Military Personnel Records Center
The Military Personnel Records Center (NPRC-MPR), located at 1 Archives Drive in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, is a branch of the National Personnel Records Center and is the repository of over 56 million military personnel records and medical records pertaining to retired, discharged, and deceased veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
The earliest records on file at MPRC are enlisted Navy records from 1885, Coast Guard records from 1898, Marine Corps records dating from 1905. Army records date from 1917, and Air Force records from 1947. Older military records, from the Spanish–American War, Civil War, and earlier periods, are maintained at the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington, D.C..
Most of the records on file at the National Personnel Records Center are considered property of the U.S. military and record requests are normally only honored from veterans, next-of-kin of deceased veterans, and certain agencies of the federal government. The general public may request records information under the Freedom of Information Act, but not copies of entire records or personal information regarding former military service members.
Requests for information to the Military Personnel Records Center number approximately 4000 letters per day. Response times range from approximately ten days for simple requests and as long as three to six months for complex requests requiring extensive research. The Military Personnel Records Center also stores over thirty-nine million auxiliary military records to include casualty indexes, unit reports, some military pay records, and the medical treatment records of retirees from all services, as well as records for dependents and other persons treated at naval medical facilities. Responses for information from these records are considered complex record requests.
After 1995, the Department of the Navy began retaining personnel records of Navy and Marine Corps personnel and ceased retiring these records to NPRC. Such records are now kept on file in Millington, Tennessee (for the Navy) and in Quantico, Virginia (for the Marine Corps). The Air Force and Army ceased retiring records to the Military Personnel Records Center in 2002 with the last Coast Guard records officially retired in 2004 although some USCG records as late as 2008 are still being sent to NPRC.
Between 2007 and 2008, the Army began giving NPRC access to its electronic military service record system (called "DPRIS") and most Army cases are now again answered directly by NPRC although, for problems concerning electronic Army records, veterans are advised to contact the United States Army Human Resources Command (HRC) directly. Between 1992 and 1998, the Department of Veterans Affairs began a project to receive military health records upon a service member's discharge, release, death in service, or retirement from the military. As of 2000, all military health records are now retired to the Department of Veterans Affairs instead of to the Military Personnel Records Center.
In 2005, a large number of Marine Corps and Navy records - which had been housed at the Military Personnel Records Center as Department of the Navy records - were transferred to the legal custody of the National Archives. The records in question consisted of enlisted Navy and Marine Corps personnel who were discharged or retired prior to 1939 and were reclassified as public access, much the same as Civil War and Spanish–American War records which are maintained in Washington, D.C..
Between 2006 and 2007, the category of archival records was extended to any record where the veteran in question was discharged, retired, or died more than 62 years from the current date. Known as the "62 year rule" this also applied to the Reconstruction Records of the NPRC fire related records holdings. As of 2008, the 62 year rule of archival records applies to any record in NPRC's possession with the exception of Navy Medical Records, Inpatient Clinical Records (i.e., Hospital medical files), and certain records considered "organizational" such as rosters, pay records, and unit history information.
As of 2009, with the first Air Force records from 1947 becoming public archival records, every branch of service now has some type of archival record on file at NPRC. The first records of the Korean War became archival in 2012, while the earliest Vietnam War records will become archival in 2023. Records of the Persian Gulf War will not become archival until 2053 while most of the War on Terror military service records will not become public until the 2070s.
The new Archival Records became open to unlimited access by the general public with all requests for information to such records responded by providing a copy of the entire file. Those seeking these records were required to pay a fee, whereas the "Non-Archival Records", that is the bulk of MPRC's holdings, are provided free of charge. As part of the Archival Records program, a number of notable persons records were also transferred to the custody of the National Archives and open to general public access. These records are known as "Persons of Exceptional Prominence Records" (PEP records) and include most major military leaders of World War II, such as Henry H. Arnold, Douglas MacArthur, and George S. Patton, several actors and entertainment stars such as Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, Burt Lancaster, and Elvis Presley, as well as records of historical interest to include Eddie Slovik who was executed for desertion during the Second World War. The service record of Ronald Reagan is also available through the PEP program; however, most service records of Presidents with military service are maintained through the Presidential Libraries.
The original Military Personnel Records Center was designed to replace the Army Demobilized Personnel Records Center which was an active military installation of the United States Army and housed discharged and retired Army records dating back to the First World War. In the initial conception stages, a decision was made to operate the facility as a joint military establishment, in that the facility would also take in Air Force and Navy military records.
