Research a Veteran Guide
Please note that the National Archives are currently closed to external researchers due to the pandemic, and they are currently only accepting emergency requests for records to assist veterans.
More than 16 million American men and women served in the US Armed Forces during World War II, and another 3.5 million worked as federal civilian employees during the war. These men and women are our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings. Many have shared their stories, but many others have not, and few details from their time in service are known.
The purpose of this guide is to assist veterans and their families in obtaining copies of their military personnel files from the National Archives in St. Louis, Missouri.
Details include the types of records available, where they are located, and how to obtain copies. The latter part of the guide details the information available on WWII units and ships. By researching the unit or ship to which a veteran was assigned, you can begin to piece together his or her unique wartime story, and better understand what the war means to your family.
This free resource supports research initiatives of the Museum’s Institute for the Study of War and Democracy.
WWII Research Services
As each moment passes, more memories of World War II leave us. Connecting with a loved one’s WWII experience becomes tougher with each passing day—conversations, old documents, and photos fade.
Individuals Who Never Made It Home
Request the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF). The IDPF will almost always establish his unit and give information on his burial. In many cases, it will also give valuable information about where and when he died, possibly including reports of the action in which he died. For men whose remains were never recovered or identified, extremely valuable records of the testimonies of his buddies are usually included, giving extraordinary information about the action, what happened to him, and when they last saw him. NOTE: You must send a letter before any information can be sent out to you. The letter should include your signed statement of willingness to pay the Freedom of Information Act fees for the work involved. If you are requesting your relative's IDPF, they may not charge you.
Department of the Army
U.S. Army Human Resources Command
1600 Spearhead Division Avenue, Dept. 107
Fort Knox, Kentucky 40122-5504
If the deceased was buried overseas and you want information on a gravesite or possible memorial site, contact the American Battle Monuments Commission.
American Battle Monuments Commission
Courthouse Plaza II
2300 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 500
Arlington, VA 22201
Missing in Action
You can find a listing of dead and missing Army and Air Force personnel by county at The National Archives and Records Administration website.
Individuals Who Made It Home After the War
If the individual came home then his discharge papers will provide a lot of valuable information. If you do not have these papers you will want to contact the National Personnel Records Center To get this information you must fill out a Standard Form 180. To get a form, call the following numbers and leave your name and address. The Standard Form 180 will be mailed to you.
National Personnel Records Center
(Military Personnel Records)
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, MO 63138
On the Web
The National Personnel Records Center might not have any information about the individual due to a fire in 1973 that destroyed many records. If this is the case, you may try contacting the Department of Veteran Affairs. They have addresses and information on veterans who applied for benefits. To find out if they have any information on your veteran, call them at 800-827-1000.
If the Department of Veteran Affairs does not have any information you can try contacting the Veteran Affairs Insurance Center at 800-669-8477.
If you do not know the individual's Social Security number and they applied for veterans benefits after April of 1973 you can send a $2 check made payable to the Department of Veteran Affairs. In a letter to them, ask for the individual's VA claim number, not his Social Security number. If the claim number is nine digits, then it is also the individual's SS number. Mail this letter to:
Department of Veteran Affairs
Records Management Processing Center
P.O. Box 5020
St. Louis, MO 63115
Finding A Military Unit
Once you find the individual's information, or if you already knew it, you can contact members of their military unit. Many can be easily found with Internet research. From there you can contact the person in charge of the group to get further detailed information. This is the best way to get in contact with the soldiers who served with this person.
Other Links That Might Help You
- WWII U.S. Veterans Website
- Department of Veterans Affairs Homepage
You can also contact:
The United States Veteran Support Information Index
P.O. Box 528
Morris, NY 13808
- Dad's War: Finding and Telling Your Father's WWII Story
- How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military by Lt. Col. Richard Johnson and Debra Johnson Know, MIE Publishing, Spartanburg, SC, 1999
- Finding Your Father's War: A Practical Guide to Researching and Understanding Service in the World War II U.S. Army by Jonathan Gawne, Casemate Publishers, Havertown, PA, 2006