Today’s post comes from Thomas Richardson, an expert archives technician at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri.
Information is vital in warfare, whether it’s the latest intelligence on enemy movements or orders transferring materials and weapons. Reports relay the necessary information for soldiers, NCOs, officers, and generals, helping them to make important decisions. One critical feature is assessing the operating status of every unit, recording who’s alive, wounded, deceased, transferred, reassigned, demoted, promoted, and any other pertinent information that bears on a unit’s effectiveness.
For years, these “morning reports” were produced every morning (hence their name) by an Army or Air Force clerk. These reports may seem tedious, but they provided valuable information to the unit’s commanding officer and the headquarters it communicated with regularly.
Today, morning reports provide researchers with information about individual soldiers by looking at the strength and casualties of specific units. Morning reports are also vital in determining World War II and Korean War veterans whose records were damaged in the 1973 NPRC fire. A morning report can confirm if a veteran was wounded, killed, promoted or demoted, transferred, or had other changes in their active status. By finding their name on a morning report, NPRC technicians can build a basic summary of service for that veteran.
The Army first created morning reports in 1912 as a tracking system for soldiers’ pay and benefits. In World War I, new sections were added that detailed movements and locations of where each soldier in the company was stationed. This included when they traveled overseas and when and where headquarters moved. They were handwritten with small annotations referencing status changes.
By World War II, the morning reports were typed and included unit designation, dates, maps, geographic locations, and coordinates. Reports with detailed coordinates and locations are less common, though, as it was quicker to give an approximation on a unit’s location, especially in places such as the Pacific Theater. Morning reports were considered classified material and had to be secured in the event of enemy attack; if the enemy obtained morning reports, they could determine where a unit was and what kind of resistance to expect.
Clerks used a shorthand system of writing in order to fit as much information as possible into the report, which can sometimes be a barrier to researchers or veterans. The most commonly used abbreviations are:
- ASGD – Assigned
- SK – Sick
- WIA – Wounded in Action
- KIA – Killed in Action
- DOI – Died of Injuries
- DOW – Died of Wounds
- RTD – Returned to Duty
- MIA – Missing in Action
- PMT – Promoted
- DMT – Demoted
- CTQTR – Confined to Quarters
- TRFD – Transferred
- BC – Battalion Casualty
- APTD – Appointed
- DISCH – Discharged
- VIC – Vicinity
During the Korean War, morning reports were expanded to include more information about events that resulted in any status changes. Sometimes this can be a vivid account of combat actions, providing a glimpse into an infantryman’s wartime experience. During the Vietnam War, morning reports were revised again to only include information on personnel changes and the location of the unit’s headquarters. The record of events section describing movements or combat were removed entirely. After-action reports can fill this gap.
On June 30, 1966, the Air Force discontinued the use of morning reports, and the Army followed suit on September 30, 1974. Handwritten and typed reports then gave way to an electronic system similar to morning reports, the Standard Installation and Division Personnel Reporting System (SIDPERS). This system was used for the next two decades until its replacement by the Defense Integrated Military Human Resources System (DIMHRS).
In the years before the 1973 NPRC fire, morning reports were primarily used to determine eligibility for benefits or other information that might be missing from a veteran’s Official Military Personnel File (OMPF). A soldier’s change in status was reported on the day it occurred, and morning reports reflected that. From the soldier’s perspective, their change is marked as “Effective Date of Change of Strength Accountability.” This reflects their operating status and was vital for commanding officers to know when ordering troop movements or participating in a campaign.
The morning reports were normally written in a “exception based” format, meaning that only those who were unaccounted for were recorded in the reports; unaffected soldiers not dead, wounded, missing, or reassigned were not listed. The entries show the name of service member, service number/Social Security number, and rank. Also shown are unit strength, the location of the unit, and sometimes a record of events.
To conduct a search for a morning report, the requester needs to have the full name of the unit, down the smallest echelon that they know. Companies, battalions, and regiments are the most common search criteria for morning reports. The more specific the information, the narrower the search an NPRC technician can conduct to locate the correct report.
A majority of reports are stored on microfilm, and some hard copies are still available, all of which are undergoing digitization. Upon receiving a request, a technician locates the correct microfilm reel, searches for the unit, locates any matching information, and prints out the report. If the request is for determining benefits for a veteran whose records were damaged by the 1973 fire, the morning report is combined with a reconstructed burn record to show the requester that veteran’s status.
Statistic-based documents may not be the most glamorous narrative to paint the picture of a soldier’s wartime experience, and some researchers may not find them as exciting as reading after-action reports or Navy diaries. However, morning reports are an essential component of preserving our nation’s military records. These are real-time snapshots of a conflict that document everything happening to a unit and the individual soldier. Volunteers and draftees alike are memorialized in a way that chronicles the nation’s military achievements. These morning reports provide the long and the short, and nothing gets distorted in them.