The Military Personnel Records Center was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, and opened in the fall of 1955 after three years of construction. The building was originally known as the "Department of Defense Military Personnel Records Center" and was designated as a joint military command housing three separate records centers for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. In December 1955, the Army renamed the Demobilized Personnel Records Center as simply the "Army Records Center" and moved all records and files to the new MPRC facility, with transfer completed in January 1956. In the summer of that same year, the Navy transferred sixteen million files from its records facility in Garden City, New York to St. Louis.
Air Force records were considered under the Department of the Army custody at the time of MPRC's opening and were stored at various facilities until July 1, 1956 when the Air Force took custody of its records and moved them to the Air Force Records Center in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1957, the records were then transferred to MPRC in St. Louis. United States Marine Corps records had previously been transferred to the center, under Navy auspices, in 1957. Coast Guard records began to be received in 1958.
On July 1, 1960, the Military Personnel Records Center ceased to be operated by the Defense Department with control transferred to the General Services Administration. The three active duty military records centers, on site at MPRC (the Air Force Records Center, the Naval Records Management Center and the Army Records Center) were disestablished and consolidated into a single civil service operated records center. The center was then designated as under the administration of the National Archives and Records Service (NARS), itself part of the GSA. In 1966, the military personnel records center merged administratively (but not physically) with the St. Louis Federal Records Center (later known as the Civilian Personnel Records Center or CPR) and became part of the National Personnel Records Center. The building became then known as the "National Personnel Records Center, Military Personnel Records" (NPRC-MPR)
In 1965, when photocopy machines became widespread at the Military Personnel Records Center, it became easier to reproduce service records upon request from all interested parties. Even so, between 1965 and 1973 the Military Personnel Records Center gradually became overwhelmed with the volume of records requests it was receiving and developed a bad reputation as being non-customer friendly with an average wait time of between 11 and 16 weeks for record responses.
In the 1980s, an addition was constructed to the Military Personnel Records Center to house the headquarters offices of the Army Reserve Personnel Command. In 2003, the St. Louis Army facility became known as the Army Human Resource Command or "HRC". The HRC offices remained on site in Overland, Missouri until relocating to Fort Knox, Kentucky in 2011 as part of the Base Closure and Realignment Commission, also known as "BRAC". In addition to the Army HRC annex, the General Services Administration maintained a cafeteria complex attached to both MPRC and HRC through central access hallways. The cafeteria was considered a separate entity from MPRC and run entirely by the GSA.
Until 1996, the Military Personnel Records Center operated through a complex system of paperwork forms with little computer automation. The 1980s saw serious complaints against the facility to the extent that the military service departments began procedures to hold their own records rather than have such records sent to the Military Personnel Records Center. In 1985, control of the Military Personnel Records Center was handed over from the General Services Administration to the National Archives and Records Administration. By the 1990s, efforts were underway to correct problems which had resulted in complaints against the facility and to reduce the huge amount of backlogged requests for military records. In 1995, the first major computer tracking facility was introduced at the Military Personnel Records Center and employees began receiving training on all types of service records, whereas before different offices handled records only from a particular branch of service.
In 1999, a computer system known as the "Case Reference System" (CMS) was installed throughout MPRC in order to begin the conversion towards computer tracking of record requests. Hardcopy letters were still received by response specialists with reply copies interfiled into the applicable service records. In 2002, a new system was designed by Siebel Systems and was known as the "Case Management Reference System" or CMRS. The new system scanned all incoming correspondence and converted replies into a paperless system, with the exception of the physical letter and record copies which left the building to be provided to a veteran or other party. In 2005, as an addendum, MPRC's internet request site came online allowing veterans to request military service records over the Internet. The online system was extended to next of kin of deceased veterans the following year.
Relocation to Spanish Lake
In May 2011, the Military Personnel Records Center began its relocation to a new modern facility in the CDP of Spanish Lake, Missouri. A complete move from the Overland location to Spanish Lake was concluded fall of 2012. The former location at 9700 Page Avenue was then reconverted into a general office complex and became part of the Charles F. Prevedel Federal Building.
Beginning in 2015, the designation "Military Personnel Records Center" was dropped from most official correspondence, with the military records building in Spanish Lake thereafter referred to as the "National Personnel Records Center". Likewise, the civilian records counterpart was renamed from being the Civilian Personnel Records Center to the "NPRC Annex". The term "National Personnel Records Center" may now refer to both the physical military records building in Spanish Lake, as well as an overall term for the National Archives federal records complexes located in St. Louis.
The 1973 fire
On July 12, 1973 the entire sixth floor of the Military Personnel Records Center was destroyed along with over sixteen million military service records. Shortly after the fire, a discussion was held within the General Services Administration (which then operated the facility) to close down the Military Personnel Records Center in lieu of a new facility. This did not come to pass, however, and instead a large "Reconstruction Project" was begun to restore the records destroyed in the fire.
