If you have served in the military or worked for the Federal Government, your personnel file is held at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri. More than 34 million files are held in this facility, filling 2.3 million cubic feet of records on 385,000 shelves. There are 6.2 billion feet of paper in the military records alone.
About 600 full-time staff work in St. Louis. In 2011, the NPRC received 1,093,522 written requests for records, about 3,000 requests per day. They have received about 889,283 so far in 2012.
This part of the National Archives provides vital services to veterans. Former servicemen and women can use the documentation in their files to receive veterans benefits (form DD-214), help with replacement medals, or receive a military burial.
Not all the records in the NPRC are held in the permanent archives. Records with a discharge date of 1950 or earlier are archival records and are open to the public. But records from 1951 are non-archival, so they are restricted for privacy. Usually only the veteran or the next-of-kin can access these files.
For historians, each pre-1950 archival records is a possible treasure chest. The Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) of Presidents George H.W. Bush and John F. Kennedy, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Ted Williams, and Jackie Robinson are in these holdings.
“The OMPFs hold the stories of millions of individuals who defended our nation throughout the many wars of the 20th century. They contain such documents as enlistment contracts, duty locations, performance evaluations, award citations, training records, and the especially important Report of Separation (DD Form 214 or earlier equivalent),” writes Norman Eisenberg in “20th-Century Veterans’ Service Records: Safe, Secure—and Available.”
For genealogists, military files can hold valuable information: military service records, military pension records, and bounty land warrant application files. Sometimes the files hold detailed stories of wartime events.
Looking for a family’s military or civilian records? You can request copies of files in writing to be sent to you, or you can make an appointment to visit the research rooms and view the original files in person.