Military Monday – Continuing the Change the 1973 NPRC Fire Conversation

Resources at Your Fingertips – Advice for Family Members Seeking Info/Documentation Regarding WWII Veterans

This is a guest blog post by my colleague, Marion Chard. She has a different experience working with clients and veterans seeking service information than I do. I asked her to share her experiences and resources with my readers so you have another perspective and set of possibilities.

Years ago, while still living in Detroit, I began my quest to discover my father’s WWII history. I was only twelve when he passed away, and now I wanted to find out as much as I could, putting the various puzzle pieces back together. While he was one of the veterans who were willing to share his experiences, a long time had passed and those stories I treasured so much as a child, began to fade. I retained a box which held his keepsakes from the war, including photos and army patches; nonetheless, I could no longer recall various details including his unit designation.

One of the first things I was advised to do, was to contact the National Archives in St. Louis, but it took three successive tries, and many months before I finally received a letter at our new home in northern Michigan in autumn 2003. Sorry, they informed me, your father’s records burned in a huge fire in 1973. That was it. There were no instructions on what to do next. Was this a dead end?

I was so distraught it took me almost three weeks before I could show the letter to my husband.   I then began to feel angry and that anger led me to one conclusion; I would not give up and this would not defeat me. I had the Internet didn’t I? Without going into a long diatribe, my research led to a happy ending, even though the path proved arduous at times.

However, it is not my intent to share my entire story today, but to provide you with a helpful guide. I’m hoping that my knowledge and experience will facilitate your research into your loved one’s history and save you from all the headaches and red-tape that so many of us have experienced.

Note: this article/advice is intended for families of veteran’s who returned home from the war. Also please be aware that during World War II the serial number was NOT the same as the veteran’s social security number. Many people often get this confused.

Obtaining a Copy of Their Discharge Documents – DD214

These documents contain various information, such as the veteran’s unit, campaigns/battle info, discharge date and more. Please see this link for further explanation.

There are numerous ways to obtain copies and contrary to popular belief, NARA is not the only place to acquire this documentation.

  • The National Archives – St Louis, MO – This can take weeks or months so be prepared to wait. I strongly suggest going another route first and using this as a last resort. Also many of the personnel records WERE destroyed in the fire of ’73, so…
  • The Veteran’s Administration – This is how I obtained a copy of my father’s discharge papers. Within three weeks, I had received a copy of his DD214’s.
  • Court House of the County that the veteran resided in after WW 2
  • Many Town Clerk’s offices have discharge documents on file
  • A copy may have been filed with estate records at the county Probate Court
  • The funeral home that handled burial arrangements will have a copy if the veteran had a military funeral or applied for a government headstone

Obtaining Unit Records

These are actual archived records from each branch of the service. Again, many facilities have these records, but it may vary from place to place. Some units, (i.e. infantry and airborne) will have more information than others. Smaller/lesser known units (i.e. an engineer mapping company) may have little to none at all, so there are no guarantees. Nonetheless, my research has led me to discover, that most people are successful with this part of their hunt.

Fort Leonard Wood – Office of Engineer History Historian

U.S. Army Engineer School

320 MANSCEN Loop, Suite 043

Ft. Leonard Wood, MO 65473


Other Helpful Links
How Do I Request Military Awards and Decorations?

  • Military Awards and Decorations – The National Archives They will provide the medals for FREE, however, you may have to wait several weeks or more to receive the medals, once they receive your application.
  • My Military Medals
    However, if you KNOW which medals your loved one should have, you can also buy replacements for a small sum of money.


Marion at a WWII reunion with her “boys” as she affectionately refers to them

marion chard photo Marion Chard is the proud daughter of WWII veteran, Walter “Monday” Poniedzialek, a 540th Combat Engineer. While she started out solely seeking basic answers and information on her father’s regiment, her journey went above and beyond, for she’s become the official historian of the VI Corps Engineers and owns and runs an extensive website and forum. She has written several articles for military magazines and was invited to Fort Hood and Fort Leonard Wood as a guest and speaker. She wrote, directed and published a documentary, dedicated to her father and his fellow engineers, No Bridge Too Far. Part one is currently available to the public. Parts two and three are to be released in the near future.

For further information, or to contact Marion, please visit the following websites or email her directly at:

VI Corps Combat Engineers
VI Corps Combat Engineers forum
No Bridge Too Far
VI Corps Presents the Music of WWII

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Chicago Writers Association Speakers Bureau Guide

The 2015-2016 Chicago Speakers Bureau Guide has been released and is available on their website. Three of my programs are listed in the guide. You can learn more about all my programs and upcoming appearances on my website. I am booking programs for WWII Reunion groups, genealogy societies, libraries, military groups, organizations and corporations through 2017. Please contact me to set a date for your group.

© 2015 Jennifer Holik

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Military Monday – Time to Change the NPRC 1973 Fire Conversation

James in uniform croppedI’ve been doing World War II research for several years. I’ve interacted with a lot of people online and spoken to many clients seeking information on their WWII soldiers. Most of these individuals are researching Army, Air Corps/Army Air Forces, and National Guard (federalized usually for war and with Army records.) This year I published books on researching WWII service across all branches to help educate people on research. Especially those who do not live in the Chicago area and cannot attend my programs.

It seems almost every week I see a new blog post or article pop up online talking about the 1973 fire at the NPRC in St. Louis. This is old news. Most people who are doing research are very aware of this fire. The problem is, the majority of these articles talk about the fire but not how to reconstruct service history. A few articles have appeared that talk about technology to preserve fire and water damaged documents. But they too, do not talk about how to reconstruct service.

All the records did not burn and we need to move past beating this dead horse. Instead, let’s discuss ways to reconstruct service history. Let’s discuss the records and places we located records. And, we must talk about the struggles we face as we research (time, money, location of records, the wait for a government agency to do its job and respond, etc.) 

I believe in collaboration in WWII research. Each of us comes from a different research perspective and interest. Therefore, we all have a variety of experiences with record sets and obtaining information. With this post I am starting the discussion about SOLUTIONS to the reconstruction process.

I’m very interested in hearing your experiences with obtaining and reconstructing your soldier’s service history. Please share with us your process. We all know the records burned and that has caused a lot of headaches – that isn’t what we are focusing on here. We are focusing on the SOLUTIONS to this problem.

What have yours been?

For more information about WWII research, please visit my website and explore my research books, additional resources, and many checklists to help you locate information.

© 2015 Jennifer Holik

Categories: World War II | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

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