The reconstruction effort of the Military Personnel Records continues to this day with daily accessions of "Recon Records" which are created to replace a service record destroyed in the 1973 fire. Reconstruction Records are created through use of alternate records sources such as pay records and records from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Record scanning rumor
In the fall of 2004, an Internet hoax stated that the Military Personnel Records Center was destroying paper copies of all records in lieu of computer scanning. National Archives officials stressed that all records are permanently archived, meaning that they will never be destroyed and always maintained as historical documents. Despite this statement, veterans began contacting the records center in large numbers, asking to be sent their original paper records once they had been scanned. Originally, the records center staff responded by providing record copies which in turn caused more confusion since veterans believed their records were being destroyed and wanted to obtain the original documents. NPRC then enacted a policy where veterans would be contacted by phone, explained that their records were not being destroyed, and asked if they still desired copies. This same statement was reiterated across public Internet notices. As of 2006, following a significant backlog rise in record requests,the requests resulting from the "record destruction rumor" had mostly been dealt with by the Military Personnel Records Center.
Destruction of records
In 2014, two employees of the Military Personnel Records Center were discovered to have unlawfully disposed or destroyed over eighteen hundred documents by either abandoning them in lesser used areas of the MPR facility, removing the documents and then destroying them off site, or abandoning the records in a wooded area in western Illinois. The two employees were later charged and convicted of destruction of government records; an investigation revealed the majority of the documents had been administrative "interfile" material into military personnel records, most of which pertained to deceased veterans, thus the breach to veteran privacy was considered minimal.
After questions from Senator Claire McCaskill, the National Personnel Records Center conducted a further investigation and revealed that an additional ten employees had most likely been involved with the improper disposal of records, with enough evidence from an audit to recommend that five of the employees be dismissed from their posts. The motivation behind the mishandling and disposal of records was found to be a "bonus system" in which employees who had interfiled documents more quickly into service records were presented with a monetary paycheck award. The bonus system was thereafter discontinued and an interfile audit program was initiated.
The Military Personnel Records Center (MPRC) is overseen by a director who answers to the Federal Records Center program, part of agency services of the National Archives. The director maintains a headquarters staff where an Assistant Director also serves as a chief of staff. A Management Analyst Branch is attached to the headquarters and serves to provide business and procedural recommendations.
The bulk of MPRC is divided into five reference core offices which provide correspondence replies to written and electronic requests for military service records. An organizational records section provides reference to organizational type records such as hospital records, pay cards, and copies of orders. Other offices of MPRC include search and refile, which physically retrieves and returns records from the storage area of MPRC for work requests, as well as a Transfer and Disposition Section (T&D) which receives new records from military agencies into the holdings of MPRC.
MPRC also maintains a training department which further oversees the civil service advancement examinations and the building quality assurance program., Contracted services include custodial staff, information technology support, and some aspects of building security.
Research and preservation services
In the same building as the Military Personnel Records Center is the regional office for the National Archives at St. Louis, which is a separate research services office of the National Archives. The building also houses a preservation lab which is also administratively considered separate from the federal records center system under which the Military Personnel Records Center is managed.
- National Archives: Persons of Exceptional Prominence
- Stender, Walter W.; Evans Walker (October 1974). "The National Personnel Records Center Fire: A Study in Disaster". The American Archivist. Society of American Archivists, pg 522
- "The National Personnel Records Center - A History", U.S. National Archives (St. Louis Archives Region), July 2016
- "The Establishment of the National Personnel Records Center", U.S. National Archives (St. Louis Archives Region), July 2016
- "Wading through warehouses of paper: the challenges of transitioning veterans records to paperless technology", Hearing before the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs, U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs, 4 Dec 2012
- "Paper battleship is turning, Director Hindman says", St. Louis Post-Dispatch (27 Aug 2001)
- National Archives and Records Administration, "The new NPRC", (Aug 2016)
- National Personnel Records Center Hoax, American Legion (30 Sep 2004)
- "NPRC: Records won't be destroyed", Mitchell, R., Saratogian News (4 Jul 2004)
- Veteran FAQ, National Personnel Records Center (Aug 2016)
- Employees destroy 1,800 veteran documents St. Louis Post Dispatch (Jan 2014)
- NPRC Archivist of the United States, Public Memo from David S. Ferriero (26 Feb 2014)
- a Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report "Military Service Records and Unit Histories: A Guide to Locating Sources"
- MPRC website
- Online and offline DD-214/personnel records request forms