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How to Find Military Service Records for Veterans

Updated on December 20, 2016
PegCole17 profile image

Peg traveled extensively during her time as a flight attendant and as a project manager on telecom projects in the US.

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

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

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 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
  • Father
  • Mother
  • Son
  • Daughter
  • Sister
  • Brother

USS Augury 149, A Minesweeper

USS Augury 149, Admirable-class minesweeper built for the United States Navy during World War II and in commission from 1943 to 1945
USS Augury 149, Admirable-class minesweeper built for the United States Navy during World War II and in commission from 1943 to 1945 | Source

Military Dependents

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

Dad on the far right of the photo
Dad on the far right of the photo | Source

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

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

Crew from the USS Allegheny

Crew of the USS Allegheny in 1958 or 1959
Crew of the USS Allegheny in 1958 or 1959 | Source

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 - Printed
Standard Form 180 - Printed

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

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

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.

National Personnel Records

A markerNational Personnel Records, St. Louis -
National Personnel Record Center & National Archives, Spanish Lake, MO 63138, USA
get directions

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.

© 2011 Peg Cole

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    • WillStarr profile image

      WillStarr 6 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      How cool is that!

      One of my wife's cousins just made Navy Captain.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 6 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Well, this is really interesting. Our family historian is my older sister and I am going to send her a link to your Hub. Thank you this information is so valuable.

      You've made your Dad even more proud of you!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      My Dad served in the Canadian Navy and after he passed I wrote to Ottawa and got all of his records. I actually found out some pretty interesting stuff about my Dad that he had never told me about through the records. Awesome Hub!

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 6 years ago

      That is soooo cool and wonderful!! Totally interesting and yet another way to gather history. love it.

    • CWanamaker profile image

      CWanamaker 6 years ago from Arizona

      I didn't realize it would so easy to figure things out. Thanks for the information.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 6 years ago from United States

      This is a terrific hub that I'm sure will help a lot of people. As I have been tracing my ancestry for about 20 years I so appreciate tips from people that help fill in those holes in their lives. What you are doing is creating a legacy that will pass on to your children and their children and so on. Great information and rated up.

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 6 years ago from Texas

      Outstanding hub. A good way to determine if there are survivor benefits available for surviving dependents as well. Thank you for sharing.

    • lmmartin profile image

      lmmartin 6 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Very interesting, Peg. Who knows; maybe one day I'll find out exactly what my husband did in the navy, cause he sure isn't talking... Lynda

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello WillStar, Great to see you again and congrats to your wife's cousin on the Captain's status. Quite an accomplishment!

      Mckbirdbks, Hey there. Thanks for sending the link to your sister, the historian. I hope she will find the records she needs! Nice to see you today and thanks for the nice message recently. I've been thinking a lot about Dad recently. Thanks for your kind words.

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hey there Susan, Isn't it great to discover stuff about your Dad that you never knew? This morning on the Today show, Maria Schriver interviewed a lady who wrote a book about her Dad, after discovering a suitcase filled with his Military items. She reconnected with her father who suffered from PTSD after years apart. Fascinating story. I hope one day to write about my Dad too.

    • sister that profile image

      sister that 6 years ago from So Cal

      Thank you for posting this valuable information PegCole17 and to Mck for forwarding me the link.

    • sangre profile image

      Sp Greaney 6 years ago from Ireland

      Thats an amazing story and it's a useful hub for anyone who is looking for the same type of information, it's great they were so organised and able to give you the info you requested.

    • b. Malin profile image

      b. Malin 6 years ago

      Wonderful Hub with lots of useful information. It probably will help a lot of people. Thanks for sharing...You Dad was quite a Handsome man, you make him proud.

    • sister that profile image

      sister that 6 years ago from So Cal

      Using your terrific advice I was able to go online today and order military records for my Dad. Use this link at eVetRecs at http://www.archives.gov/veterans/evetrecs/. Request must be signed and can be faxed or mailed. Expect a 90 day turn around. Thanks again.

