask Questions While You Can

When Dad would talk of his time in the Navy, he would captivate the room with his adventures and narrow escapes. I took notes, but there are gaps that I can no longer fill in with a quick phone call. I wish I'd asked more questions while I still had the opportunity. He's gone now, but not forgotten. Rest in peace, Dad.

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Read More From Wehavekids

Finding out more about him through the official records has been an insightful experience that helped me fill in some of those gaps.

Dad on the far right of the photo at Officer Candidate School.

Dad on the far right of the photo at Officer Candidate School.

Standard Form 180

Personnel records and Service Treatment Records (STR) of military service members who retired, were discharged or died in service over the past sixty-two years are available to the next of kin of the veteran.

When the Standard Form 180 is submitted to the appropriate agency, depending on the branch of service, it requires only a minimal amount of information to complete the form, including the exact name the veteran used during service, their social security number, date and place of birth, branch of service and date entered and released from military service.

Standard Form 180 - Printed

Standard Form 180 - Printed

The form asks if this person is deceased and the date, and if the person retired from military service. They offer a checklist of items that may be requested, such as a form DD214 (which is the military discharge "Report of Separation from the Armed Forces of the United States"), an important form useful when filing for military benefits and other business.

The requester can ask for All Documents in the Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), Medical Records including Service Treatment Records (outpatient), inpatient and dental records.

The form does ask your purpose in obtaining these records. Although the answer to this is voluntary, it may result in a "faster reply" when answered. When I submitted my Form 180, I listed my interest in writing a chronology for the veteran's descendants and for publication of stories related to military interest.

USS Allegheny (ATA-179) underway, date and location unknown. US Navy photo

USS Allegheny (ATA-179) underway, date and location unknown. US Navy photo

Filling Out the Form

Your signature is required on the form along with any proof of death, such as a death certificate, and the relationship you have to the military service person, for example, next of kin. In my case, it was as the daughter. I didn't have a copy of the death certificate but they accepted the obituary from the newspaper along with the funeral card showing the birth date and date deceased of the veteran.

After making a copy of my request, I mailed it off on March 7, eager for the return of my packet. I called to follow up on the request on March 25th and spoke with an efficient, well-informed staff member who found my request quickly and let me know they were "working on it" pending copies of certain documents. He let me know I should expect to receive something by the middle of April.

Crew from the USS Allegheny

Crew of the USS Allegheny in 1958 or 1959

Crew of the USS Allegheny in 1958 or 1959

Official Business

The manila envelope marked Official Business came from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, arriving in remarkable time just thirty days after my request was mailed. It included a list of decorations, medals, badges, commendations and campaign ribbons that he was awarded.

There were records indicating his pay scale, ports of duty, dates he took leave and even the service training he completed. Copies of his enlistment papers listed classes he took in high school and which sports he played written in his own hand. I'm still discovering interesting facts about my father's military service from the documents I received.

If you're a historian or just fascinated with the details of your parent's military service, requesting this information for your veteran is highly recommended. Follow the link to the National Personnel Records Center to begin your quest.

I wish you all the best in your search to find out more about your family history.

Anchors Aweigh - US Navy

The Navy Was Our Life

Growing up as military dependents, our family was used to a crisp salute from the MPs at the gate of any Naval base. Our ID cards gave us access to the Commissary for groceries, the Base Exchange (BX) for supplies, and the base theater where movies were just ten cents. We took Judo Classes on the base and competed in tournaments against other students

As military dependents, we lived in military housing and interacted with other Navy kids at school and in the neighborhood, The Navy was our world.

Wall of Navy Memories

Displayed at the bottom, a Plank Owner pendant from the USS Rich

Displayed at the bottom, a Plank Owner pendant from the USS Rich

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: My wife is almost finished with a (surprise) Quilt of Valor to give to an old friend that served in the Navy from 1967-1970 in Vietnam. She would like to put a label on the back with his actual ship and the date it was presented to him. We have asked his wife to try to get this information (in casual conversation) for us, but she has not been able to get it. Is there a way that we can get this info online?

