Researching a veteran is often thought of as starting and ending with the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO and obtaining the Official Military Personnel File (OMPF), also known as the service file. If that burned, most people assume that’s the end of the story. It is not.
In the course of military research, we start our search in the home for clues about our family member’s service. The next step is to see what is available at the NPRC. If your family member served in the Army or Army Air Corps/Army Air Forces/Air Force, there is a good chance his or her OMPF burned in the 1973 fire. However, when you work with a researcher, we are able to obtain other documents that reconstruct service history. After reconstructing the history and knowing what units someone was in, we are able to see unit records and other contextual documents, photos, and maps, to help tell the bigger story of your family member’s service.
One place we locate documents (they are scattered around the U.S. and not in one repository), is the National Archives in College Park, MD. While there are some units for which records no longer exist, 95% of the time we have been able to locate information. After discovering what is available at NARA, our firm also seeks out other sources of material.
I recently worked on a 47th General Hospital project for a client who had a family member serve at this facility. Actually, I’ve had several Pacific Theater medical client projects recently – Army Nurse, Army Surgeon, and Army Pharmacist. The histories of these hospitals in which these individuals served contain amazing details. I’m learning a lot about how medicine in all forms, worked during the war outside the U.S.
For the 47th General Hospital I was able to obtain a Unit Diary, Unit History and Medical Histories. Not every patient treated is listed in these documents. There are a few mentioned in some of the “interesting” cases that were written up. Not every member of staff who worked in these hospitals is named either, but you get a sense of what life was like for them working in these facilities.
Locating Patient & Staff Information at WWII Hospitals
Did you know that in the Pacific, the medical staff had to help build their hospital facilities? They had to help load and unload their equipment and supplies on and off of Navy vessels? One page from the History documents some interesting details about the personnel who first arrived to set up the hospital. We even learn what ship they sailed on to reach their destination. If the OMPF burned, unit records can be valuable resources to learn more of these personal details, especially when the company level reports do not have the information. You can click the document to open it up and read it.
What Else Do These Records Contain?
Within these contextual records we may also learn about the following for personnel working at the hospitals.
- Arrival and departure from the hospital location. Detached or temporary duty assignments.
- Names of vessels on which they were transported or temporarily served.
- Types of training they received.
- Promotions, demotions, awards presented.
- Information on staff illness, accidents, or other reasons they may have been treated.
- The types of medical equipment and supplies are documented.
- Procedures are described which the staff performs on patients. I was surprised to learn for psych patients they did electroshock therapy in the PTO. I thought this was something they only did stateside.
What might we learn about the patients treated in these facilities?
- We might see our patient’s name listed in the records. If he or she had an unusual case that was written up, we might learn extensive details about their condition. This is valuable especially if the OMPF and any medical records in their personnel file burned.
- We get a sense of what various treatments were like both overseas and on the continental U.S. as many are described.
- We learn what was provided in the way of food and drink for patients.
- We learn when patients were moved in and out, by what means, and often to where when they left the specific hospital to which they were admitted.
- There may also be more graphic details about procedures, surgeries, condition of our family member that are difficult to read and process.
You can click those medical histories to read them.
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