Friday, October 07, 2011

Records Research Options

Veterans have any number of options open to them to locate and obtain copies of their military records, including their personnel file, medical records, and ships’ deck logs.

Our recent posts call for Veterans to do most of their own legwork. Granted, that is indeed the best idea. However, it may not be the most practical method of gaining those documents that would support a claim.

Some of these documents will fall directly to the Veterans to take the steps necessary to obtain. We will start with these.

Your Military Personnel File:

Start here:

The National Archives and Records Administration [NARA] in St. Louis is now the repository of the military records of millions of Veterans. At the site linked above, you can request your records online. There is a form that you MUST download, sign, and fax back to them, and instructions for doing so are provided. It should not take as long as it used to when the Navy held the records [also in St. Louis…the place had a catastrophic fire a few decades ago which is now the source of excuses for missing records, and has been for thirty years]. You should get your military medical records at the same time.

Your Ship’s Deck Logs:

email Susan Strange

email Cliff Callahan

First, note that Cliff Callahan is a separate researcher from Susan Strange. Cliff does not have a website.

The first thing you must do is narrow down the dates. If you have a copy of a Cruise Book, which can help as it often contains a chronological list of events, look for dates when your ship operated within sight of land. Not radar sight, but visible sighting of the landmass of the Republic of Vietnam, otherwise known as RVN, South Vietnam, or in our context, just Vietnam. If you could see the coastline from the deck of your ship, odds are that you were within the territorial waters of RVN. The higher that deck was from the waterline, the less chance that you were within territorial waters. In other words, Aircraft Carriers, ships like the USS Sacramento AOE 1, and some of the LSDs had high decks. Smaller Navy Ships and Coast Guard ships were more likely to have spent time in territorial waters, and actually many were within hundreds of yards from the beach.

Look first for anchorage of your ship. Obviously, if you were anchored in any bay, inlet, cove, harbor, or estuary along the coast of RVN, you were well within territorial waters. Find the dates and ask your researcher for just those dates. It will save you a lot of money by saving the researcher time and effort to narrow down your search. If you can say, “It was probably in the first half of August in 1970 that we anchored.”, it would be a very easy and narrow search for the researcher, and the more exact the narrowing the more you save. Those are the pages of the Deck Logs you want copied.

If you go to NARA’s Modern Military Branch located at Adelphi, Maryland [right next to College Park and just off the Washington Beltway], [where most ship’s deck logs are stored] to research for yourself, here are some tips:

Go Early. The earlier you get your request in for the records to go through, the sooner you will get them retrieved for you, which maximizes the time you have to go through them, and make copies. [Note, when you log in, if you want copies, you must post an advance from a credit card as part of the check in process. SECURITY IS EXTREMELY TIGHT at NARA.

Narrow your search parameters. Use the method described above to narrow your search parameters.

Be smart. If you think your ship made multiple trips inside territorial waters in the course of a deployment, ask for the entire span, not the separate months [for example, May, August, September, December of 1968 and January of 1969, ask for the span March, 1968-March, 1969]. That is more for you to go through, but much faster and easier for those who work the repository to pull the records. By padding the start and finish you can cover any times you might have missed…it’s been over 40 years, you know.
Be careful. Your deck logs are THE original smooth copies and are large pages, 11 X 17 inches. They are very hard to copy. [Our own experience was to get a month done in one hour, with some damage to the originals, so we stopped and bit the bullet, and contracted with NARA to provide copies that covered our entire deployment. It cost about $300 for 8 full months, and it took three months to get them. But we have them, and every page is marked as an official copy from NARA.]
Other Sources for Deck Logs [CHECK THESE FIRST!]:  [VASVW’s small collection but these are all exclusively Vietnam War Deployments. There is also a place to upload copies of ship’s deck logs that can be added to the collection.]   [Steve Burns Veterans Info pages contain this short list of deck logs that can be downloaded.]

Cruise Books:

Cruise Books can be of immeasurable help with photos, and chronological lists of events during a deployment, ports visited, anchorages, combat actions, flight ops, SAR actions, recreational activities, and so on -- also statistics. The Department of Veterans Affairs accepts evidence from Cruise Books as valid.

Here are some resources for cruise books:  [free access] [While this appears to require membership in, these SHOULD be free. No one should charge for access to veterans Records.]  [The US Navy Repository and it has an enormous library of Cruise Books. You cannot scan them, but you can take photos of them. If you do not live in range of Washington, DC, you can get one shipped to your local library – instructions are on the page at this link. Otherwise, get a researcher to go to the Washington Navy Yard to research the book AFTER you ascertain that one exists and is in their collection.] [a limited collection that you can look at online as they are scanned images of the pages, but you must be a member…may be a fee.]

Other Information:

The United States Navy History and Heritage Command can be accessed through this portal page:  [You can find all sorts of records, including After Action Reports, and the annual ship’s histories required as of 1965 [???] to be submitted by the Commanding Officer of every ship in the Navy, giving a narrative of all the ship experienced during the previous calendar year. Also, there is a great repository of photographs of Naval Ships online at this site.]  [A treasure trove of photographs of almost every single ship the US Navy ever commissioned after photography was invented. Also, you can find on each ship’s page all kinds of info from radio and signal flag call signs, to awards, and technical details about the ship. The photos are usually chronological from launch to the end of the ship’s life, and where possible the source of the photo and location of it is listed. THIS IS A FANTASTIC FREE SITE.]

Photographic evidence, when properly sourced and verified, is excellent evidence for your claim.

So, there you have some resources to delve into to gather any available evidence you may need.

You may also find helpful this repost of an older post on this Blog that deals with gathering and handling documents. It’s the handling of the documents you should pay attention to, as it is essential that you mark your documents properly, and care for them, send the proper versions to the DVA, and so on.

Good luck and good hunting!


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