Answer: What a nice tribute to your friend that served in Vietnam. Please thank him for his service to our country when you see him. The link above requires that a direct relative seek the information you need. Perhaps you can include the veteran's wife in your surprise and ask her to get the information for you.

Question: Can you please direct me towards someone to help locate my father?

Answer: With some basic information about your father, you can find out where he served during his time in the service. Start with the Standard Form 180 and fill in as much information as possible, then, submit it online. Several questions come to mind about your quest: Is your father living? Do you know his military service number? Do you know his place of birth? Do you know in which branch of the military he served and when?

In addition to the online form to request military records, you might Google the name(s) of any ships where he was stationed. The online administrator can direct you to personnel lists. Do you know any duty stations where someone might remember him? Perhaps they have a list of assigned personnel by year.

Another option is to Google the online site for National Archives where they have a "Contact Us" option.

Question: How do I find someone if I don't have the information needed to find military service records?

Answer: According to this website, http://www.dd214.us/methods.html, the best method to get the separation papers for your veteran is write to the NPRC or National Personnel Records Center and explain the circumstances of your request. The DD214 Separation Form will provide much of the info needed to file a Standard Form 180. The site also gives several options for obtaining this information including the use of paid researchers.

© 2011 Peg Cole

Comments

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on February 16, 2020:

Carolyn, You have discovered some important keepsakes from the era of the Greatest Generation.Wow. I Googled the USS Conserver ARS-39 and looked at a crew list under the time period "Precomm 1967." There were only a couple of names from the 40s. Perhaps if you contact that website (Navybuddies dot com Crew List) and make some inquiries you might find the family of Robert Maschmeyer.

I've seen inquiries on social media such as Facebook searching for lost crew members. An episode of "American Pickers" on TV showed an effort to return a purple heart to its rightful place.

Best of luck in rehoming these important items. What I wouldn't give to have my own Dad's military ribbons and memorabilia lost in our many moves.

Thanks for sharing your quest.

Carolyn Joy on February 15, 2020:

I am looking for Robert Maschmeyer, I recently bought a box of sewing stuff. In the mass of stuff was some military items. A Pearl Harbor lighter with Robert Maschmeyer and the USS Conserver ARS-39 engraved on the lighter. A 10 and 15 year pin. Ribbon/Metals for Korea, ASIA, Pacific Theater Champaign Medals, Meyer Insignia pin. I would like to find someone in his family to return these items.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on January 22, 2020:

Jewel, the red link in the article will take you to a form (Standard Form 180) that needs to be filled out. Only a direct relative can get their family member's service records from the National Archives but they need some info and a signature to begin. The link is in the section titled "Standard Form 180" and I'm not allowed to link it again here in the comments. Good luck in your search.

Jewel Woods on January 20, 2020:

My husband is trying to find his father. His name is Willie Hall. He doesn't have much information on his dad. He knows he was in the U.S. Navy due to him paying child support. He was born in 1984. How can he find out who to write to. He wants to meet him his siblings. He knows he has a lot of them due to the child support and benefits received one of the officials made mention of it when he turned 18 years old. It has been 37 yrs an he still don't have any idea who or where his other half comes from. Heritage an family is important. Please help.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on June 24, 2019:

Hello Pete Harvatin,

I received your very nice email about wanting to find out more about your dad. I can certainly understand that. You'll need to do a little research to find out his exact birth date and social security number or service number and his date of passing to request the records described in the above article. You may get some help by calling the National Personnel Records Center or visiting the web site on the link above. They say, "Requests must contain enough information to allow us to identify the record from among the more than 70 million on file at the NPRC."

All the best to you in your research efforts. Peg

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 15, 2019:

Hello Lynda, Personnel records of the veteran should show the duty stations for your relative. Filling out the Standard Form 180 is the way to get these records. Use the link in the article to find the form.

Lynda Huffman Key on May 14, 2019:

How do I find out where a soldier was stationed?

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 12, 2019:

Hello Patrick, So sorry to hear about your brother. May he rest in peace. There are several sources for locating records. Especially with the Discharge Certificate you would have his essential dates and service numbers.

Under the link for the National Archives there is a page called Locations of Service Records which gives several more links to branches of service including US Army Human Resources Command and active and non-active duty National Guard.