    • profile image

      writeronline 6 years ago

      What a helpful hub. Not being from the US, I won't be able to put it to direct use; but it makes me think there are likely to be similar records kept by other countries....my Dad served in the New Zealand Navy during WW2, but never really opened up about it; he was involved in one heroic incident that was reported in the local paper, and his sister kept the clipping, so growing up, I did get to see that.

      Interesting too, that you say you hope to one day write about your Dad. I'd had that plan for quite a while, and finally posted a story about my Dad a few days ago. Quite a cathartic experience, but now I'm pleased to have at least a short 'online memorial' to him, and his values. I recommend you go ahead sooner rather than later; you might enjoy the same experience I did. :)

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Lynn, my friend, so nice to see you again. Thanks for the nice comment and for sharing my joy!

      CWanamaker, Yes, really do able. I could barely believe it was that simple.

      Pamela99 Hi! So good to see you again. I seem to remember that you have done a lot of research in ancestry. Thanks for the nice comments here.

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello there A.A. Zavala, Good point, using the info to research survivor benefits. It is important to find out what's available. Thanks for adding that note and for your nice comments.

      Hi Lynda, I just found out something new about you. Didn't know you had a connection to the navy. Then you've lived the life of a military dependent as well. In one of my other lives I was an Air Force wife. It is good to see you here today - I've missed you lately.

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Sister that, How nice to meet you. I'm so thankful your brother shared the link with you.

      Thanks so much for relaying your success in ordering your Dad's records and for providing another resource for others like us who are gathering up clues. You are awesome! I look forward to reading more about you.

    • sister that profile image

      sister that 6 years ago from So Cal

      Nice to meet you also PegCole17. My brother is the awesome writer and I do the family genealogy. Thank you for your kind words. Easy to see why you have hundreds of "followers". :) Take Care and keep up the good work(s).

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Sangre, Hi. Thank you for your very nice comments. Truly I was pleased and surprised at the way my request was handled.

      b. Malin, I'm hopeful that others will find this information helpful. And thanks, your compliment is very, very sweet. He was rather dashing in his uniform, at least, I always thought so.

      Sister that - Again, thank you so very much for the positive reinforcement and helpful link.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      ..what a lovely and most interesting story you have presented us here ...... and one in which I can relate - you see my dad (and best friend) was a veteran of World War II as a Canadian soldier for over 6 years and he even wrote a memoir of his experiences and in civilian life he was quite the historian of not just 'his' war but of all wars and history in general - so yes this wonderful story of 'yours' made me think and it moved me and touched me too - so nice to meet up with you here at the Hub - thank you for your nice endorsement of my humble little hubspace and coming from such a great hubber like you that is really quite a compliment indeed.

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello writeronline, I'm so glad you decided to stop by and leave a comment here. Your mention of a heroic rescue is timely as I have just found a clipping of a news article from the 60s about my own Dad.

      You are so right about getting that story written, sooner rather than later. I'm hopeful these records will help me fill in the blanks in my sketchy notes. And the process of writing is truly cathartic as you mentioned. It's so nice to meet you here, and having read a little about you, I look forward to reading much more.

      Again, thanks so much for your kind words and thoughtful comments.

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Epigramman, Having recently discovered your writings, I look forward to learning more about you and reading your Dad's story as well. I find that kind of history truly fascinating. And, btw, you are the great hubber e-man, not me.

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 6 years ago

      Really great history you have found! I think this is something you could start up for folks to come to you, after you do all the work researching! Take care..

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Jo_Goldsmith11, Thank you. Finding the time to research is difficult and yet it offers the pleasure of personal discovery. I believe each person gets something different out of fact finding missions with their family history. Even looking through old pictures creates a certain feeling about our ancestors and their lives.

    • ethel smith profile image

      Eileen Kersey 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

      Interesting. I am glad the pieces are fitting together for you

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 6 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi ethel, Thank you for stopping by and for commenting.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      PegCole17 the records we sent for with the information you provided arrived, in just under two weeks. I wanted to thank you again.

