World War II research is a combination of online and offline research. Unfortunately, many researchers will tell you it’s all online and provide you with the same free database links over and over which do not move your research forward. It is important to follow the research process and pursue all leads, whether they are online or primarily offline. Navy records are one example of what is now becoming a good combination of online + offline materials because of digitization by Fold3. It is important to know that OMPFs are not being digitized at this time by NPRC in St. Louis so you will not find these valuable files online.
Today we will explore the Navy Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) or the service file. These files contain a lot of family information in addition to service information. Navy OMPFs were not affected by the 1973 NPRC fire and are intact. There is a fee to obtain copies. This record is held at the NPRC in St. Louis and you can read more about how to obtain this record in my article, WWII Education – Difference Between the OMPF and IDPF.
Look at the OMPF for George T. Howe, Jr., a naval pilot who is still Missing In Action today in the Pacific off the coast of California. (Not to be confused with his father George T. Howe who served in the Navy and rose to Lt. Commander. I have his OMPF, which is over 800 pages long.) When you request files be sure to include the service/serial number and birth date so NPRC doesn’t pull the almost right name but wrong man.
What can we learn about his life and service from his OMPF?
- His file contains a few photographs. Many Navy files, but not all, especially pre-1940 files, contain photographs of the sailor or pilot.
- George was born in Panama as evidence by his birth certificate. His father was stationed there at the time.
- There are school records, letters of recommendation, and a letter written by George explaining why he would like to enter the service. Due to his education, he is attempting to enter as an officer.
- Flight training information is included.
- Details about his father and his service are listed in a biography.
- We can trace the units George was in from training until death.
- Upon his MIA status in 1943, we know what personal effects were inventoried and returned to his parents.
- A certificate of death is included because he was given a Finding of Death (FOD) one year plus one day after the date he went Missing. This FOD is the official death date issued by the military so his family could collect death benefits and insurance.
- A memo about his final flight.
- Handwritten letter from his mother indicating she knows her son is still alive. Sadly he was never found.
- At the end of the file is a letter from his mother to the military in 1951 indicating she had a vision he was still alive. Again, George T. Howe, Jr. was never recovered.
What can you do with all this information? Put together a timeline of service so you know where the sailor was, what units he was in, when he transferred, any illneses (where there are medical records), locate family information, and begin the process of seeking other records like his Naval Accident Report, unit records, and articles about him online.
Have you obtained the OMPF for you adopted soldier? What interesting information did you find? How did it help you move your research forward?
I am taking new clients at this time if you are interested in working with a researcher to pull records for any military branch. I’m also scheduling speaking appearances in Europe for 2017. Please contact me if your group is interested in a program. I have seven to choose from on my website.
© 2016 World War II Research and Writing Center