Wayback Wednesday: National Personnel Records Center Fire 1973

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Image Credit: National Archives

Fifty years, ago, today…

Burt Lancaster's DD214 Image Two
Burned discharge document of Burt Lancaster
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Image Credit: National Archives & Wikipedia

Shortly after midnight on July 12, 1973, a fire was reported at the National Personnel Records Center’s Military Personnel Records Building, [a branch of the NPRC], in St. Louis County, Missouri. The fire burned out of control for 22 hours and it took two days before firefighters were able to re-enter the building. Due to the extensive damage, investigators were never able to determine the source of the fire.

The National Archives focused its immediate attention on salvaging as much as possible and quickly resuming operations at the facility. Even before the final flames were out, staff at the NPRC had begun work towards these efforts, as vital records were removed from the burning building for safekeeping.

“In terms of loss to the cultural heritage of our nation, the 1973 NPRC fire was an unparalleled disaster. In the aftermath of the blaze, recovery and reconstruction efforts took place at an unprecedented level. Thanks to such recovery efforts and, the use of alternate sources to reconstruct files, today’s NPRC is able to continue its primary mission of serving our country’s military and civil servants.”

Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero

The estimated loss of Army personnel records, for those discharged from November 1, 1912, to January 1, 1950, was about 80 percent. In addition, approximately 75 percent of Air Force personnel records, for those discharged from September 25, 1947, through January 1, 1964, were also destroyed in the catastrophe [all records after the last name Hubbard].

Archives Recalls Fire That Claimed Millions Of Military Personnel Files
National Archives News
Kerri Lawrence

15 thoughts on “Wayback Wednesday: National Personnel Records Center Fire 1973

    theearthspins said:
    July 13, 2023 at 8:10 AM

    Few outside of military personnel understand the importance of the DD-214 (the recovered burnt form)

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      July 13, 2023 at 1:03 PM

      I certainly do. From 2002 to 2011, when I was “issued” to the Corps, I worked for the Veterans Land Board in Texas, in downtown Austin, a department of the General Land Office. We provided the veterans with low interest land loans, home loans, home improvement loans, long term care & cemetery plots.


      I was six years old when the fire happened, so…I didn’t remember it. I learned, quickly, with the VLB.

      DD-214s are VERY important. Without them, no history and benefits. My Fleet Navy/Seabee significant other had ONE DD-214 in his possession…when he was discharged from the Seabees after a Vietnam tour (1967-1968). He’d been in the Fleet as a reservist (1960-1962) and regular Navy…Cuban Blockade…(1963-1966…some time in the IRR). He swore he only had one and I knew there was more. I sent off for his records from the archives in 2012. Sure enough, he had an earlier issued DD-214 that he never got…lazy Admin or something. He was shocked.

      When he went to a recruiter’s office to go to VN (he wanted to be in a PBR), the recruiter rejected him and said they weren’t taking “re-treads” and he would not retain his previous rank. He walked out, pissed but, a Marine recruiter told him to go back in and ask about the Seabees.

      When his “first” DD-214 showed up, it clearly showed he was still on contract and, had he had that, he could have returned to active status with rank in tact. The recruiter was too lazy to look up his paperwork.

      In hindsight, the mess-up saved his life. The life expectancy of PBR guys was low. He spent his VN experience on a beach in Da Nang, building things.

        theearthspins said:
        July 13, 2023 at 8:22 PM

        The DD-214 is basically the military “birth certificate”. Without it, to them, you ever were.

    Badfinger (Max) said:
    July 13, 2023 at 1:54 PM

    Why didn’t they upload them to…LOL…nope. That really sucks…it’s cool that the building is still standing. That really sucks they lost all of that.

    Rusty Armor said:
    July 14, 2023 at 12:53 PM

    I know. I couldn’t find my fathers service records after he died. and wanted to put his ashes in a military cemetery. I called them, and a Spec4 answered and gave me the bad new that my dads records would have been in that fire. But he went to work and found mess hall records, records of Officer Candidate School enrollment. But they didn’t have his last promotion to Captain, so we buried him as a Lieutenant.

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      July 14, 2023 at 1:14 PM

      Wouldn’t photographs of him in a Captain’s uniform help?

      Good on that Spec4. I bet “records research” is its own MOS, now.

      You posted about this, didn’t you?

    doerfpub said:
    July 23, 2023 at 5:31 PM

    Very sad – if there is one thing the digital age brought is the concept of RAIDed backup. I still remember we used to store a lot of our corporate tapes/records in salt mines

      The Hinoeuma responded:
      July 24, 2023 at 9:06 PM

      Wow. I would never have thought of that. Dry place, I suppose…🤔

        doerfpub said:
        July 24, 2023 at 10:34 PM

        Yep, and deep!

          The Hinoeuma responded:
          July 25, 2023 at 12:37 AM

          I guess so…LOL!

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