How to Find Military Service Records for Veterans
I always intended to ask my Dad for the name 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.1
USS Rich DDE-820 Gearing Class Destroyer
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 submit a request for records through the National Personnel Records Center. There's no charge for this service and it's remarkably easy whether by mail, fax or online.
The next of kin can be any of the following:
- Surviving spouse that has not remarried
USS Augury 149, A Minesweeper
Growing up as military dependents, our family members were used to getting a crisp salute from the Marines at the gate when we entered any Naval base. Showing our identification cards allowed us access to the Commissary where we bought our household groceries. The Base Exchange (BX) provided many of our back-to-school clothes and we often went to the Saturday matinee on the Navy base where movies were only ten cents.
As children, we took Judo Classes on the base and participated in tournaments against other students. The Navy was our world and most of our friends were also military dependents.
Officer Candidate School
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.
USS Allegheny ATA-179, 1958
Crew from the USS Allegheny
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.
Finding out more about him through the official records has been an insightful experience that helped me fill in some of those gaps.
Anchors Aweigh - US Navy - We Grew Up Singing This Song
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.
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.
Wall of Navy Memories
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.
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.
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
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?
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.Helpful 1
Can you please direct me towards someone to help locate my father?
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.
How do I find someone if I don't have the information needed to find military service records?
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