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Mckbirdbks, Wasn't it a fascinating package? I'm still grasping new facts as I read over the induction forms, the leave pages and all the remarks. Thanks for taking time to share your success and also for telling your sis about it. Peg

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      Hi, wow! so it is possible to find out this information! I have been trying to find various things about my uncle and my mom, this has given me a lift, thanks nell

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Nell Rose, Hi there. Yep, it definitely is possible. I wish you much success in finding your uncle's and mom's records. Thank you for your nice comments! Peg

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Great information wish I had thought of it. I sent for my Dad's military records last year. I do genealogy so it really helped me to get his information.

      Voted up from one military brat to another.

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Moonlake,

      It's always nice to meet another military kid. We have some shared experiences, I'm sure. Very glad you took the time to seek out your Dad's records. Isn't it fascinating to read over them? Best of luck on your genealogy pursuit. Peg

    • Hyphenbird profile image

      Brenda Barnes 5 years ago from America-Broken But Still Beautiful

      This is great information. A friend's father was a pilot and died in a non-war crash. She has very little info about him and this will make her so happy. Oh, thank you for your great research and for sharing it in a Hub.

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello Hyphenbird and please forgive the long delay in my response to your lovely comment. I don't know how I could have missed it. By now I hope your friend has found out about her father. It is amazing how therapeutic it can be to make these discoveries about our parents. Again, my apologies and hope to see you again soon. Peg

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Peg a comment notification popped up, so I thought I'd take the opportunity to say HI

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi there Mck. Wow, you've become Mr. Popularity. Wooooo. I'm honored to see your note here. Really. I've been working on a little poem today. We'll see if I have the courage to publish it eh? Good to see you.

    • mckbirdbks profile image

      mckbirdbks 5 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

      Hello Peg. I am sure your poetry is beautiful. Mr. popularity, if they only knew who funny that is.

    • Daisy Mariposa profile image

      Daisy Mariposa 5 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)

      Peg,

      Thanks so much for writing this article. My father was a Navy medic in the South Pacific during WWII. I have a lot of photographs, but very little information about the ships. I'm going to follow the steps you've outlined and see what I can find.

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Daisy,

      The photos are great to have and even better with the details that will come in answer to your request. Inside the package I received were "leave records" so I knew what time frames for which ships based on these dates. All the best in your research and thanks for stopping in to comment. Hope you'll let me know how it goes.

      Peg

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 5 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Peg, you don't mention it, but once you know the ships a relative served on, the internet is a great place for additional information. Photos of each ship, for one, but also online accounts of crew members who served on them. Many times, these will include details of battles and such that never appeared in the "official" records.

      My dad never served in the military, but I AM familiar with the excitement you felt on receiving your dad's records when I received the Civil War (and pension) recs of some of my ancestors. Here, too, it's extremely important to specify "ALL records".

      Voted up and awesome! ;D

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello JamaGenee,

      Thanks for that additional tip on finding crew members and such on line. I believe there's a link on this hub that takes you to one of the ships on which my Dad served as a plank officer; The USS Rich. There is a write up of his service and a memorial tribute written following his passing. I have neglected to do any further investigation on the other ships that I learned about via this method. Guess it is time to get back on that project.

      Requesting civil war records is an excellent idea and I must someday delve into that, as one of Dad's ancestors served as an officer. So much fun when the records arrive, reading and learning.

      Thanks for stopping in to share more ways that we can unravel the mystery of our ancestors.

      Peg

    • shiningirisheyes profile image

      Shining Irish Eyes 5 years ago from Upstate, New York

      From one Navy vets daughter to another, thank you for posting this. I spent many hours speaking to my Dad and his fellow comrades. I also audio taped the conversation and documented them. As you state, these conversations are now priceless as the have all passed on and are no longer available to speak with. I will be sending my request to the National Peronnel Records Center ASAP. Voting this UP UP UP

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 5 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello Shiningirisheyes and I'm so glad to meet you here. What a great piece of history you have with those taped conversations you made of your Dad. So much of what their lives were like and what they went through can be remembered now. All the best to you in finding the records you seek.