I hope this will be of some help.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on March 12, 2019:

Hi Toni Lowry, I wish for you success in your quest. Hopefully you have some of the basic information about him to help in your search.

Patrick Dunlap on March 11, 2019:

My brother was KIA 2005, My father passed in 2006. I am the executor form my father. I have his Army National Guard Records, I have his Army Discharge Certificate, He served in Korea after the War wink wink, "Shipped Dipped". He got treatment at VA hospital in 1986. Short end of story. No records in Saint Louis, also went through Congressman same result. He has 2 service numbers, he would have been medical 4 F'd from polio. Help

Toni lowry on February 01, 2019:

lookinh for my dad

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on January 05, 2019:

Dear Wilton, You'll definitely need to find out his social security number or service number or dates of service from his discharge papers (DD214) or inquire at https://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service... about her options. This may start the process out for your Mom.

Wiltontouchton@gmail.com on January 05, 2019:

My dad was in the Koran my mom doesn't know his social security number she needs his ss number so she can get some benefits his name is Wilton touchton,sr born live oak fla 19?? Can you please help me?

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on December 07, 2018:

Hello Shaun, If you Google The National Records Center St Louis you will see a phone number listed. I hope they will be able to guide you in providing the information needed to locate his records.

Shaun S. Basch on December 07, 2018:

All I would like to know is which LST my grandfather served on during WWII. How would I go about doing that? He passed away in 2013. Thank you.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on October 19, 2018:

Hi Eloise, Sometimes you can check with the admin for the ships where your husband served. They may have a crew member photo on file. Search on Google for the name of the ship, then follow the links to the ship's page. Best of luck in finding what you need.

Eloise Maynor on October 19, 2018:

I have all information and would like a picture of my husband showing him in his Navy Uniform for a tribute in our local newspaper. How can I obtain this information? Thanks for any help.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on September 12, 2018:

Sherry, I'm sorry you've had difficulty in locating your father's records. The only ideas I have are to ask relatives for more information and also look through old photos and paperwork to get insight into his duty stations, service number, social security number or the names of ships where he served. There are groups online for many of the ships and once you locate a name, they may have crew lists of their personnel. You can follow the trail from there. You could also try a historical search of the family on one of the genealogy sites. Best of luck to you in your quest.

sherry zumparelli on September 11, 2018:

my father was transfered in the military to coast guard and when I sent the papers in to find them , they said the building was burned and those records during world war 2 or gone or misplaced and they want me to give them more info. I cant thats all I have is the year and coast guard , plus someone told me there was records in texas from the world war 2 , please give me some ideas here

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on July 21, 2018:

Thank you for stopping in, Anonymous. I'm glad you found the information useful.

anonymous on June 05, 2018:

Peg, thank you for this valuable information, I hope to find the time to do some research in near future.

Blessings my friend

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 30, 2018:

Dear Michelle, Thank you for the email. I'm so sorry for the loss of your dad. That's so hard to process.There are many questions we wish we could have asked them. Since you are a direct descendant, you should be able to obtain his military records. Try to locate his social security number and the years when he served if you can and submit a Standard Form 180 to the address in the link above. Hopefully they can help you. Thanks to your dad and to so many others who served our country when called.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 30, 2018:

Hello Trisha, Thanks for the email telling me about your Great Uncle Joseph. If you'll follow the links in this article to the agencies where service records are kept, they may be able to help you find a bit more information on your relative. I admire your interest in honoring his memory and service.

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on May 30, 2018:

Hi Carl, Thanks for stopping in.

Carl Edwards Streeter on May 29, 2018:

Serves and navies in the sixties

Peg Cole (author) from North Dallas, Texas on April 11, 2018:

Dear Captain Lukas W. R, Thanks for your email question regarding the soldier you met who fought at Iwo Jima. Honoring this man at a Parris Island graduation would be a fine tribute. I would recommend that you contact the Customer Service Center at the National Archives, 1 866 272 6272 and explain your intentions and need for details on this veteran. Due to HIPA and other privacy acts it may be tough to get his personal information unless you go through a relative who is next of kin to the veteran. Thank you sir, for your service.