Military records can be useful for veterans, future employers, and can even be helpful resources for genealogy searches. One of the most important military records is called the DD214. This record is one that is officially recognized as proof of military service. The DD214 is the official discharge document for the US Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine Corp, and Coast Guard.
Military personnel records are not available for view online, as a federal law requires that these record requests be made in writing. Although the actual record is not available to view online, there is a downloadable form that you can complete to request these records from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis. The form you will need to download is called Form SF180. You can also send in a signed written request without Form SF180. Also, the recently launched eVetRecs site allows veterans and next of kin to request DD214 records online. The type of information included in the DD214 record can include the confirmation of service, reason for discharge, and service history. However, there are different levels of DD214 records that release varying levels of information. Copy 4 for a DD214 record will contain the most information. While, Copy 1 will simply address whether or not that person was in fact party of the military. Also, requests for military personnel records for those discharged prior to 1939 must be requested through the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
In addition to personnel records, the NPRC is also responsible for include Morning Reports and Unit Rosters. The Morning Reports and Unit Rosters identify military personnel who are not present for reasons including death, promotion or demotion, being wounded or missing in action, going to the hospital for treatment, or being involved in a different training exercise. Morning reports are only available from NPRC for the Army from November 1912 to 1974 and for the Air Force from September 1, 1942 to June 30, 1966.
It is important to keep in mind that the type and scope of military records available to the general public will vary. If you have a signed document from the veteran or their next of kin (if deceased) that documents the type of information releasable, then you are permitted access to any record specified. This can include personnel records and medical records. However, if you do not fall into this category, you can still request certain records, but you will likely only be permitted certain information. While the government is required to make certain information accessible to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, they must follow the Privacy Act, and work to protect privacy interests.
Other important military records include draft cards, prisoner of war (POW) records, and names of soldiers killed in the varying wars. When searching for military records, searching by the war fought could be a good place to start. Searches can be performed for WWI, WWII, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, and more. Other than the NPRC and NARA, other resources can include the Department of Defense and local veteran administration and veteran affairs offices. Also, there are many military records search resources that may not be able to provide online records, but can point you in the right direction to locate a specific record. Some searches may even require you to visit certain archives in person. The Free Public Records Directory provides various military records research resources under their “National and Federal Government” category. This could help point you in the right direction.
When performing these military record searches, the more information you can provide, the easier search will be. Information you may need can include full name, date of birth, social security number, service number, and dates of service. Although your search may not require all this information, it could also make the hunt much easier.