      Thanks so much for your visit and votes!

      Peg

    • profile image

      Brenda Bortner 4 years ago

      I was very young when my father passed away and it seems no one has the info I need to acquire the service information. How do I obtain my fathers SS# and/or service record #? I used to know this. My mother and father divorced when i was very small and she has no interest in helping me. Thanks in advance.

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello Brenda, Where would this information be kept for example on the public records? If you know the state where he went to high school you might start there with an on line inquiry. I didn't have this issue since I already knew the SS#. That really helped.

      Would you be able to look up income tax records on line that would have his SS#? As next of kin they might release it to you upon direct inquiry.

      Or you might write to the Bureau of Records at the link above.

      All the best to you in your search.

      Peg

    • profile image

      ggent001 4 years ago

      Nice work there! I know on occasion locating these records at NARA can be a real pain. Navy and USMC records tend to be the easier to get because they were not impacted by the '73 fire that destroyed a lot of these personnel records. I know of one site that specializes in locating the more difficult to find personnel records: www.goldenarrowresearch.com

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Thank you Ggent001. I was really pleased that this process worked for me. You've shared a good clue for those with more difficult cases. Nice to see you here and thanks for the additional help.

    • Jeff Gamble profile image

      Jeff Gamble 4 years ago from Denton, Texas

      Peg - What a great hub! I recently had a similar search for a missing air crew record for an uncle who served in World War II. You give some tips on how to better approach certain avenues. Wish I had done the same, it would have been easier! Thanks for the great info

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Dear Jeff Gamble,

      Hello and thank you for the visit here along with the kind comments. I hope others have the same good fortune in finding out about their family's military history through this method.

      So glad to hear from you.

      All the best,

      Peg.

    • Jason Matthews profile image

      Jason Matthews 4 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow, this is really incredible. Thanks for sharing!

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Jason, Thank you for stopping by and for leaving such a nice comment.

    • Cogerson profile image

      Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

      Great information in this hub. My grandfather served during World War 2.....and he is almost a mystery to the family as he passed away during the war and my father never got the chance to know him....I am sharing this with my brother who is always looking for information on our family. I think it is very fascinating to trace your family history....voted up and very interesting.

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 4 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Cogerson. I hope your brother will be able to find out the history on your grandfather and solve some of the family mysteries. It really is fascinating to find out stuff about our ancestors. I was lucky to have the basic information I needed to begin. Too bad much of it is missing from further back in the family history. One of my great uncles served in the Confederate Army from what I was told.

      Thank you for the kind words and votes on this hub and all the best to you in your search.

      Peg

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 2 years ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hello Anne, Thank you for stopping in and for commenting. I had to delete your comment unfortunately since it led to an outside link. I'll try to include a link to the SF 180 form within my text. Again, thank you for the visit.

    • Joe Fiduccia profile image

      Joe Fiduccia 24 months ago from Monroe County, PA

      I had never thought about some of the things you recommend, and I'm HUGE into documenting my family history. Thanks for the information!

    • PegCole17 profile image
      Author

      Peg Cole 24 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      Hi Joe, Thank you for stopping in here and for the nice remarks. Your visit encouraged me to revise this article and add some new photos. I really appreciate your encouragement. Best of luck in finding your historical info.

    • dreamstdesigns profile image

      dreamstdesigns 3 months ago from Elsmere, KY

      Thanks so much Ms. Cole for posting this information. My father was also in the Navy during WWII and I have long wanted to have his records. He worked on the floating drydocks in the Admiralty Islands where he was on and involved in the repair of so many ships of that day. He has also passed away and these records will now be my only chance to get more of the detailed info and always wondered just how to go about the process. Again Thanks, Charlene K.

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