Just in Time for Veterans’ Day: Ancestry Hopes to Recover Veterans’ Information Despite the Loss of Records in a Fire

A catastrophic fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center outside St. Louis destroyed 80% of the records of U.S. Army personnel discharged November 1912 to January 1960 and 75% of U.S. Air Force personnel discharged September 1947 to January 1964. None of these records – about 80-100 pages of info per soldier on average – had duplicate copies. Records about the battles these brave soldiers fought in, the ships they sailed on, the medals they received, etc. were lost.

Ancestry hopes to recover those lost accounts. The company launching a special project asking people to interview and share stories from World War II military veterans. Ancestry will take the submitted interviews and turn them into a searchable database to help supplement the lost World War II records for these soldiers and sailors.

Less than 600,000 of the 16 million American veterans who served in WWII are alive today. It’s predicted that 50% of remaining WWII Vets will be gone in 3 years and 90% will be gone in 10 years, so the time to preserve their histories is now.

For more information on the project or to contribute a story, please visit: https://www.ancestry.com/veterans.

11 Comments

There is very little known about what my dad did during WWII. He didn’t talk about it with his children and he is no longer living. My mother told me some things and I wrote them in my book “Begging For Acceptance”. I hope many veterans will be willing to tell their stories. Maybe I’ll hear more about Dad from some of the men who knew of his time in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge where he lost all of his men. He nearly died himself. He wanted to spare his family the details that hurt him to remember, let alone describe to his children.

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My father fought in the Korean War . I wonder why it is not included? When I put a request in for his records, they replied that they were not available because of the fire but a family member who worked with the military saw that my father had his pilot’s license. He rarely said anything about it. Sadly, my father passed away in 2002 so I may never know what he experienced was as an African American serving in Germany.

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    When I read the article my first thought was wondering about the Korean War. Many more of these vets might still be alive.

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It’s a shame that they are only doing videos. My dad wrote an account of his time in the Army (and included plenty of names, along with some photos) and my mother’s cousin wrote a booklet of his experiences, including being a POW. How many WWII veterans are still alive to record videos? Ancestry should consider digitalizing written memoirs.

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I totally agree with Pat’s comment. As a genealogy researcher, teacher and author, I teach classes on writing your life history in short stories. I have listened to and documented stories of a three-wars veteran, including Pearl Harbor. I don’t think a video of me re-telling them would have the same impact or authenticity. Media technology changes rapidly. As a writer and publisher, my preference is the written word first, then media.

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There are many groups around the country who for years have done interviews of veterans. In my home town of Midland, Texas, the Commemorative Air Force has sponsored such efforts.

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My dad couldn’t tell me about his war service because it was still classified before he died. When I finally made the trip to England that he’d always wanted to make, I started trying to figure out where he might have been stationed and found three locations. One of them had a museum, and they had a source which confirmed my dad was stationed there. When I made it to the UK, I fulfilled my lifelong goal of driving on the left side of the road by renting a car. It took 3 hours to drive from where I was staying to this tiny museum, 4800 miles from my home in the US. I walked in the door, and there was my dad’s photo on the wall.

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My Dad never talked about the war after us kids were born. I was over 40 years old when I found out that my Dad was the sole survivor of a plane crash in the CBI theater. I did send for records but all I got was the copies of the burned records. I didn’t ask enough questions before my dad passed and my mother could’t tell me anything either. I’ll have to get busy looking so my daughter and the grands know what happened. I have no idea where to begin, but like every other research task – just start with a search and the information will eventually reveal itself.

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I am a WWII vet. I would not consider making a video or even giving Ancestry a written account of my service unless Ancestry gave me access to Ancestry during the next couple years.

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I know very little about my dad’s WWII service, but I am fortunate enough to own some of the photos he took of places and ships in the Pacific theater. While I have found some good information about him on Ancestry (Navy ship records), I did have to pay for it.
If I ever find a good location to donate copies of my dad’s photos or memorabilia, I won’t give it to Ancestry. There are some WWII museums out there now – I’m sure some of them would be great caretakers of videos or other WWII related items. They don’t have the profit motive that Ancestry has.

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