On July 12, 1973, a disastrous fire at the NPRC destroyed approximately 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files.
The affected record collections included:
No duplicate copies of the records that were destroyed in the fire were maintained, nor was a microfilm copy ever produced. There were no indexes created prior to the fire. In addition, millions of documents had been lent to the Department of Veterans Affairs before the fire occurred. Therefore, a complete listing of the records that were lost is not available. Nevertheless, there are many alternate sources that a qualified researcher can access in an effort to reconstruct basic service information. They, then, can have the Records Center issue a replacement known as a "Certificate of Service". A Certificate of Service usually takes a couple of weeks to be processed by the NPRC when there is no DD214 in your file, and when supporting documents can be found. Many NPRC reconstructions can take longer, possibly months.
For a more detailed discussion of the 1973 fire and its consequences, see The National Personnel Records Center Fire: A Study in Disaster (4.43MB).
When proof of military service is needed and the original record has been lost, the NPRC (MPR) attempts to reconstruct certain basic service data from alternate sources. The NPRC (MPR) has identified many of these sources, but each contains only limited military service information. They are utilized to piece together (reconstruct) basic military service data.
It is essential that requesters collect as much information from old personal papers before submitting a request pertaining to records from the fire-related collections. Good information on a request helps NPRC (MPR) identify which sources to research for reconstructing basic service data. If insufficient information is received the requester will be asked to provide additional information.
Among your personal papers, these will aid in your record reconstruction:
If you haven't maintained these records, hopefully you'll know of or be able to contact other veterans with whom you served. As you know, when military orders are issued they contain the names of other members of your unit affected by the same Standard or General Order affecting your promotion, transfer, etc.
One source of data for researchers is enlistment records. The NPRC maintains 9.2 million records for enlistments in the Army, Enlisted Reserve Corps, and Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.
Another primary source of alternate data utilized by professional researchers is a collection of 19 million final pay vouchers. These records provide name, service number, dates of service, and character of service. These are the most critical service data elements needed for the reconstruction process. With these and other organizational records (enlistment ledgers, service number indexes, etc.), both professional researchers as well as NPRC (MPR) personnel can usually verify military service and provide a Certification of Military Service. This Certification can be used for any purpose for which the original discharge document was used, including the application for veterans benefits.
From these and other sources, a professional researcher can re-build a military record sufficient for the NPRC to issue a Certificate of Military Service, in - at most - days. It may take the NPRC months. We'll discuss this issue further when we discuss The Best Method to Acquire Your DD214.