Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Military Records Denied . . . . Again

This past summer I was very busy crossing things off my "to do" list. This is always a good feeling for me because even as crazy as my daily life can be it still makes me feel like I've done something.

One of the tasks on the list was to try to get my Grandpa Lee's military records. In mid-June, I sat down to write a letter to the National Personnel Records Center explaining the name change from McNeill and that I wasn't sure of the exact spelling of the name McNeill though I knew with certainty the name he assumed. I explained he was either born 2 January 1912, as the census records indicate, or 2 January 1915, like he'd told my grandmother. I listed a period of time in which he would have served between April 1930 (the time of the census) to March 1937 (when he applied for a Social Security number under the new name). I listed possible Asheville addresses that he could have used for next of kin (his parents' home). I even went so far as to include copies of his SS-5 application, the 1930 census, and a copy of the SSDI listing his death in 1971.

I mailed the letter and copies. Then I waited....

In early July, I received a somewhat thick envelope from the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Because it obviously contained more than one piece of paper inside, I nearly skipped from the mailbox to the front door where I promptly dropped all the other mail to open this letter. I remember my hands were even shaking a little.

And the letter said:

"Thank you for contacting the National Personnel Records Center. We have been unsuccessful in identifying a military service record for the above-named individual. This does not mean the subject did not have military service, only that we are unable to identify a record based on the limited information you have provided. To locate a record, we must have the veteran's complete and confirmed name, confirmed date of birth, service number (if applicable), in additional to a social security number, branch of service, and approximate dates of service. We regret our response could not be more positive."

Yep, far from positive. The letter goes on to say if I have questions, I can call or mail a response referencing my Request Number listed on the letter. They even kindly sent me copies of the stuff I had originally sent to them, which explains why the envelope was a little thick.

Talk about absolute deflation. Short of going to St. Louis myself and demanding to dig through their boxes/files/filing cabinets for a Lee McNeill (or McNeil or McNeal) likely born 2 Jan 1912 and living in Asheville prior to his joining the Navy to be a pharmacist's mate, I'm at a loss as to what to do next. Is it because I can't give them a service number that they can't find him? Do they not want to search all the possible Lee McNeill/McNeil/McNeals in their database from that time period? I know he was in the service. I have seen a photo of him in his Naval uniform. I highly doubt he would be photographed in uniform standing next to a ship if he wasn't in the service. And no the ship's number was not visible in the photograph.

So the dilemma continues.

Any and all suggestions are welcomed.


  1. Tracy - don't you just LOVE the red tape that you must put up with from these folks? It's as if everyone is wearing blinders and can only see what ever is right in front of them - no searching for the real thing. I went through so much to get my Grandfather's medals replaced - and after months of going back-and-forth and them telling me they couldn't find his records (which I had originals of!) I actually had to contact my congresswoman and then they were all over it. It's very frustrating that they actually seem to NOT want to help you. I have many letters - just like yours - not mean, just very "dear number 12344" like that's all they do - form letters. I don't have any magical suggestion for dealing with these folks except to keep pushing - maybe you'll find someone who will actually help you. You can read about my experience at my blog post

  2. How frustrating! I am really surprised they can't ID him by his SSN.

    After showing a friend of hers the copies of my grandfather's military records I sent her, Mom called me to inform me I had requested them from the wrong place and needed to try again from the "right" place. Other than the NPR, I have no clue where that might be.

    Honestly, I would be tempted to try again.